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 a study by Rick Joe at The Diplomat, Chinese publications began speculating about the H-20 in the early 2010s.
In September 2016, the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China confirmed that the next-gen long-range bomber is under development.
A small-scale test model of China’s next-generation bomber, a flying wing unofficially dubbed the H-20, has been spotted by satellite at Gaobeidian, a radar cross-section test range near Beijing.
In October 2018, Chinese media announced that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) would publicly unveil its new H-20 stealth bomber during a parade celebrating the air arm’s seventieth anniversary in 2019. This comes only two years after PLAAF Gen. Ma Xiaotian formally revealed the Hong-20’s existence.
Apart from that China released a video teaser of its H-20 stealth bomber and trolled the US’s stealth bombers in the process
China’s state-run aviation and defense company, Aviation Industry Corporation of China, posted video celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation, a subsidiary of AVIC
The video, which China Daily tweeted, ends with a shadowy wide shot of bomber-looking aircraft covered in a sheet with text reading “The Next” appearing on the screen.
The shot looks eerily similar to a Northrop Grumman advertisement of the B-21 Raider, which ran during the 2015 Super Bowl, The Drive reported, adding that China Defense Online may have also added the ending itself. As such, it’s unclear if it’s legit.
The Xian H-20 is a subsonic stealth bomber design. The aircraft will feature a wing design similar to that of the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, with components already being manufactured. Analysts noted that the new type bomber may enter service by 2025.
China state media CCTV estimates the H-20 will have stealth features, a maximum takeoff weight of at least 200 tons and payload capacity of up to 45 tons.
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.
Postulated characteristics include four non-afterburning WS-10A Taihang turbofans sunk into the top of the wing surface with S-shaped saw-toothed inlets for stealth. It’s worth noting that the WS-10 has been plagued by major problems, but that hasn’t stopped China from manufacturing fighters using WS-10s, with predictably troubled results.
The new strategic bomber is expected to have a maximum un-refueled combat radius exceeding 5,000 miles and payload between the H-6’s ten tons and the B-2’s twenty-three tons. This is because the H-20 is reportedly designed to strike targets beyond the “second island ring” (which includes U.S. bases in Japan, Guam, the Philippines, etc.) from bases on mainland China. The third island chain extends to Hawaii and coastal Australia.
The H-20 will also likely be capable of carrying nuclear weapons, finally giving China a full triad of nuclear-capable submarines, ballistic missiles and bombers.
Though the H-6 was China’s original nuclear bomber, these are no longer configured for nuclear strike, though that could change if air-launched nuclear-tipped cruise or ballistic missile are devised. Beijing is nervous that the United States’ limited ballistic missile defense capabilities might eventually become adequate for countering China’s small ICBM and SLBM arsenal.
The addition of a stealth bomber would contribute to China’s nuclear deterrence by adding a new, difficult-to-stop vector of nuclear attack that the U.S. defenses aren’t designed to protect against.
Analysts forecast the H-20’s first flight in the early 2020s, with production possibly beginning around 2025.