Support: January 6, 2003


China has taken several steps to increase it's ability to extend its combat power beyond its borders. One of the lesser known is the conversion of a dozen of their Russian designed Tu-16 jet bombers to serve as aerial tankers. The Chinese build their own Tu-16s, and call it the H-6. This aircraft is a 1950s design, but the Chinese have refined that design somewhat. The H-6 tanker carries about 39 tons of fuel, which is about half what the most common U.S. tanker (the KC-135) carriers. The tanker version of the U.S. C-130 also carries about 39 tons of fuel, but is slower than the jet powered H-6. The most commonly refueled aircraft is the J-8 (which is an updated version of the Russian MiG-21) and more modern fighters recently purchased from Russia. Chinese naval aviation is a major user of the H-6 tanker, and gives the Chinese navy the ability to send warplanes way out over the South China Sea. This is important to the Chinese, because there are ongoing disputes with other nations bordering the South China Sea over who owns some small islands, and their suspected nearby oil fields. One H-6 tanker can provide in-flight refueling for an H-6 bomber (carrying anti-ship missiles) and two J-8 fighters as all four aircraft fly up to 1500 kilometers, which is  just about anywhere in the South China Sea. But the Chinese have not done this very often, mainly because their H-6 tanker crews only get about 80 hours a year in the air. The crews spend a lot of time in simulators and practicing drills on the aircraft while on the ground. But when American recon aircraft have caught the H-6 tanker in action, they appeared to be quite capable of doing their job.


Article Archive

Support: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close