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Chinese Air Force Launches New Hypersonic Missile from H-6K Bomber.

Recent footage from a propaganda video has highlighted several training exercises conducted by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) of China, showcasing the launch of the first known test of a new air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM), identified as 2PZD-21, from a H-6K bomber, as reported on X by @sugar_wsnbn. The clip, released on May 1, 2024, displays the strategic bomber deploying the ALBM from its port wing pylon. The missile, tentatively designated as KD-21 or YJ-21, did not show its engine igniting, leaving some aspects of its operational capability open to speculation.
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The appearance of the missile without decorative markings and painted in operational gray-blue suggests that it may now be at a more advanced stage of readiness compared to previous displays. (Picture source: X Channel @Sugar_wsnbn)

The PLAAF is actively developing advanced weaponry, focusing on enhancing its strategic reach and denial capabilities across the South China Sea and the Pacific to counter the naval and air superiority of potential rivals, notably the United States. The video not only shows routine preparations of pilots and crews but also prominently features the H-6K bomber deploying what is suggested to be a new type of ballistic missile.

The H-6K, a significantly modernized version of the older Soviet Tu-16 Badger, has been adapted over the years to fulfill multiple roles, including deploying cruise, anti-ship, and ballistic missiles. This bomber is equipped with advanced avionics and turbofan engines, enhancing its operational capabilities. Specifically, the missile shown in the video is launched from a specially designed underwing pylon, marking another step in the evolution of the H-6K's arsenal.

Defense specialists speculate that the missile could be the one showcased at the China Air Show 2022, where an H-6 bomber was observed with a similar missile designated “2PZD-21” under its wings. Since then, this missile has been variously referred to as “KD-21” or “YJ-21,” with characteristics that mirror those of Russia’s Kinzhal missile, known for its hypersonic speeds and capability to strike both naval and land targets. The designation "2PZD-21" translates to a type of counterweight missile in Chinese, pointing to its developmental nature. Despite its earlier appearances as possibly a model or mock-up, the recent video implies significant progress in its development.

The missile, recorded hitting targets at speeds between Mach 4 and 6, appears to have dual capabilities for effectively engaging both naval and terrestrial targets. This type of missile, also recognized in the West as “CH-AS-X-13,” has previously been seen on the central section of H-6 bombers, equipped to carry either conventional or nuclear payloads.

The launch of an ALBM from the H-6K extends the range of China’s ballistic missile capabilities, as the bomber can carry such missiles significantly farther than their ground-launched counterparts. The H-6K, an enhanced version of the older H-6 bomber derived from the Soviet-era Tu-16 Badger, features modern turbofan engines and an advanced flight deck, allowing it to operate more efficiently and over greater distances.

This revelation underscores the ongoing efforts of the People’s Liberation Army to expand its missile technology and diversify the platforms from which they can be launched. As China continues to refine its array of sophisticated weaponry, the implications for regional security dynamics in the Pacific, particularly in scenarios involving Taiwan and other regional actors, are profound.

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