Last week, Chinese Air Force bombers were said to have conducted a mock attack on the USS Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group in the South China Sea. The aircraft involved were reported to be eight H-6K bombers, four J-16 fighter jets, and one Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft. Of course, the media took the bait and portrayed this act by China as something novel.

But it really isn’t.

These cold war games China is playing accomplish two things. First, they further its long-standing strategic goal of controlling the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea. Second, they create a distraction from its culpable negligence in unleashing COVID-19 on the entire planet.

What the Aircraft Tell Us About China and Their Capabilities

First, a couple of notes on this bomber drill to provide some context.

The H-6K bomber is a Communist China-built version of the Russian Tupolev TU-16 Badger which dates back to the 1950s. China has “upgraded” its aircraft with sensors and avionics presumably advancing the 1950s technology. How current the plane is can be answered by considering the fact that its engine was not upgraded with a turbofan engine produced in China, but with the Russian Soloviev D-30-KP2. The origins of this design go back to the 1980s.

A Chinese H-6K Bomber.

The reason the PLA has to use Russian 80s engines is most likely because China lacks a capability in advanced metallurgy. The blades on the turbofans and the internals are made of lightweight and heat resistant alloys that are beyond China’s technical ability. China not only uses Russian-built engines in its mainstay bomber but also in its fighters. It has tried to copy engines from GE and Rolls Royce without marked success. It’s one thing to mock something up for an airshow display, it’s quite another to put it in an airplane and take off with it.

Interestingly enough, Communist China does have four entities, which it calls “centers,” for the production of military turbofans: the AVIC Shenyang Liming Aero-Engine Group, the AVIC Xi’an Aero-Engine Group, the AVIC Chengdu Aero-Engine Group, and the AVIC Guizhou Liyang Aero-Engine Group. Each has produced an engine of some type for media to photograph at airshows and technology displays. Yet, they have virtually no success in equipping PLA aircraft with engines beyond single flying prototypes. It should be obvious that China is sinking tons of money into propaganda ploys regarding its ability to produce its own turbofan engines.

Photographs of these bombers flying in the Taiwan Straits (which is routine) often show them carrying anti-ship cruise missiles under the wing. The H-6K is capable of carrying six of them. These are almost certainly “dummy” models without warheads or even engines in them.