Chinese Navy maybe operating new electronic warfare aircraft
Chinese media reports on 22nd January disclosed that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) appear to be flying a new Electronic Warfare (EW) platform in the guise of a Xian H-6G strategic bomber which has been outfitted with Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) pods carried on under-wing hardpoints. Open sources state that the H-6G variant of the H-6 strategic bomber series was originally developed, sans weapons bay, to act as a fire control platform for air-to-surface cruise missiles. Reports added that the converted H-6G was recently seen supporting PLAN air exercises in the South China Sea.
No further details were provided in the reports regarding the type or nature of the ECM pods carried by this aircraft. It has already been documented that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Shenyang J-16D EW/Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) aircraft in service with the PLAN is equipped with EW pods mounted on the aircraft’s wingtips. These retain a strong similarity to Northrop Grumman’s AN/ALQ-218 airborne electronic attack system used by the US Navy. Again, few details are available regarding the capabilities of the Chinese pods, although it is possible that they may be capable of detecting, locating and/or jamming radar signals across a circa two gigahertz/GHz to 18GHz waveband. This would allow the pods to jam a large proportion of the ground-based air surveillance and fire control radars that strike packages of combat aircraft would expect to encounter during air-to-surface operations.
There is every chance that these pods, or indeed pods with similar capabilities, could have migrated onto the H-6G. Moreover, despite the PLAAF’s dedicated J-16D EW/SEAD aircraft, outfitting an H-6 bomber with a similar capability will provide a platform with a greatly extended range of 3200 nautical miles/nm (6000 kilometres/km), compared to the circa 2106nm (3900km) of the J-16D. Potentially, this could allow the H-6G to perform long-range escort jamming either in support of other H-6 aircraft, or long range strike packages of dissimilar platforms.