Home Army Technology China’s New Stealth Bomber Can't Be as Powerful as It Sounds – Popular Mechanics

China’s New Stealth Bomber Can't Be as Powerful as It Sounds – Popular Mechanics

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  • China’s first totally new bomber in decades, the H-20, will reportedly give the country “truly intercontinental power-projection capability.”
  • The H-20 is believed to be similar in appearance to the American B-2 Spirit bomber.
  • A South China Morning Post report adds other details from the mainland, though some seem unlikely.

    A report on China’s new, upcoming bomber paints a picture of a big, stealthy plane capable of flying halfway across the Pacific, laden with up to 45 tons of bombs.

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    The South China Morning Post (SCMP) claims the bomber will make China an intercontinental power, but don’t be surprised if the real plane falls short of its capabilities.

    The Xi’an H-20, according to the SCMP, is a large, stealthy bomber under development for China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force. The bomber would supplement and eventually replace the H-6, a 1950s-era design that China has steadily upgraded over the decades. The H-20, which China announced in 2016, is expected to be revealed sometime in the next year or two.

    The H-20 is depicted as having a flying wing design that trades speed for range and stealth. According to SCMP’s mainland sources, the H-20 will have a bomb load of 45 tons, far more than the B-52H Stratofortress’s 35 tons and the B-2 Spirit’s 20 tons.

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    The SCMP article cites unnamed sources who say the bomber will also have a range of at least 12,000 kilometers, or at 7,456 miles—an impressive range that would put Hawaii within reach of the H-20. It would also put all 50 U.S. states within striking distance if the H-20 took an Arctic flight route.

    By comparison, the B-52H has an unrefueled combat range of 8,800 miles, while the B-2 has an unrefueled range of 6,904 miles.

    B-52H bomber flying over New York City, July 4th, 2020.

    GothamGetty Images

    The SCMP also cites mainland reports that say the H-20 will be equipped with nuclear weapons, forming one leg of a nuclear triad that also includes nuclear missile submarines and land-based missiles. The bomber will also carry four “stealth or hypersonic” missiles.


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    The aircraft the SCMP describes seems unlikely to add up to a real bomber. A flying wing design that carries 45 tons of bombs would be enormous: Unlike bombers such as the H-6 and B-52H, which have long fuselages capable of carrying vast amounts of bombs, a flying wing must stuff everything (weapons included) into a flying boomerang shape. The H-20, as sketched out by the SCMP, would need to be much larger than the four-engined B-2.

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    The B-2 stealth bomber.

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    There’s also the matter of the 7,456-mile combat range. That number is a huge leap over the H-6, and seems to conveniently cover the entire United States. The H-20 would have to carry an enormous amount of fuel to transport 45 tons of bombs, further adding to the bomber’s size.

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    Chinese H-6 bombers flying in formation over Beijing, 2019.

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    It seems unlikely that the final bomber will be this much of a “wonder weapon.” While China has taken great strides in military technology over the past 30 years, much of it has been incremental in terms of progress. The Pentagon, in its 2020 report on Chinese Military Power, pegs the H-20 as a plane with a more modest 5,281-mile range and the ability to lift just 10 tons of munitions.

    One thing the SCMP article definitely gets right, however, is the new bomber’s nuclear role. China, which lacks the aerospace know-how to build modern bombers, operates a nuclear “dyad,” consisting of land- and submarine-launched missiles. The H-20 will almost certainly add a third leg to Beijing’s nuclear capability, making it a true “triad.”

    According to The Diplomat, some of China’s H-6 bombers appear to be adopting a nuclear mission. H-6 bombers lack the range to reach the U.S., and would be easily destroyed by modern air defenses. China is likely developing the weapons, procedures, and tactics for a nuclear bomber now so a new bomber, once operational, could step in and assume the role relatively quickly.


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