China sends long-range bombers to the Himalayas in a warning to India

  • Footage broadcast on CCTV showed an H-6K bomber flying in a mountainous area.
  • The images were calibrated to send warning to India to ease tensions, analysts say.

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The People’s Liberation Army has deployed at least one long-range strategic H-6K bomber to its borders with India in a move meant as a warning to the Indian military not to escalate tensions over the winter, analysts said.

To mark the PLA Air Force’s 72nd anniversary on November 11, state television station China Central Television broadcast footage that included a short shot of an H-6K flying over a mountain range, indicating that the plane had been broadcast to the Himalayas.

The aircraft was armed with short-range KD-63 missiles – and not the long-range CJ-20 cruise missiles, which it is also designed to carry.

A Beijing-based military source said the H-6Ks were normally based in Shaanxi province but had been stationed in Kashgar in the nearby western region of Xinjiang on a temporary basis since last year.

The plane came under the Western Theater Command, which includes the military districts of Xinjiang and Tibet and is responsible for border security along the disputed border with India.

“It’s very easy for the PLA to fly H-6Ks to the China-India border because the planes are stationed … under Western Theater Command,” the source said.

An H-6K bomber from the Chinese Air Force

A Chinese H-6K bomber.

Xinhua / Guo Wei via Getty Images

With a range of more than 3,500 km (2,200 miles), the H-6K is designed to carry long-range CJ-20 cruise missiles to land and sea targets, as well as short-range missiles such as the KD-63.

Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Tong said the apparent deployment was “definitely a warning to India.”

“New Delhi is within the combat range of the H-6K and the striking range of the CJ-20,” Wong said.

But military commentator Song Zhongping said the PLA was less focused on the Indian capital and more on the country’s air bases, missile launch sites and other military posts near the borders.

“China will not attack civilian areas, so Delhi will not be hit by air-fired missiles, even though the capital is quite close to the border,” said Song, a former instructor in the PLA artillery corps.

Zhou Chenming, a researcher at the Yuan Wang Military Science and Technology Institute in Beijing, said it was noteworthy that the CCTV footage did not contain images of the long-range CJ-20s.

“It’s a cautious warning from the PLA. CCTV [report] intentionally not including footage of the H-6K with powerful CJ-20, “Zhou said.

“China hopes that border conflicts will not escalate further, with the coronavirus pandemic expected to worsen this winter.”

In response to the PLA broadcast, the Indian Air Force Mig-29UPG and Su-30MKI sent fighter jets to their frontline air bases in Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, the three central disputed areas along the two countries’ disputed border, the Line of Actual Control (LAC), according to Indian media.

China and India have strengthened defenses along the LAC since another round of talks between military commanders broke down on October 10, with each side blaming the other for the hotspots along the border.

Negotiations at the commander’s level began in May 2020, when friction first erupted in several places along the LAC, stretching over thousands of kilometers. The military confrontation peaked in June last year when at least two dozen soldiers were killed in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh.

CCTV also reported that PLA troops from the Xinjiang Military District conducted high-altitude live-ammunition training in the Karakoram Mountains in an exercise to eliminate enemy tank troops and military outposts.

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