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China Finally Built Its Own Long-Range Bomber

October 13, 2018

Early this week state-owned media broke the news of an upcoming “stealth bomber” that will soon begin its “trial flight.” The Global Times even shared its official designation–the “Hong-20” or H-20. Though details were sparse, the H-20 is a recent project begun ten years ago to provide the PLAAF with a long-range strike platform better than the H-6K. If the H-20 is finally shown for all the world to see it’s another breakthrough in China’s golden decade for aerospace that spans homegrown attack helicopters, long endurance drones, medium and heavy transports, sea planes, and stealth fighters. But no single authoritative source can vouch for the critical details surrounding the H-20.

What has been ascertained so far is the soon-to-be revealed H-20 will have three main characteristics. These are long-range, missile-carrying, and stealthiness. There’s a consensus its airframe shares many similarities with the US Air Force’s B-2 Spirit but there’s no proof to confirm this yet. If the H-20 does live up to expectations, it’s a clear sign the PLA’s war doctrine isn’t just about invading Taiwan anymore but neutralizing the US Navy’s presence over the Asia-Pacific. Below is an assessment of the H-20’s three main characteristics.

  • Long-range – If the H-20 travels farther than the H-6K, which is an upgraded H-6 airframe designed for carrying anti-ship missiles, then its role is attacking the US Navy and other strategic targets in the Western Pacific. This marks a huge jump in capabilities for China’s aerospace sector because the manufacturer of the H-20 successfully built a new engine type matching those on a Russian Tu-160 or a US B-1B Lancer. But how many engines will the H-20 have, anyway?
  • Missile-carrying – With no credible details on its size measurements and payload, much less its appearance, the ordnance meant for the H-20 is difficult to ascertain. One thing that’s for sure, however, is the PLAAF won’t adopt a new bomber for carrying unguided munitions. If a deep strike aircraft for taking out US Navy carriers and their ports is the H-20’s reason for being, its armaments will at least be similar to the H-6K. On the assumption the H-20 has a stealth airframe, then its ordnance is carried in the “belly” on two oscillating launchers with six cruise missiles each. This is a mean punch.
  • Stealth – Barely eight years since the fifth-generation J-20 started its testing phase and reached operational readiness, the advent of the H-20 is indisputable proof China’s aerospace engineering is world-class. Unless, of course, the J-20 turns out to be an expensive mistake whose unit cost surpasses its usefulness in any war scenario. Now why does the H-20 need to have stealth too? This suggests the PLAAF want a bomber that evades sophisticated air defenses. So if the H-20 can in fact reach the Western Pacific, then its other missions  are flying to Australia, Japan, the Arctic Circle, and…Alaska?

Until the H-20’s first appearance is “leaked” by Chinese state media it’s no use embracing guesstimates about what it can and can’t do. How it fits into the PLAAF’s war contingencies is best neglected for now until precious insights are mentioned in the press or spread virally. Since the H-6K and its newer variants won’t be retired soon, it’s probable the H-20’s are a limited batch of specialized airframes. But who really knows?

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