H-20 - New Chinese Strategic Bomber
Whether China would develop a new strategic bomber to replace its half-century-old H-6 fleet and what the new aircraft would look like had been long-standing questions among observers and fans of the PLA Air Force until recently, when high-ranking officers and project managers started dropping hints about the new plane.
In September 2016, General Ma Xiaotian, the Air Force's former commander, told reporters, "We are now developing a new-generation, long-range strike bomber that you will see sometime in the future."
In May 2018, the nation's leading aircraft maker-Aviation Industry Corp of China-displayed a front view of what appeared to be a flying-wing aircraft concept at the end of a promotional video. The clip was released to mark the 60th anniversary of Xi'an Aircraft Industry, an AVIC subsidiary in Shaanxi province that is China's major builder of bombers. AVIC did not explain the six-second clip, doubtlessly an attempt to highlight the plane's significance and mystery. Despite its brevity, the video seems to have ended debate among Chinese military fans and aviation industry observers about whether the new bomber would adopt a conventional aerodynamic configuration or the flying-wing design previously used only on the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit.
China revealed what military specialists believe could be a new long-range bomber for the first time to the public, showing that China has the ability to develop such aircraft. The video, A Major Power Takes Off, released by Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) on 15 May 2018, showed the front outline of the long-range bomber as the video is about to finish. The flying-wing bomber was covered by a blanket, with only its outline visible. The video was released to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of AVIC Xi'an Aircraft Industry Group.
The clip is accompanied by bold text, which reads: “The Next…” It is thought to be the next generation H-20 stealth bomber from China and the aircraft could be devastating for anyone planning to take on the east Asian country in war. China Military magazine quoted General Ma Xiaotian, former chief of the Chinese Air Force, who said: “We are now developing a new-generation, long range strike bomber that you will see sometime in the future.” Shi Jian of Aviation World Monthly magazine said: “I think the new bomber will be unveiled to the public in the near future.“It is not uncommon for the PLA (People's Liberation Army Air Force) to make public its top weapons before their delivery thanks to the increased level of transparency and confidence brought about by our technological advancement.”
Despite claims of transparency, a lot has remained secret about China’s new bomber, including the aircraft itself. China aviation expert Fu Qianshao told the state-run Global Times that the H-20 is likely to be similar to the US B-2 stealth bomber, meaning that it will have an expected range of 7,500 miles (12,000km), putting Australia easily in its range as well as the west coast of the United States. What’s more, the Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation took a subtle swipe at the United States when teasing the aircraft. The advert is extremely similar to one run by weapons manufacturer Northrop Grumman for the B-21 bomber, which also showed an aircraft under a large white sheet.
Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the aircraft is possibly a new long-range bomber, similar to the US B-2 stealth bomber. From the video, it's hard to determine the precise parameters of the bomber, but referring to other countries' aircraft, China's long-range bomber should have a range of at least 12,000 kilometers and 20 tons of storecarrying capacity, Fu Qianshao, an air defense expert, told the Global Times. The bomber likely has prominent stealth defense capability and a better performance than the B-2, Fu said.
China has no obstacles in developing the flying wing long-range bomber and AVIC Xi'an Aircraft Industry Group has a great deal of aircraft manufacturing experience, experts noted. Fu said the bomber was shown to the public before being officially announced, which demonstrates that China possesses mature technology for developing long-range bombers and has confidence in the aviation field. The new bomber will enhance the strategic strike capability of the air force, analysts noted.
Pictures of stealth bombers disclosed in Aviation Knowledge were exposed on social media in 2013. At that time, everyone was “scammed” and they were considered to be creative pictures of military enthusiasts, not the military research on new military aircraft.
On July 13, 2015, a Japanese scholar wrote an article titled "China to develop new type of long-range strategic bomber", which referred to the H-20, a name that's commonly used now. Someone compared it with America's B-2 strategic bomber and called it the "red B-2".
