The photo, which originated on Sina Weibo before making its way to Twitter, shows a Xian H-6J, China’s updated version of its H-6 bomber based on the Soviet Tu-16 Badger, sitting on the tarmac of what is purported to be Woody Island, called Yongxing Island by Beijing.
According to Huitong's CMA-Blog, H-6Js were deployed to Yongxing Island - also known as Woody Island - in the South China Sea.— @Rupprecht_A (@RupprechtDeino) August 12, 2020
(Image via @saga522_FIA桂系 at Weibo) pic.twitter.com/VwREeADdwn
An H-6K bomber doing a touch-and-go landing on Woody Island in 2018 caused enough of a stir, but if accurate, the recent photo would signal the first time such heavy bombers have been stationed in the region, according to The Drive.
The H-6J only recently made its debut, appearing for the first time in combat drills over the South China Sea late last month, Global Times reported.
According to the outlet, the H-6J can carry seven YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missiles, with nearly twice the weapons capacity and flight radius of the H-6G that it replaced. The YJ-12 has a range of some 400 kilometers, far exceeding US anti-ship missile ranges, and is reportedly designed with the intention of killing capital ships like the aircraft carriers the US has repeatedly deployed to the waterway in recent months for military drills.
Woody Island is the largest of the Paracel Islands, which are disputed between China and Vietnam, but even it is just 2.1 square kilometers in area - just barely enough to fit an airfield. However, the island is also home to the town of Sansha, a prefecture-level city that Beijing hopes will one day administer its various holdings in the South China Sea.
The airstrip has also seen visits by other People’s Liberation Army aircraft, including J-10, J-11BH and JH-7A fighter jets.