China’s next-generation Xian H-20 strategic bomber may have adopted a stealthy flying wing design that can help it strike targets in the second island chain and beyond, an analyst said after images of the aircraft’s design were published.
The latest edition of Modern Weaponry, a monthly magazine run by state defence corporation China North Industries Group, or Norinco, has released four computer-generated pictures of the design of the Xian H-20. The bomber has been under development for years and photos of it have never been officially disclosed.
The four pictures suggested that the aircraft has a weapon bay, two adjustable tail wings, an airborne radar at the front and two stealth air intakes on both sides, all covered in a dark grey radar-absorbent material.
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Its shape is very similar to that of aircraft shown in a promotional video in January by another state firm, Aviation Industry Corporation of China, or AVIC, to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of Xian Aircraft Industrial Corporation, or XAC – which is reportedly responsible for developing the H-20.
Previous reports had said that the H-20 would be equipped with nuclear and conventional missiles, have a maximum take-off weight of at least 200 tonnes and a payload of up to 45 tonnes, and was expected to fly at subsonic speeds and potentially fire four powerful hypersonic stealth cruise missiles.
Jon Grevatt, a warplane specialist and Asia-Pacific defence analyst at Janes, said the released pictures showed that the H-20 prioritised stealth and long distance over speed.
“So that means the strategic kind of advantage of that aircraft is that it would be able to strike as what they call a strategic bomber, so it will be able to strike targets a long distance away, perhaps in the second island chain and beyond,” Grevatt said.
“That means it would threaten US assets and interests in the Asia-Pacific. If the aircraft becomes operational, it has the potential to be a game-changer.”
Part of the island chain strategy in US foreign policy, the second island ring includes US bases in Japan, Guam, the Philippines and other countries. The third island chain extends to Hawaii and coastal Australia.
Grevatt said he expected the aircraft to become operational by the end of the 2020s, and that China had acquired good experience and knowledge in the development of stealth aircraft in the past 10 years or so.
China’s development of the H-20 bomber has attracted international attention. In late October, the London-based Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies said in a report that the subsonic stealth bomber would give China a “truly intercontinental” capacity that would expand its reach far beyond the country’s seaboard.
“Armed with nuclear and conventional stand-off missiles, the H-20 would represent a major break from previous [People’s Liberation Army Air Force] doctrine and equipment development practice,” the report said.
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