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Chinese, Russian long-range bombers make reciprocal base visits

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MELBOURNE, Australia – Chinese and Russian long-range bombers made reciprocal visits to each other’s bases following a joint patrol over regional waters, marking the first such visit following a bomber patrol involving the two countries.

The patrol over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea on Wednesday was undertaken by a pair of Tupolev Tu-95MS “Bear” bombers of the Russian long-range aviation forces and a similar number of Xi’an H-6Ks from of China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force or PLAAF, according to a statement from the Russian defense ministry.

The statement did not identify the bases the bombers landed at, but posts on Chinese social media identified the location where the Russian bombers landed as Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province, southwest of the Chinese post city of Shanghai.

Defense News geolocated a video showing a Tu-95MS bomber taking off at night to a location northeast of Hangzhou-Jianqiao airbase, directly underneath the flightpath of the base’s single runway

The Russian release added that the bombers “were accompanied by fighters of foreign states” during parts of their journey.

A news segment of the patrol aired by Russia’s Zvezda News showed the bombers accompanied by a Japanese F-15 interceptor, an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, U.S. Air Force F-22 stealth fighters and U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornets or EA-18G Growlers.

South Korea’s military also confirmed that it scrambled fighter jets as two Chinese and six Russian military aircraft entered its air defense zone.

Japan’s defense ministry publicized further details of the joint patrol, showing that it was initiated when a pair of PLAAF H-6Ks overflew the East China Sea and entered the Sea of Japan on Wednesday morning, before reversing course and flew back with the Russian bombers to the East China Sea and to the Western Pacific.

The patrol then turned back and re-entered the East China Sea via the Miyako Strait and flew towards China, where they were met by a pair of PLAAF J-16 multirole combat jets over the East China Sea.

Chinese state media confirmed the latter detail, with a news segment on the patrol adding that the J-16s were refueled in midair by a PLAAF Xi’an YY-20 tanker.

The segment, along with images released by Japan, indicated that the J-16s were from the 7th Air Brigade at Jiaxing while the H-6Ks were from the 10th Bomber Division based at Anqing. The Russian bombers were from the 182nd Heavy Bomber Regiment based in Ukrainka Air Base, the sole unit operating the type in Russia’s Eastern Military District.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

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