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Chinese H-6N bomber spotted equipped with the new YJ-21 airborne ballistic missile.

| Defense News Army 2024

A photo shared on social media recently unveiled the People’s Liberation Army’s Xian H-6N bomber equipped with what appears to be an air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM), named YJ-21, mounted under the fuselage. The YJ-21 missile system, noted for its hypersonic speed and agility, is designed to target both land and naval surface targets.
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People’s Liberation Army's H-6N bomber potentially carrying an air-launched ballistic missile (Picture source: Huitong‘s CMA )

As part of China’s impressive arsenal of missiles, often referred to as “carrier killers,” the YJ-21 highlights China’s strategic intention to counteract American aircraft carrier groups, which are considered key symbols of naval superiority and global power projection.

The YJ-21 boasts an impressive range of up to 1,500 kilometers, allowing it to deliver significant warheads at incredible speeds, capable of breaching the advanced defenses of aircraft carriers and causing substantial damage upon impact.

Though the precise origins of the YJ-21 are somewhat unknown, it is believed to be derived from the CM-401 ballistic missile, albeit with enhanced features and capabilities. This development comes as the H-6N, the latest variant of China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s Xian H-6 bomber, has been verified to include a semi-recessed area designed to accommodate an air-launched version of the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile.

This capability provides the aircraft with a notable stand-off capability against large enemy warships, particularly aircraft carriers. Preparations for a significant military parade in Beijing intended to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the communist state, have already indicated that several important unveilings are expected during the event.

The advancement of the H-6N and its arsenal underscores China's ongoing commitment to enhancing its access denial and area denial capabilities, particularly in the South China Sea. This step further strengthens China's substantial missile arsenal, including those specifically designed for an anti-ship role, and could potentially be equipped with future hypersonic weapons.

The bomber's ability to carry oversized payloads ensures it remains a valuable asset in the arsenal of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, even as newer stealth bombers enter into service. This development also reflects a growing global trend towards the adoption of air-launched ballistic missiles.

The H-6N, featuring an in-flight refueling probe on its nose, thus extends its flexibility and range, especially for engaging targets on the outer edges of territories claimed by China as its sovereign national territory, including the South China Sea. The in-flight refueling capability may also be crucial to ensure the aircraft can transport the weapon to the appropriate altitude and launch point. With this enhanced capability, the H-6N is poised to be another formidable addition to China's comprehensive access and area denial capabilities.

Defense News March 2024

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