Chinese H-6K and Russian Tu-95MS bombers conducted a joint eight hour patrol over the East China Sea on November 30, marking the latest of multiple operations by high endurance combat aircraft from the two countries in the area. The Russian Air Force deployed Su-35S and Su-30SM heavyweight fighters, which currently form the backbone of its fleet, as escorts, while Chinese J-16 fighters were also pictured flying escort participated. Two Russian drones of unknown designation also flew alongside the H-6s, according to reports from Tokyo. The exercises came at a time when the two militaries have worked to increase interoperability, with joint operations demonstrating growing levels of mutual trust. The latest saw Chinese H-6 bombers land in Russia, possibly at the Ukrainka Air Base in the Far East, while Tu-95MS landed at an airport in China’s Zhejiang province.
The Russian Defence Ministry reported regarding the joint operation: “for the first time in the course of joint air patrols, Russian aircraft landed at an airfield in the People’s Republic of China and Chinese aircraft landed at an airfield in the Russian Federation.” Both bomber classes are thought to have refuelled in the other country’s bases. The exercise potentially heralds the beginning of more operations where Chinese and Russian aircraft land in one another’s territories, and comes as both militaries show growing signs of interoperability. The possibility remains significant that infrastructure could be set up in future to allow both countries to maintain and rearm one another’s aircraft. China is set to induct the H-20 intercontinental range bomber into service around the middle of the decade, making it only the third country to field such assets alongside Russia and the United States, which could pave the way to much longer ranged joint Sino-Russian patrols in future. With Russia’s own efforts to develop a 21st century bomber class having suffered delays, the country has resumed production of the Soviet-developed Tu-160 bomber which is expected to gradually replace the Tu-95 and potentially participate in more joint operations with Chinese forces in future.