The Pentagon’s placement of three B-2 heavy penetration strategic bombers along with a crew of 200 pilots, technicians and maintenance personnel at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam has again highlighted the conspicuous absence of China’s H-20 bombers in the area.
The US Air Force has provided scant details about the ad hoc deployment of the trio of ace warplanes, stating merely that the mission was aimed at sharpening the crew’s skills and familiarizing them with the potential combat environment in the Western Pacific.
The Chinese military has remained quiet so far after the US has in effect ramped up its conflict-ready stance from the outpost of Guam.
Prior to this development, four other US stealth warplanes – an F-22, an F-35, a B-1B and a B-2 – made their high-profile presence known above the Korean Peninsula during war games that simulated a swift rout of the North Korean regime, and it would be naive to assume that these warplanes were not meant to send a message to Beijing.
Chinese military observers are now exhorting the authorities to expedite the design and deployment of the H-20, a new indigenous super-bomber, as China’s answer to the B-2. According to previous reports, the H-20 is capable of flying close to the US mainland and firing missiles at US targets.
A China Daily report back in 2015 revealed that People’s Liberation Army officials had made clear that the H-20 must be able to fly well beyond the second island chain without aerial refueling, while carrying a payload of at least 10 tons.
The rather old-tech H-6s and their modernized versions, the H-6Ks, still represent the lion’s share of the PLA Air Force’s bomber fleet. While they may be suitable for symbolic flyovers close to Taiwan, they are clearly inferior to their US counterparts, especially when gauged by their capability to debilitate the enemy, because of their bulky, unstealthy airframes and limited range.
In contrast to the ballyhoo over the new J-20 fighters by Chinese newspapers, there have been far fewer reports on the H-20. This is fueling suspicion that the fledging super-bomber on which the PLA has pinned high hopes may still be stuck in initial trial production at the Xian Aircraft Industrial Corporation, after its master design was finalized after five years of painstaking development.