Domain range

US, China or Russia – which country gets the most benefit from long-range, nuclear-capable strategic bombers?

China, Russia, and the United States – all are currently working on their most sophisticated stealth bombers. Strategic bombers are long-range aircraft designed to carry nuclear weapons and claim to have the ability to breach enemy air defenses.

Those long range bombers can be stationed far from conflict zones, but they can cover large areas of the Pacific Ocean, evade complex air defense systems, and launch close range weapons in large quantities.

Bombers have been an integral part of warfare for many decades. Their potential to damage critical military infrastructure, as well as their role in the nuclear triad, has made them an essential part of any contemporary military. Countries frequently use bombers to demonstrate their supremacy during conflict.

Like before reported According to EurAsian Times, China’s PLAAF recently deployed an H-6K bomber near the Real Line of Control (LAC), the disputed border with India, amid growing tensions between the two countries. In addition, several countries are concerned about Chinese bombers carrying out joint patrols with the Russians.

The Chiese H-6 bomber. (Wikipedia)

In 2019, the China People’s Liberation Army (PLLA) Air Force and the Russian Air Force conducted a long-range air patrol in the Indo-Pacific region for the first time. in order to “strengthen global strategic stability”, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Since then, both countries have regularly carried out such exercises.

In November, the Chinese and Russian air forces again led a coordinated strategic air patrol in the region, citing the need to maintain global strategic stability in the face of Western provocations. China has deployed two H-6Ks to conduct combined training with two Russian Tu-95MC planes over the Sea of ​​Japan and the East China Sea, China’s Defense Ministry said.

US Air Force Spirit B-2
A US Air Force B-2 Spirit flying over the Pacific Ocean in May 2006. (Wikipedia)

It should be noted that these patrol exercises have constantly drawn criticism from South Korea and Japan as it overlapped with their air defense identification areas.

Bombers are only operated by three nations. It is estimated that there are 135 Tu-22, Tu-95 and Tu-160 in the Russian Air Force. The US Air Force has 156 B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers. China’s bomber fleet is the largest as the PLAAF operates around 231 H-6 bombers.

Chinese bombers

The Chinese H-6K is based on the Russian Tupolev Tu-16 bomber, which was developed by the former Soviet Union. The Tu-16 was a twin-engine subsonic bomber that made its first flight in 1952. China began producing the Tu-16 under license as the H-6; the first took off in 1959.

The Tu-16 was removed from nuclear strike duty and reassigned to anti-ship missiles, electronic warfare, and reconnaissance missions. Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia withdrew the Tu-16 from service.

Despite its outdated design, China continues to produce the H-6 and has used it as a nuclear weapons carrier and aerial refueler for decades.

In the mid-2000s, a new variant, the H-6K, appeared. It came with a solid nose, in a deviation from the glass nose seen in the previous model. The H-6K also had more fuel-efficient Russian engines which allowed it to have a combat radius of nearly 3,000 kilometers. The H-6K is considered a major threat by US analysts.

File: H-6K Landing (cropped) .jpg - Wikimedia Commons
H-6K – Wikimedia Commons

The Pentagon 2021 report on China’s military modernization states, “PLAAF uses the H-6K bomber, which can carry up to six CJ-20 Precision Guided Air-Launcher Cruise Missiles (ALCM) and can target US forces as well. far than Guam. ” The CJ-20 missile has a range of approximately 1,500 km.

According to to military analyst Thomas Shugart, the PLAAF acquired around three dozen H-6s, improved between 2018 and 2020. The Chinese bomber fleet includes several variants of the H-6, including the H-6J anti-ship missile carrier , the H-6K land attack missile carrier and the new H-6N. These planes could carry a new hypersonic missile and be refueled in flight.

The H-6 bomber is smaller and less advanced than the American bombers. Because most H-6s lack air-to-air refueling capabilities, they have severe range limits that are not of concern to US bombers. Despite this, the H-6s represent one of the powerful long-range air strike forces in the world.

In addition, the PLAAF is likely to receive a large stealth bomber, the Xi’an H-20, which would make China an intercontinental power.

The American bomber fleet

The B-1B Lancer, the stealth B-2 Spirit and the B-52 Stratofortress are three bombers capable of unleashing thousands of ammunition on the battlefield. The B-52 has been in service with the US Air Force since 1955. The B-1B first flew in 1974 and the B-2 has been in service for almost 30 years.