Chinese air force expert Fu Qianshao speculated in October 2016 that China's new type of long-range bomber, currently being developed, may be equipped with four turbofan engines. His remark came after Gen. Ma Xiaotian, commander of PLA Air Force, publicly confirmed the plane's existence for the first time. Fu said his assessment was based on the comprehensive technological capacity of the PLA Air Force. He said the new bomber would most likely be equipped with the WS-10 (literally, turbofan-10), now being installed in fighter jets.
Since the WS-10 has two versions, one with an afterburner and the other without, Fu further speculated there would be three separate technological plans for the bomber's engine configuration. The first plan emphasizes the bomber's stealth capability but not its supersonic penetration performance. It calls for a WS-10 version without an afterburner. The second plan requires the WS-10 to be fitted with afterburners to generate the extra thrust needed for rapid acceleration for a certain period. Under the third plan, both stealth ability and supersonic penetration are equally stressed, something the PLA is also capable of realizing with its present level of technical expertise.
Another Chinese aviation expert, Wang Yanan, said the new bomber will resemble the Russian Tu-160 fixed-wing aircraft, instead of the U.S. B-2, which features a flying wing design. Speaking of whether China can develop supersonic stealth strategic bombers, military expert Li Li said that this is technically demanding indeed. Because if the emphasis is laid on the stealth performance, the aircraft's aerodynamic configuration will be quite different from that of a supersonic bomber. It may be a more realistic solution to select from the stealth capability and supersonic penetration.
The Science and Technology Daily of China published an article titled Conjecture on China’s Strategic Bomber Performance on 04 December 2016, saying that China’s Air Force Commander Ma Xiaotian revealed that China is developing next-generation long-range bombers at an open day activity on September 1, confirming the “legendary” “H-20” bomber. A China Central Television (CCTV) program also showed a suspected CG graph of China’s H-20 bomber, which further made a big splash among military fans. When asked when China's next-generation strategic bombers will make the debut, Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo, director of the PLA Navy's Expert Consultation Committee, said that "we should have some patience".
China’s secretive H-20 bomber is well on its way to becoming a fully developed next-generation strategic stealth aircraft, but not in the near future. A Chinese admiral said that China and the rest of the world must be patient while waiting for the H-20 to be launched. China has not yet produced an operational, large-tonnage bomber aircraft capable of hitting long-range targets. Nevertheless, a host of technologies that Beijing expects the "legendary" aircraft to carry, including cruise missiles and nuclear arms, "are all in place," Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo of the People’s Liberation Army said, ripening the conditions for the country’s development of a stealth bomber. Having the strategic bomber will become one of the symbols of China’s air force as a strategic service, said Yin Zhuo.
Yin Zhuo also held that the strategic bombers that China is developing will be surely on a par with B-2 of the US and have the stealth performance. Yin introduced that the next-generation strategic bombers need a longer development cycle, usually more than ten years. China boasts some favorable conditions for developing strategic bombers: China has accumulated some experience from the development of J-20 and F -31 stealth fighters, so the material and design is not a big problem. China has developed Y-20, C-919 and other large aircraft, so the relevant technical reserves are useful for developing strategic bombers.
Cruise missiles, nuclear weapons and other weapons and equipment that will be carried by domestic strategic bombers are all in place, so it is just in time for China to develop strategic bombers, said Yin Zhuo. Leveraging the rich technical reserves, the development cycle may be shorter.
China’s current H-6 bomber lacks long-range capacity. As a result, the country is looking to phase out the H-6 with a new aircraft that will "surely" be on par with the US B-2 Spirit stealth warcraft. Northrop Grumman first deployed the B-2 in 1989 and the weapons corporation has since devised blueprints for the B-21 Raider program, a next generation of Long Range Strike Bombers.
Critics note that China is sticking to its traditional strategy of using the proven technologies of more advanced countries to achieve new design requirements, seen by many as a smart move, as it lowers China’s design costs and lead time for the H-20’s development.
