China's H-6 bomber. The PLA aims to replace its H-6 fleet with more advanced H-20 bombers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
China's H-6 bomber. The PLA aims to replace its H-6 fleet with more advanced H-20 bombers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The development of China’s new heavy strategic bomber, coded H-20, has been going on for five straight years, with the mechanical master design believed to have been finalized.

Beijing wants its H-20 to be able to fly close to the west coast of the United States, and from there fire conventional or nuclear cruise missiles against US targets.

Thus the H-20 has to be a giant leap forward from the People’s Liberation Army’s currently fleet of H-6 bombers, whose bulky airframe and limited range have been a big drag on its strike capabilities.

Analysts say the H-20’s operational radius must reach 5,000 kilometers, while also having a payload capacity of 25-30 tons so as to carry multiple missiles, such as KD-20s, the air-launched variant of the CJ-10. The engine is thus a vital determinant.

A new bomber is seen in a China Central Television program. Analysts believe it could be an H-20 prototype. Photo: CCTV

The H-20 must be able to fly close enough to US soil to be within the range of the KD-20 missiles, while making sure it won’t appear on the US military’s long-range radars.

Therefore, the key is its stealth design and coating, which in turn could get inspiration from the design of China’s new J-20 jet fighters, which  entered service this year.

Chinese technicians have also been keen on learning more about the Soviet-made Tupolev Tu-160 Belyy Lebed supersonic bomber, spying on its design even after Moscow marshaled all functional Tu-160s out of Ukraine for security reasons, according to Kanwa Defense Review.

Thus it won’t come as a surprise should the final design of the H-20 bear some resemblance to the Soviet bomber.

While the H-20 has been quietly taking shape thanks to ample funding, observers say the US west coast may still be t0o far away as the Chinese bomber may require at least one aerial refueling above the Pacific, as there’s no shortcut to reach the US from any airbase in east or central China. And it is hard to keep an aerial refueling aircraft stealthy, so it is susceptible to interception.

Russian bombers, on the other hand, can fly the much shorter north polar route to reach the contiguous US.

Still, the H-20 will be able to bomb US overseas territories such as Hawaii, Guam and Saipan.

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