Billed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the answer to the advanced US B-21 strategic bomber, the H-20 next-generation warplane is expected to consolidate Beijing’s nuclear triad.
At the end of January, a new rendering of the H-20 “Xian” stealth bomber appeared in a widely shared video, showing the future of Chinese military aviation.
The People’s Liberation Army claims its first nuclear-capable bomber will enter service in the next decade, but most information about the platform remains a mystery.
The “Xian” bomber was developed alongside other advanced PLA avionics systems.
In the past decade, China has made significant progress in aviation. In addition to developing and introducing the J-20 Chengdu fighter, China is also working on the J-35 airframe and manufacturing more advanced models of the Russian Flanker series and the J-10.
It was inevitable that the PRC would prioritize creating a stealth bomber almost comparable to the American B-21 Raider. Although the exact timetable is unknown, analysts believe China began work on Xian in the early 2000s.
In 1999, a U.S. F-117 Nighthawk was shot down over Yugoslavia, and according to some experts, Chinese officials had access to the aircraft. A few years later, a second technology theft incident occurred when a Northrop Grumman design engineer was found guilty of selling information about the American B-2 Spirit‘s propulsion system to the Chinese government.
In 2013, well-known Chinese aviation expert Andreas Rupprecht published credible renderings of the H-20 bomber. More detailed renderings of the new Chinese bomber made it clear that it was largely a copied version of Northrop’s B-2 Spirit combined with some YF-23 features.
The platform has a similar rounded upper fuselage, mixed wing body, and curved upper air intakes.
The existence of the stealth bomber was not officially acknowledged by the Chinese government until 2016 when People’s Liberation Army Air Force Commander Ma Xiaotian formally revealed the army’s program and efforts to produce a fleet of long-range bombers from high-end.
What do we know about the H-20?
In its 2018 “Report on China’s Military Strength,” the Pentagon predicted that China’s new stealth bomber could potentially fly with a range of 8,500 kilometers. This expanded range would theoretically allow the PLA to target previously unreachable U.S. territories.
Although the B-2 bomber has a longer range of more than 6,500 miles, U.S. officials are concerned that the PLA could produce a “resupply-able bomber that could reach initial operational capability before the long-range bomber.”
Experts anticipate the H-20 will also be equipped with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. According to The Drive, this radar might utilize shaped antennas and incorporate subsonic cruise missiles carried internally on a rotary launcher as its primary weapon.
Could the H-20 bomber compete with the B-2/B-21?
The U.S. Air Force unveiled its new dual-piercing stealth fighter in late 2022. The B-21 bomber, which is expected to make its maiden flight this year, will represent the service’s most sophisticated platform to date.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin explained that “fifty years of low-observable advances in technology have been poured into this aircraft,” making it perhaps the most formidable bomber to patrol the skies in the near future.
In addition to the entry into service of the B-21, the Air Force’s current fleet of B-2 bombers is being equipped with advanced capabilities that make it almost unrecognizable from the 1980 version of the platform.
While introducing the H-20 bomber will boost the power of Chinese avionics, it may not embody the label of the cataclysm that the PLA touts.