The scale of Saturday’s bomber sortie is noteworthy. Eight of the 108-foot-wingspan bombers flew toward Taiwan’s southwest air-defense zone. Four J-16 fighters protected the bombers. A Y-8 patrol plane was nearby, perhaps acting as an airborne command post, Cole theorized.
It’s not unprecedented for the Chinese air force to sortie eight bombers at once, but it is unusual. That’s a lot of hardware requiring extensive planning and maximum effort from aircrew and ground staff. The U.S. Air Force’s own sorties—such as those high-profile B-52 missions near Russia last year—rarely involve more than four bombers plus support planes.
But if Chinese president Xi Jinping pulled the trigger and ordered the PLA to attack Taiwan, the air force certainly would launch more than eight bombers. There are more than 200 H-6s in PLAAF and People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force service. It’s safe to assume many of them would take part in any air war over Taiwan, which probably also would involve strikes on U.S. bases in the region.