H-6U aerial refueling tanker improves PLA Air Force’s long-range raid capability
(Source: China Military Online) 2015-09-08
BEIJING, Sep. 8 (ChinaMil) -- H-6U aerial refueling tanker is the first aerial refueling aircraft developed by China. This model is developed from H-6 bomber. Currently, the PLA Air Force has a small-scale force with refueling capability and it provides the basic equipment for the offensive and defensive strategic air force of China in the new era.
China first encountered aerial refueling technology in the Vietnam War when unknown metal tube was discovered in the wreckage of a U.S. warplane. Later, China knew the specific purpose of the tube.
China officially started the research project of aerial refueling aircraft in 1988. The Y-8U cannot fit with J-8D fighter, therefore, H-6 was selected as the prototype. Although British and Israeli experts helped, the first hundreds of trails all failed.
In December 1991, the first successful aerial refueling of the PLA Air Force was finally made possible. In 1997, the first aerial refueling regiment was formally established in the PLA Guangzhou Military Area Command (MAC).
There are two models of the H-6-based aerial refueling aircraft. One is H-6U of the PLA Air Force and the other is the PLA Navy's H-6U (D). H-6U is better than H-6U (D) in terms of performance.
H-6U is equipped with a new tactical navigation system, a two-way sampling measurement instrument. It can automatically and accurately calculate the azimuth and distance between tanker and receiver aircraft within the range of 200 km. This has substantially increased the success rate of air refueling operation.
The maximum takeoff weight of H-6U is 75.8 tons. It has a maximum fuel load of 37 tons. This is higher than the U.S. KC-130F (30 tons) but lower than the Russian Tu-16N (42.1 tons). Meanwhile, H-6U can fuel two planes at the same time, but the efficiency is comparatively low.
Application in operation
According to research by the U.S. air force and its aerial refueling troops, China's way of typical grouping would be two H-6U aircraft with twelve J-8D fighters.
The twelve J-8D fighters are divided into three four-plane formation and can build three air cordons to protect the refueling aircraft within 1,200 km.
Thus, China's long-range attack and integrated air combat capability will be substantially improved. For example, J-8D fighter can take off in Hainan Island airport and after the completion of aerial refueling, its operational range can be extended to the South China Sea and even Indonesia, covering Xisha Islands and Nansha Islands. H-6U has undoubtedly become the "force multiplier" for China.
Comparison with its peers
The above table indicates that China's H-6U aerial refueling aircraft still lags behind its world peers in terms of fuel load, number, efficiency and range. China is currently developing large aircraft and once the project is successful, the large plane will be the choice for the tanker.
According to foreign reports, China is working with Russia to negotiate the purchase of a number of Il-78 tankers. If the purchase is possible, it will bring China’s long-range combat capability to a higher level.