Video Surfaces of Chinese Bomber Apparently Carrying Monster Hypersonic Missile

Kyle Mizokami
·4 min read

From Popular Mechanics

  • Observers recently recorded a Chinese heavy bomber carrying what looks like a hypersonic weapon mounted on a missile.

  • Hypersonic weapons travel at Mach 5 or faster, racing toward their targets to avoid being shot down.

  • One possible target for a hypersonic weapon is America’s aircraft carrier fleet.

A video recorded in China appears to show a People’s Liberation Army Air Force bomber equipped with a hypersonic weapon system. The H-6N bomber, filmed coming in for a landing at a base in central China, is carrying a large missile with the telltale nose shape of a weapon that can travel faster than Mach 5. The weapon may even be nuclear-armed, making the blazing-fast projectile particularly deadly.

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A civilian recorded the bomber as it was landing at Neixiang Ma’ao air base in central China. The bomber is seen carrying a long, missile-shaped object on its centerline. The missile itself appears to have a sharp, wedge-like nose similar to those seen on a new Chinese hypersonic weapon system.

According to Defense News, the weapon bears a strong resemblance to the ground-based DF-17 hypersonic weapon system. Observers first spotted the DF-17 in October 2019 at a parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Photo credit: GREG BAKER - Getty Images
Photo credit: GREG BAKER - Getty Images

The DF-17 combines a DF-16 medium range ballistic missile with the DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle. Launched from a truck-like vehicle, the DF-17 quickly accelerates to a top speed of Mach 5 to 10, or between 3,836 to 7,672 miles per hour. The DF-ZF glide vehicle separates from the spent missile and glides on to the target.

Missile Threat estimates the DF-17’s range at between 1,118 and 1,553 miles, while The Diplomat says the weapon is highly accurate, striking within “meters” of its intended target in tests. At the October 2019 parade, witnesses described the DF-17 as being armed with a conventional warhead. In addition to the warhead, a weapon—or any object, for that matter, traveling at Mach 5+—also packs a considerable kinetic punch.

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China originally designed the DF-17 as a ground-to-ground weapon capable of evading modern ballistic missile defenses by flying underneath their high-altitude detection radars while giving regular air defense systems less time to respond. The DF-17 would be the ideal platform for destroying Taiwan’s Patriot PAC-3 anti-ballistic missile systems, opening the door for conventional ballistic missile strikes launched from the mainland.

Photo credit: Xinhua News Agency - Getty Images
Photo credit: Xinhua News Agency - Getty Images

The H-6N bomber is the latest version of the H-6 series bomber. Originally introduced in the 1960s, the Chinese bomber is roughly equivalent to the American B-52. Like the B-52, the H-6 has been steadily upgraded over the decades. The H-6 carries a smaller payload and has a shorter range than its American cousin. A new, modern stealth bomber, the Xian H-20 is reportedly under development and could be revealed within the next near or two.

Placing the DF-17 on a bomber hints at broader capabilities for the weapon. A H-6N bomber could fly around Taiwan and launch an attack from the east, complicating China’s ability to shoot it down. The combination of the H-6N and DF-17 would also put America’s bases in Japan, Korea, and the U.S. territory of Guam within striking range. Depending on the weapon’s guidance package and China’s ability to detect and track ships at sea, the DF-17 could even hit moving targets like a U.S. aircraft carrier.

One concerning detail in the new footage is the location of the bomber. The base, Neixiang Ma’ao, is home to H-6 nuclear-capable bombers of the 160th Aviation Brigade. That hints the hypersonic weapon may no longer be strictly conventional and might carry a nuclear warhead. However, another explanation is the aircraft is operating at a nuclear base due to the base’s heightened security and secure facilities.

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