People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) bomber fleet is steadily being modernized, and plans call for a next-generation stealthy, multi-role bomber.
According to South China Morning Post report, China’s new generation strategic bomber is likely to be ready for delivery this year, but Beijing is said to be weighing the impact of its unveiling at a complex time in regional relations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Military sources said the Xian H-20 supersonic stealth bomber – expected to double the country’s strike range – could make its first public appearance at this year’s Zhuhai Airshow in November, if the pandemic was sufficiently under control.
“The Zhuhai Airshow is expected to become a platform to promote China’s image and its success in pandemic control – telling the outside world that the contagion did not have any big impacts on Chinese defence industry enterprises,” a source said.
The US defence department has estimated a cruising distance of more than 8,500km (5,300 miles) for the H-20, the last in China’s 20 series of new generation warplanes, which includes the J-20 stealth fighter jet, the Y-20 giant transporter and the Z-20 medium-lift utility helicopter.
The arrival of the H-20 would mark the completion of China’s “nuclear triad” of ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles and air-launched weapons.
The H-20 has reportedly been designed to strike targets beyond the second island ring – which includes US bases in Japan, Guam, the Philippines and other countries – from bases in mainland China. The third island chain extends to Hawaii and coastal Australia.
It will be equipped with nuclear and conventional missiles with a maximum take-off weight of at least 200 tonnes and a payload of up to 45 tonnes. The bomber is expected to fly at subsonic speeds and could potentially unleash four powerful hypersonic stealth cruise missiles.
However, like China’s first active stealth fighter jet, the J-20, engine development of the H-20 bomber has fallen behind schedule, according to sources
The H-20 resembles the U.S. Air Force’s B-2 Spirit bomber and the Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator. However, military analyst Wang Mingliang told CCTV that the H-20 cannot be compared with the B-2 as it will perform missions beyond strategic bombings, such as electronic warfare.
Military enthusiasts have speculated the H-20 might use the NK-321 Russian engine but two independent military sources said it would be equipped with an upgraded WS-10 engine.
“The WS-10 is still a transitional engine for the H-20 because it is not powerful enough. The eligible replacement may take two to three years for development,” one of the sources said.
The H-20 is believed to have been in development since the early 2000s. The project to develop a strategic bomber was first announced by the People’s Liberation Army in 2016.