Chinese media have confirmed that the Hong-20, or H-20, the nation’s next generation strategic stealth bomber that has been more than a decade in the making, may take to the skies very soon.
In August, state broadcaster China Central Television revealed in a documentary marking the 91st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army that the first H-20, a genuine “game changer”, could roll off its production line sooner than estimated.
Earlier this month, CCTV confirmed that the first H-20 trial flight was on the horizon.
The Beijing-based Global Times then concluded that the Xi’an plant of the Aviation Industry Corp of China must have wrapped up tests of the new bomber’s avionics, hydraulics and electronics.
Previous overseas reports noted that the H-20 was designed by the Shanghai Aircraft Design and Research Institute. Then, in 2008, a painstaking, decade-long endeavor began to replace the antiquated H-6 series still in service.
The H-6 series and its revamped version the H-6K – a modified model of a 1950s-era Soviet Union Tu-16 Badger – remain the backbone of the Chinese Air Force’s strategic deterrence, often seen taking part in symbolic circumnavigation missions in breach of Taiwan’s airspace.
Known specifications of the new bomber include a wing design that mimics that of the American Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber to ensure a minimal profile that can slip through an adversary’s radar.
Its weapon bay should carry a payload of no less than 10 tons, either conventional cruise missiles or thermonuclear weapons, with the ability to strike targets from standoff ranges.
Observers say the design objective is for the long-range H-20 to remain airborne for some 8,000 kilometers to jet way beyond the second island chain – formed by Japan’s Ogasawara and Volcano Islands as well as Guam and the US Mariana Islands in the middle portion of the Pacific – without aerial refueling.
News Corp Australia Network also speculated in May that the H-20 could reach northern parts of Australia, after taking off from PLA artificial island bases reclaimed in the South China Sea.
The Global Times once quoted aviation commentator Fu Qianshao as saying that the ultimate goal for the H-20 was to expand its operational range to 12,000 kilometers with 20 tons of payload.
In that somewhat far-fetched scenario, the H-20 would be able to traverse the Pacific and fly close enough to the contiguous United States to be able to fire missiles at American mainland targets.