Flashpoints | Security

Chinese Bombers Conduct Air Strikes During Military Exercise in Russia

Chinese military aircraft will practice an attack on ground targets during this year’s Central-19 strategic exercise in Western Russia.

Franz-Stefan Gady
Chinese Bombers Conduct Air Strikes During Military Exercise in Russia
Credit: Photo/Screenshot from China Central Television

Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) aircraft will conduct air strikes on ground targets as part of a large strategic exercise, dubbed Center-2019 (Tsentr-2019), held by the Russian Armed Forces in Russia’s Orenburg region this week, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a September 19 statement.

“Chinese Air Force crews will fulfill tasks of using air-delivered ordnance against ground targets, flying J-11 fighters, JH-7A fighter-bombers, H-6K strategic bombers, Z-10 helicopters. Besides, they will also carry out cargo airdropping missions from the Y-9 and Il-76 aircraft,” the MoD was quoted as saying on September 19 by TASS news agency.

The PLAAF aircraft will reportedly take off from the Orenburg-2 aerodrome. In total, 23 PLAAF air crews will take part in this stage of the exercises.

There has been no official statement as to what type of payload will be dropped on the designated ground targets. The H-6K bomber can be armed with a number of guided and unguided bombs, as well as supersonic anti-ship missiles or nuclear-capable CJ-10A (KD-20) land-attack cruise missiles. The H-6K is a Chinese derivative of the Soviet-era Tupolov Tu-16 twin-engined jet strategic bomber. It can can carry a payload of up to 12 tons.

The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Western Theater Command sent around 1,600 military personnel and an undisclosed number of Type 96A main battle tanks, H-6K strategic bombers, JH-7A fighter bombers, J-11 fighter jets, Il-76 and Y-9 transport aircraft, as well as  Z-10 attack helicopters to participate in the Russian-led military exercise taking place from September 16 to 21 in Western Russia and in a number of Central Asian countries.

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Militaries from member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), as well as forces from the regional members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), including India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, are also participating in the Center-2019 drills. On the Russian side, the exercise will involve 128,000 servicemen and over 20,000 pieces of hardware, according to the Russian MoD.

Per official Russian statements, the focus of the exercise is on “counter terrorist” operations. However, the Center-2019 also features repelling a conventional nation-state enemy and conducting large-scale offensive  operations.

This is the second time for the PLA to participate in Russia’s annual strategic exercise with a large contingent. In 2018, the PLA dispatched 3,500 personnel, 900 pieces of heavy weaponry, and 30 fixed-wing aircraft from the PLA’s Northern Theater Command to take part in the Russian-led military maneuvers.

“The drills will further enhance and deepen the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era between China and Russia. It also has significant meaning on boosting our military’s capability to deal with all kinds of security threats together with other countries’ militaries,” Ma Qixian, the commander of the participating Chinese PLA forces was quoted as saying by China Central Television this month.