America’s Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit is the only operational stealth bomber in the world today after having entered operational service in 1997. Well, if reports are to be believed, China too, is working on a new stealth strategic bomber, details of which aren’t known much due to its classified nature.
Reportedly, China’s first intercontinental deep strike bomber, the Xian H-20, is nearing its first flight and if true, would be the world’s first publicly disclosed non-American stealth bomber ever to fly.
The Xian H-20 is touted to be nuclear-capable and may be armed with conventional, nuclear-tipped or hypersonic stealth cruise missiles, thereby sending a strong message to the United States and its Pacific allies in an era of rising geostrategic tensions.
Stealth fighters like the F-35, F-22, J-20, or Su-57 are all limited by the physical requirements for aerobatic fighter performance, forcing the inclusion of design elements like vertical tail surfaces that can render them detectable against low-frequency radar arrays. What’s special about a stealth bomber is that it may fly over you and you may not even realize it.
Will China’s H-20 be the one to kill America’s monopoly on heavy-payload, deep-penetration, stealth-bomber technology or is this just another rip-off from America’s low-observable past?
According to photos released by China North Industries Corporation- Norinco, in its Modern Weaponry monthly magazine show that the fighter has a flying wing design, a weapons bay, two adjustable tail wings and a frontal airborne radar. Additionally, it also features stealth air intakes on both sides and is covered in dark grey radar-absorbent material.
Reportedly, it will have a maximum takeoff weight of 200 tons, a payload of 45 tons and fly at high subsonic speeds with a claimed range of 7,500 miles without the need for aerial refuelling.
According to Warrior Maven’s Kris Osborn, it could be compared to a B-2 clone.
It features a similar rounded upper fuselage, blended wing body, curved upper air inlets and essentially no vertical structures. There appears to be a fair amount of evidence, simply available to the naked eye, to demonstrate China’s overt ‘copycat’ maneuverOsborn wrote
According to Defence Website 1945, China aims to have the H-20 at operational capability by the end of the decade, which also happens to be pretty close to the US’ timeline for its B-21 Raider- the successor to the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.
Interestingly, this concept of stealth bomber can also be compared to the Tupolev PAK DA of a similar role, configuration and era.
In 2018 China seemingly confirmed that its forthcoming H-20 stealth bomber would leverage a flying wing design reminiscent of America’s own B-2 Spirit.
Reportedly, The Pentagon believes the H-20’s range is “at least” 5,281 miles, as compared to the B-2’s nearly 7,000. The mainland United States is more than 7,200 miles from Chinese shores and the presence of refuelling tankers over the Pacific could potentially tip American defences off about an impending strike.
Although China has made rapid progress modernizing its military apparatus, it does not appear to have demonstrated the same capacity that the United States has for fielding extremely low observable platforms.
COVER: The Week