Russia appears to be steadily deepening its defense ties with China. In its more recent form, six Chinese and Russian heavy bombers just flew a joint patrol mission over the Western Pacific on Tuesday. According to AP, “the Russian military said that a pair of its Tu-95 strategic bombers and four Chinese H-6K bombers flew over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.”
As AP noted, “Tuesday’s mission was the second such flight since a July 2019 patrol over the same area.”
The question is, are we seeing a China-Russia military alliance developing?
China’s H-6K bombers are locally produced and upgraded versions of Russia’s Tu-16s which were retired from Russian service in the early 1990s. Flight Global explains the H-6 bomber upgrades:
The H-6 has gone through a complex series of iterations and upgrades since entering Chinese service in the 1960s. New variants such as the H-6K and H-6N operated by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), and the H-6J operated by the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF), are vastly more capable aircraft than the old Tu-16. They also mark a major improvement over the previous generation of H-6 platforms…
Flight Global adds:
The Pentagon notes that the PLAAF’s H-6K, with three hardpoints under each wing, is capable of attacking the key US Pacific base in Guam. The PLANAF version of the H-6K, the H-6J, also features three hardpoints under each wing, giving it a payload of six YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles. This allows it to strike ships out to the “Second Island Chain”, which extends from Japan through Guam to the South Pacific.
Press reports were unclear about which variant of the Tu-95 ‘Bear’ bombers joined the Chinese H-6Ks. But Russia’s Tu-95MSM model, a heavily upgraded strategic missile-carrying version of the bomber made its first flight in August of this year.
Business Insider quoted the general director of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) as saying of the new Tu-95MSM: “This is an aircraft with a new set of weapons, new onboard electronic equipment, new modified engines, new propellers. The combat capabilities of the plane have doubled after this modernisation,”
This upgraded version of the Tu-95, first introduced in 1956, is now expected to serve Russian forces until at least 2040.
The current joint bomber patrol follows on other joint training and deepening ties that show the two great powers may be closer to a military alliance than previously stated. Until recently, Russia and China had hailed their “strategic partnership,” but rejected the possibility of forming a military alliance.
But, in October, Russian leader Vladimir Putin said that a future Russia-China military alliance can’t be ruled out. He also noted that Russia has been sharing sensitive military technologies with China.
In addition to China’s stealing of U.S. and Western defense technologies, the Russian tech infusion has been critical to significantly bolstering China’s mushrooming defense capability.
Regarding the current joint bomber patrol, AP added that:
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the joint mission was intended to “develop and deepen the comprehensive Russia-China partnership, further increase the level of cooperation between the two militaries, expand their ability for joint action and strengthen strategic stability.”
This is really starting to sound like a growing military alliance to me.