The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) intends to field a new long-range strategic bomber, the PLAAF’s top officer, General Ma Xiatian, told reporters on August 30, according to China Military Online.
“We are now developing a next generation, long-range strike bomber that you will see sometime in the future,” the air force general said, without providing additional details. The PLAAF commander’s remarks publicly confirm for the first time that China has been working on a long-range bomber project.
It is unclear whether the bomber will be a based on a completely new design, or a further development of the H-6K, a derivative of the Soviet-era Tupolov Tu-16 twin-engined jet strategic bomber. The PLAAF currently operates 13 to 15 H-6K bombers, and around 100 older H-6 variants.
As I reported last year (See: “China Wants to Develop a New Long-Range Strategic Bomber”), there have been various discussions in the Chinese state-owned media over the capabilities and design of a new long-range bomber, although it is unclear in what way these discussions were influenced and informed by PLAAF officials.
According to one reports, the new long-range bomber should be capable of reaching 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 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,” I explained in July 2015. The bomber will also be likely capable of carrying a nuclear load. The H-6K’s maximum range is about 1,900 miles (3,057 kilometers) and the bomber can carry a payload of up to 12 tons.
The bomber could also feature a stealth design, as I reported based last year:
This definition would correspond 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.
One of the preconditions for the development of a domestically-designed and built new long-range strategic bomber would be major advances in the Chinese aviation industry’s capability to build indigenously-made high-performance turbofan engines. In August 2016, China announced that it set up a new state-owned aircraft engine maker to accelerate the development of new jet engines.