Xian H-6 Strategic Bomber Aircraft
The Xian H-6 became essentially nothing more than a Chinese licensed production copy of the Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-16 medium strategic bomber series - fewer than 200 have been produced.
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Into the 1960s, communist China held a close working military and political relationship with the Soviet Union. As such, there passed technologies to the flourishing ranks of China which benefitted from Soviet-designed and developed weapons of all types. it was this relationship that set the stage for the well-established and growing Chinese military we witness today. One of the gifted technological products became the Tupolev Tu-16 series strategic bomber - recognized by NATO as the "Badger". The Tu-16 was introduced with Soviet air power in 1954 and operated until 1993 before being retired. Key operators of the type went on to include Egypt, Indonesia and Iraq with some 1,500 produced in all. The Chinese were, in turn, recipients of their first Tu-16 airframe in 1958. The first Chinese Air Force Tu-16 flew as the "H-6" the following year.
Chinese involvement with theTu-16 line went a step further after an agreement was reached between the two regional powers to locally-produce the Tu-16 across Chinese factory lines as the "H-6" with the Xi'an Aircraft Industrial Corporation heading the endeavor. Local production of Tu-16s then began in 1968. While sources vary, at least 160 examples were produced locally with as many as 180 total units also being suspected. Production spanned into the 1990s to which its use has since been largely outclassed by emerging rocket and missile technologies elsewhere. Regardless, the People's Liberation Army Air Force currently manages a healthy stock of some 120 H-6 bombers as of this writing (2013). Egypt and Iraq became the only foreign operators of the H-6 and these have all been either retired (Egypt, 2000) or destroyed (Iraq, in the 1991 Persian Gulf War). China fields the H-6 in both its air force (approx. 80 units) and navy (approx. 30 units) inventories.
At its core, the H-6 was classified as a strategic bomber, initially intended to serve as a nuclear bomb deterrent which then gave way to a more conventional bombing role due to advancements in other technologies - particularly of the ballistic missile launched from land or by submarine. Ballistic missiles, therefore, completely removed the need for aircraft in the same nuclear delivery role. The strategic bomber role had been in play since the days of World War 1 and required an aircraft design with strong inherent endurance principles capable of hauling thousands of pounds of ordnance over enemy territory, targeting specific enemy positions such as factories. Chinese H-6 bombers were eventually upgraded to support guided missile ordnance to further extend their battlefield usefulness for decades.
Outwardly, there is very little unique about the H-6 for it remains embedded in the classic Cold War Soviet design philosophy incorporating a smooth cylindrical fuselage with wide-spanning swept-back wings all finished in a silver coating. The engines are nestled within the wing roots and aspirated by oblong air intakes well-aft of the cockpit flight deck and exhausting just aft of amidships before the tail section. The undercarriage is completely retractable and consists of a two-wheeled nose leg and four-wheeled main legs, the latter retracting into streamlined pods at the trailing edge of each wing assembly. The empennage is conventional with a single clipped vertical tail fin and swept-back horizontal planes as expected. The H-6 features a stepped cockpit with noticeably heavy framing consistent with Cold War designs. Some H-6 models also showcased a heavily glazed nose section. A windowed tail position can field a trailing cannon for engaging incoming intercepting enemy aircraft at the aircraft's vulnerable "six". Additionally, the H-6 can be outfitted with 2 x 23mm Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 series cannons in a remote-controlled dorsal turret to which this arrangement can be further supplemented by a 2 x 23mm cannon system in a remote-controlled ventral emplacement. A single 23mm cannon can also be installed in the nose assembly as required.