Xinhua claims that it will "leverage the rich technical reserves" from the evolution of its J-20 stealth jet, which mirrors the Lockheed F-22 Raptor and the Russian Sukhoi PAK FA, as well as the Y-20 cargo transporter, the largest military airplane in production. Another Chinese military official, Li Li, added that successfully developing a stealth supersonic bomber would be "technically demanding indeed."
China has overcome many technical difficulties in strategic bomber so far, including engine, air inlet, material and stealth technology. It is progressing fast on the development of precise guided munition, and has amassed experience in manufacturing the Y-20 military aircraft. Therefore, the new-generation long-range bomber is likely to have the following characteristics.
- First, good stealth performance. The new bomber will probably adopt the flying wing layout like American and Russian bombers to meet the requirement for stealth performance.
- Second, ultra long range. The new bomber has an intercontinental flying range of more than 10,000km and combat radius of over 5,000km. With air refueling, it is able to fly and carry out missions around the globe.
- Third, large bomb load. Aimed to lower the R&D cost and enhance strike capability, the new bomber will have a slightly smaller bomb load than B-2A (23 tons) but larger than H-6K.
- Fourth, nuclear-regular integration. The new-generation long-range bomber will have both nuclear and regular strike capability to hit the enemy's key links and systemic weaknesses.
- Fifth, strong electronic combat capability. The new-generation long-range bomber is almost as good as a special electronic combat aircraft in electronic combat capability. It is able to disturb and destroy incoming missiles and other air and ground targets through a range of equipment including radar, electronic confrontation platform, high power microwave, laser and infrared equipment.
The bomber is also said to be capable of large-capacity date fusion and transmission. It can serve as a C4ISR node and interact with large sensor platforms like UAV, early warning aircraft and strategic reconnaissance aircraft to share information and target data.
The long-range strategic bomber is an indispensable part in a major country's strategic strike system. At the moment, the US and Russia both have their own long-range bombers, the former having B-52H, B-1B and B-2A and the latter having Tu-160 and Tu-95MS, and they have both plans for developing next-generation strategic bombers.
The large long-range bomber has always been a weak point for the PLA Air Force, which is at the critical juncture of moving from quantitative accumulation to qualitative change and from being a big force to a strong force. The new-generation LRSB will considerably improve China's strategic attack capability and make the PLA Air Force a strategic air force in the true sense. It is also of great realistic significance for countering nuclear blackmail from superpowers, and solving surrounding maritime disputes that impede China's rise.
In early January 2021, the PLA Air Force included an artistic rendering of what appeared to be a large flying-wing bomber at the end of a widely circulated video intended to help recruit new student pilots. Analysts said it was a move to show that the new bomber's development was proceeding well and likely nearing completion.
The next-generation bomber of the People's Liberation Army Air Force, one of the Chinese military's most anticipated aircraft, will be world-class in terms of technology and capability, according to a well-informed observer. Fu Qianshao, a retired equipment expert from the PLA Air Force, said 22 July 2021 the new Chinese bomber, popularly dubbed the H-20, will be more powerful than the United States' Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, now the mightiest bomber in the world, and will be bigger than the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider, the next US long-range, stealth strategic bomber.
He said the world-class design of the new Chinese aircraft, whose official code name has not yet been disclosed, will outshine its peers around the world. "Once the new bomber is unveiled, it will definitely be world-leading hardware thanks to our unique technologies, and will be equipped with reliable engines," Fu said this month. "People only need to wait patiently to see the rise of the Chinese aviation industry and the PLA Air Force."
He said research and development of the bomber was highly sophisticated and involved many industrial sectors. Addressing recent speculation about the new plane's external appearance, Fu said he believed that images of the bomber published in some domestic weapons magazines were purely artistic renderings created by aviation enthusiasts, and did not represent the actual design.
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