A video posted on China’s social media app Weibo has shown what appears to be a possible air launched hypersonic missile being carried by a Xian H-6N bomber of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
A freeze-frame analysis of the video suggests the weapon could be a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) warhead with a rocket booster, possibly broadly similar to the ground launched DF-17 shown at a 2019 military parade in Beijing. The DF-17 uses the booster section of a DF-16 medium range ballistic missile to power a DZ-ZF HGV.
The video is believed to have been taken in Neicheng in Henan Province, which the US Department of Defense (DoD) says is a base hosting a nuclear-capable bomber unit. The base is undergoing upgrades to its infrastructure, including an underground facility carved into a nearby mountainside large enough for the bombers
HGVs differ from conventional ballistic missiles in that they do not fly in a ballistic trajectory, allowing for complex and evasive manoeuvres at high speeds, complicating an adversary’s ballistic missile defence systems.
The US DoD had previously said that China was developing an air-launched ballistic missile it has designated the CH-AS-X-13, and that China’s HGVs have been assessed to be highly accurate.
The H-6N – the latest variant of the venerable H-6 bomber – adds mid-air refuelling capability and a semi-recessed missile bay in lieu of the bomb bay to the H-6K, which itself features more powerful Russian engines and upgraded avionics.