In addition to the massive foray of Chinese military aircraft breaching Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) last weekend, China challenged President Biden in more aggressive ways. During the operation of the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (CSG) in the South China Sea at the same time, eight Chinese long-range bombers and five escorts flying near the carrier actually rehearsed attacking the carrier task force in real time.
This is a serious escalation from the traditional norm of flying a pair of bombers near U.S. ships, as Russians and Chinese normally do—and the U.S. does to them as well to them.
As noted by Popular Mechanics (PopMech), “flying eight bombers—with pilots practicing orders to launch missiles—goes beyond trolling and enters the realm of a feasible military mission.”
PopMech adds, the “eight People’s Liberation Army Air Force H-6K bombers, accompanied by four J-16 fighters and a Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, took off from airfields on China’s central coast and headed south.” There they remained at least 250 nautical miles from the carrier to carry out their anti-carrier strike drills.
One observer Tweeted additional insights about the Chinese mission.
The Financial Times even reported that, “Pilots of H-6 bombers could be heard in cockpit conversations confirming orders for the simulated targeting and release of anti-ship missiles against the carrier.”
The 13 Chinese military aircraft involved in the incident, explains Kyle Mizokami, an established military writer, “represent an anti-carrier strike package. The eight H-6 bombers were the ‘shooters’ meant to target the Roosevelt.” He adds that: “The four J-16 fighters were escorts tasked with protecting the bombers.
Meanwhile, he notes:
The Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft may sound like a curious inclusion, but the unarmed sub hunter’s surface search radar would have made it a useful scout for locating the carrier strike group at sea.
The bombers would have practiced launching a missile like the YJ-12 anti-ship missile, a large anti-ship missile with a top speed of Mach 3 to 4 and a range of 248 miles. The Aviationist says each H-6 can carry up to six YJ-12 missiles, for a theoretical total of 48 anti-ship missiles on this mission alone.
That’s a lot of sea skimming anti-ship firepower from one strike package. However, an E-2D Hawkeye AWACs plane and a dozen F-18 Super Hornet strike fighters sent from the carrier would likely be able to detect and intercept the non-stealthy Chinese planes well beyond their missile standoff range.
The real challenges arise when these Chinese bombers are followed by waves of other attack aircraft and combined with barrages of land based anti-ship ballistic missiles, and even submarine launched cruise missiles.
Either way, this aggressive exercise is certainly another major test of the Biden Team’s resolve and stance toward China – especially following a decisive and forceful Trump administration.