Since 1985, the B-1B Lancer has served as a versatile long-range heavy bomber. The B-1A, which preceded it, was developed in the 1970s as a replacement for the B-52. Boeing produced the B-1B, which has a payload of 90,000 pounds. This has a wingspan of 137 feet, a ceiling of 30,000 feet and can reach speeds of Mach 1.2.

The B-52 Stratofortress
The B-52 Stratofortress. (Wikipedia)

The B-52A is the US Air Force’s oldest bomber, entering service in 1955. It conducted operations in Iraq as part of Operation Desert Storm and anti-ISIS operations. The B-52H Stratofortress is capable of carrying a payload of 70,000 pounds, as well as up to 20 air-launched cruise missiles. This too laser-guided bombs dropped for the first time in a decade.

The Stratofortress is slated to remain in service until 2050, with many upgrades planned, including new engines, new radar, and a new nuclear bomb.

Northrop Grumman created the B-2 under a veil of secrecy. It is a versatile bomber that can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons. It has been in service since 1993 and has a payload of 40,000 pounds.

The B-52s and B-2s carried out numerous missions in Europe as instruments of the projection of American power against Russia. However, the bomber fleet had problems. According to Air Force Times, the B-1B fleet is struggling with low readiness rates, due to its age and overuse in recent operations.

stealth bomber B-21
A concept of the B-21 stealth bomber.

The United States is also currently working on its new B-21 Raider, which will be deployed in the coming years. Few details on this aircraft are available. The B-21 stealth bomber will eventually replace the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit and perform conventional and nuclear missions alongside the B-52 Stratofortress.

Russian inventory

In 2019, Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko said that the Russian Air Force will acquire the new Tupolev Tu-160M ​​long-range bombers in the coming years. In 1981, the four-engine Tu-160 flew for the first time. Tupolev Design Bureau made 36 of the huge bombers for the Soviet Air Force, including nine prototypes.

Tupolev Tu-160 - Wikipedia
Tupolev Tu-160 – Wikipedia

Ukraine received 19 Tu-160s when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Eight of the planes were eventually repatriated to Russia, while the remaining 11 were dismantled.

The Tu-160 was the only supersonic and nuclear strategic bomber in the USSR and later Russia for two decades. The Tu-95 strategic bomber has a subsonic cruising speed. Only a few Russian Tu-160s were still flying in the early 2000s. In 2003, one of the bombers crashed.

In the early 2000s, Moscow paid Kazan, a subsidiary of Tupolev, to complete the manufacture of two Tu-160 cells that had remained unfinished since the 1980s. The Russian Air Force had 16 Tu-160s at the start of 2020.

He improved the aircraft in the 2000s to carry non-nuclear weapons. This variant was first used in the conflict in Syria in 2015.

Tu-160
A Tu-160 launching a Kh-101 cruise missile at targets in Syria, November 2015 (Wikipedia)

The Tu-160s would be able to travel 7,700 miles while carrying missiles and without refueling in mid-flight. The Tu-160 M has updated engines and avionics, as well as a metal canopy treatment to minimize radar reflectance.

But even in its improved configuration, the Tu-160 isn’t particularly stealthy. Russia has also reportedly started to develop its new strategic stealth bomber.

India’s rendezvous with bombers

India currently does not have a dedicated bomber fleet. But the country had three squadrons of US B-24 heavy bomber liberators that were left behind by the British, according to Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retired). These planes were in service with the Indian Air Force until 1968, he writes for Indian Defense Review.

“In January 1957 India placed orders for the English Electric Canberra 54 B (I). 58 bombers, eight PR.57 photo reconnaissance planes and six T.4 trainers were purchased initially and more were purchased later. The Canberras played an important reconnaissance role in 1962 and were used operationally in the Indo-Pakistani wars, ”Chopra wrote.

The IAF English Electric Canberra T.4
The IAF English Electric Canberra T.4 (Wikipedia)

There is certainly a major capacity gap in the absence of a dedicated bomber fleet with the IAF. Much of China is beyond the reach of Indian fighters, and aerial refueling is out of the question in hostile territory.

In contrast, Chinese bombers have the ability to penetrate deep inside India. In the near future, China will have a stealth bomber, which could pose a major threat to India.

For its part, India is unlikely to develop a strategic bomber given the huge costs involved in building such a plane, which has also sparked a huge debate in the United States.