BEIJING (Reuters) - China's air force can launch long-range precision strikes, state media on Wednesday cited a military expert as saying, as the country working to develop its offensive air capabilities.
Tension has grown in Asia as Beijing takes a more assertive stance on its territorial disputes in the South and East China seas, prompting many nations to ramp up military spending.
Countries from the Philippines to Vietnam and Japan have watched their giant neighbor's military rise with growing alarm, as China has built artificial islands in the South China Sea.
In recent months, China has held several long-range air and naval drills far from its shores in the Pacific Ocean, including some involving sophisticated H-6K bombers.
The H-6K bombers can now carry and launch anti-ship missiles and cruise missiles, the official China Daily quoted aviation expert Fu Qianshao as saying.
"In the past, our bombers could only deliver airdropped bombs and so were unable to conduct precision attacks," said Fu, an expert with the air force of the People's Liberation Army.
But the H-6K had changed that picture.
"It can take out multiple targets on the ground or at sea within one mission," Fu said, adding that the capabilities had been proven by the recent drills far into the Pacific Ocean.
Analysts have watched the bomber's capabilities closely, as it represents China's first "strategic bomber" - meaning one designed to fly into enemy territory to take down distant, precise targets on the ground.
The newspaper did not identify potential targets.
In a report, the U.S. Pentagon has said the bomber jets will heighten the PLA's long-range offensive capabilities in the air.
In June, the Pentagon said China was mounting a serious effort to challenge U.S. military superiority in air and space, developing stealth aircraft, advanced reconnaissance planes and sophisticated missiles.
On Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the United States military would sail and fly wherever international law allowed, including the disputed South China Sea.
Last week China said it would not stand for violations of its territorial waters in the name of freedom of navigation.
(Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)