China needs to develop a new long-range strike bomber capable of attacking targets farther out in the Pacific. This is the principal conclusion of a meeting of Chinese military officials, according to AFP citing a full-page China Daily article published last Tuesday as its source.
In the meeting the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) was also referred to as a “strategic force” a title usually reserved for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Second Artillery Corps – Beijing’s “de facto strategic missile force,” according to China Daily.
The new bomber should be capable of striking targets as far as the “second island chain” – an area stretching from the Kurils in the North through Japan, the Bonins, the Marianas, the Carolines and Indonesia in the South – the paper further states.
The PLA’s definition of a long-range strategic bomber is a minimum range of 8,000 km (5,000 miles) without refueling and the capacity to carry a payload of more than 10 tons of air-to-ground ammunition.
This definition would correspondent to the sparse details available on China’s prospective subsonic stealth bomber – the H-20 (or H-X) – which could enter service by 2025 some analysts note. According to the Chinese Military Aviation blog, new long-range strategic bomber designs have been under development at the 603rd Aircraft Design Institute (a partner of Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation) since the 1990s.
The new bomber will allegedly have a flying wing design, similar to that of the American B-2 and is referred to as a “strategic project” by the Chinese military. The blog also notes that individual parts of the aircraft are already being manufactured.
“H-20 is believed to be able to evade modern air defense systems and penetrate deep into the enemy territory,” Chinese Military Aviation underlines. Some analysts argue that the primary mission of the new bomber will be do attack U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups. The bomber could also become part of a U.S.-like nuclear triad.
The PLAAF currently operates approximately 15 H-6K nuclear-capable bombers, a locally built version of the Russian Tupolev Tu-16 Badger, which according to Chinese media quoted in a previous The Diplomat article can “reach Okinawa, Guam and even Hawaii from China’s mainland,” depending on the bombers armament. However, the H-6K is only seen as an interim solution.
China’s May 2015 Defense White Paper emphasized that “[t]he PLAAF will boost its capabilities for strategic early warning, air strike, air and missile defense, information countermeasures, airborne operations, strategic projection and comprehensive support.”
China Daily cited a Chinese defense journal that emphasized that a medium-range bomber would be inadequate considering the PRC’s strategic environment:
A medium-range bomber can’t essentially fix the PLA air force’s shortcomings in terms of strategic strike and strategic deterrence. Thus the air force does need an intercontinental strategic bomber capable of penetrating an enemy’s air defenses.
However, the editor-in-chief of the defense journal is skeptical about China’s abilities to produce a modern long-range strike bomber in a short amount of time, considering that it would require “a state-of-the-art structure and aerodynamic configuration as well as a high-performance turbofan engine.”
“All of these are major problems facing the Chinese aviation industry. I don’t think these difficulties can be resolved within a short period of time,” he additionally pointed out.