The Chinese air force is developing Xian H-20 its new stealth bomber. What does that mean for the U.S.?

In January, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) released a high-quality recruiting video. The spot links, in a compelling way, China’s air force legacy to its future using shots of existing stealth fighters in futuristic roles. 

Three minutes and 43 seconds into the video, China’s new stealth bomber is shown, covered in a sheet. The Xian H-20, the bomber’s supposed designation, has been teased since 2016. If realized, the H-20 would be China’s only purpose-built strategic bomber. 

Bomber Specifics – Sort of

Very little is known about the bomber as the Chinese government has not acknowledged its existence. Nevertheless, sources inside China have leaked information to the press, painting a bleak picture. 

China Daily, China’s largest English-language newspaper, reported on the bomber earlier this month. According to the newspaper, the H-20 is projected to be bigger and more powerful than the B-2 or B-21. 

Furthermore, if the information provided to the South China Morning Post is correct, the new bomber eclipses its U.S. equivalents. With a projected munitions payload of 45 tons and a range of 7,400 miles, no U.S. bomber even comes close: The B-2 Spirit has a payload of 20 tons and a range of approximately 7,000 miles. The B-52 clocks in at a 35-ton payload and 8,800-mile range. 

Will the Xian H-20 Be a Nuclear Bomber?

China’s newest bomber is also expected to be nuclear-capable. Adding nuclear capability to a new stealth platform will bring China in line with America. Currently, China operates the H-6N, a variant of Russia’s T-16 bomber. The T-16 was developed in the 1960s to keep abreast of the U.S. in strategic dominance.

Developing the Xian H-20 shows that China is trying to keep up with the U.S. — again.

Silence Often Says a Lot

Chinese officials have not released any verifiable information regarding the Xian H-20. Chinese media reports it will be bigger and badder, but not much else. Artist depictions show a strikingly familiar design, though, as can be seen in the image below.

Xian H-20: The Chinese Stealth Bomber to End all Stealth Bombers?
Artist’s rendition of China’s proposed Xian H-20 stealth bomber. (GlobalSecurity.org)

There have been no sightings of the bomber, verified or otherwise. In November 2018, China had announced it would begin testing its newest bomber soon. Yet, nothing came out of it. The fact that nothing has been seen or documented points to smoke and mirrors. Sabre-rattling, as it were. 

Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

China already has a tendency to let other countries do its development, as evidenced by the outward similarities between the F-22 Raptor and the J-20, China’s “fifth-gen” stealth fighter. 

https://i0.wp.com/i.pinimg.com/originals/d9/be/2d/d9be2deec568c369dc7e80ba8a66ab43.jpg?resize=1072%2C715&ssl=1
F-22 Raptor flies over Royal International Air Tattoo, 2016.

Is it, then, any wonder that China’s Xian H-20 would look similar to the B-2 or B-21? Similarities aside, the idea that the H-20 will be a rival to the B-2 or B-21 should be taken with a grain of salt, considering China’s past record as, despite being a ripoff of the F-22 Raptor, the Chengdu J-20 has not lived up to the hype.

https://i0.wp.com/www.airforcemag.com/Image/Features/PublishingImages/2017/March%202017/china_j20.jpg?resize=1071%2C715&ssl=1
Flypast of the Chengdu J-20 during the opening of Airshow China in Zhuhai, 2016.

Future Force

As the U.S. moves forward with the development of the B-21 Raider, China, and indeed the rest of the world, look on in anticipation. As shown by the B-52, B-1, and the B-2, when the U.S. military decides to develop a new bomber, it does so. 

On the other hand, when China decides to develop a new bomber, it has to wait until the U.S. develops one. Only then can China come up with its knock-off design.

The Xian H-20 could have a suspicious number of outward similarities to the B-21 Raider.
Artist’s rendering of a B-21 Raider with Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., as the backdrop. (U.S. Air Force)

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