Chinese H-6J bombers practiced bombing islands and laying underwater mines in the South China Sea in drills last week, according to a report from China’s state-run Global Times. The war drills appear to be a threatening message to the U.S. and Taiwan amid growing tensions.
On Sunday, the Global Times tweeted, “#PLA Navy’s latest bomber, H-6J, recently joined live-fire drill in South China Sea, practicing island bombing and sea mine-laying. Analysts said it displayed aircraft’s traditional bombing capability in addition to its standoff strike competence,” with footage of the bomber drills
The display of Chinese bomber capabilities comes as China has shown increasingly aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.
China has asserted several territorial claims in the sea region, though they are disputed by other nations situated in the region, such as the Philippines and Vietnam. The South China Sea also lies to the south of the island of Taiwan, which governs itself as an independent country, but which China claims is part of its territory.
According to the Chinese media outlet, naval aviation force bomber crews assigned to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command took off at night, formed aerial formations and reached the designated sea training area at daybreak, under inclement weather conditions.
The Chinese bombers reportedly first practiced dropping “sea bottom” mines in the ocean and then practiced bombing small islands and reefs in the area.
“We have effectively tested the accuracy and reliability of both types of munitions,” said Zhang Yanjie, a deputy commander of the regiment. “For the next step, we will pursue innovations in tactics and approaches with the realistic situation of the enemies taken into consideration, and make breakthroughs in using new types of weapons and equipment.”
The H-6J bombers also carried YJ-12 anti-ship missiles. It was unclear from the Chinese media reports if bomber crews also tested out these weapons.
The H-6J is the Chinese Navy’s newest bomber, based on the H-6K which is, itself, derived from the Cold War-era Russian Tupelov Tu-16 bomber. The aircraft can carry out the traditional bomber roll, as well as carry standoff weapons like anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles.
The display of bomber capabilities serves as a show of the force China could employ to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea and against Taiwan and any supporting allies.
Unnamed military analysts told Global Times the bomber drills could serve as a deterrence to foreign forces and “Taiwan secessionists,” of whom the analysts claimed have been making “provocations” in the region.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) commanding Adm. John Aquilino recently warned that China is overseeing the largest military buildup the world has seen since World War II.