The JH-XX doesn’t exist, at least not technically. It is actually the name Western intelligence agencies have applied to the program by the People’s Republic of China to develop a new stealth bomber.
The news that Beijing had begun efforts to build a new bomber were first noted in a January 2018 annual report from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which stated, “The PLAAF is developing new medium- and long-range stealth bombers to strike regional and global targets. Stealth technology continues to play a key role in the development of these new bombers, which probably will reach initial operational capability no sooner than 2025.”
Since that time a few details have come into focus.
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has reported contracting the Xian Aircraft Industrial Corporation to develop the bomber. One question is what aircraft we’re even discussing.
Xian H-20 vs. JH-XX
Beijing has revealed a few details about the Xian H-20, a subsonic stealth bomber that is reported to be under development. Chinese military officials have claimed it would be capable of striking targets beyond the second island chain without refueling, and could carry a payload of upwards of 10 tons.
While the aircraft has yet to be officially unveiled, back in January the PLAAF released a quick “sneak peek” of what may have been the next-generation, long-range strategic stealth bomber in a recruitment video that was shared across social media.
Titled, ‘Dream of Youth,’ the recruiting video first appeared on YouTube on January 5, 2021, and it followed a pair of recruits as they join the PLAAF and become pilots. It ends with an unveiling of the aircraft that they’ll be flying, and it was believed the flying-wing design bomber was actually the H-20.
In May, the South China Morning Post reported that the state defense corporation China North Industries Group (Norinco), had released four computer-generated images of the Xian H-20, which reported to show that the aircraft has a weapon bay, two adjustable tail wings, an airborne radar at the front and two stealth air intakes on each side.
It is also believed that the H-20 would be equipped with nuclear and conventional missiles, and have a maximum take-off weight of at least 200 tonnes, with a payload of up to 45 tonnes. It is expected that the bomber could reach subsonic speeds, but potentially be armed with up to four powerful hypersonic stealth cruise missiles. It is also believed that the Chinese designers opted to for stealth and long range over speed.
The H-20 bomber would be able to strike targets including U.S. bases in Japan, Guam and the Philippines, but would be unlikely to have the range to reach third island chain targets in Hawaii or coastal Australia.
The Chinese may also be working on the JH-XX, a reported supersonic, stealth tactical bomber/fighter-bomber that the Pentagon speculates could have far greater speed for use against regional adversaries to help defend China’s territorial claims in the East and South China Seas. While there are few details that have been disclosed about the JH-XX, it has been speculated it would likely be closer in design to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor or Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II than the still-in-development Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider. Thus it would trade the H-20’s range and payload capacity for faster speed and perhaps even enhanced dogfighting potential.
The H-20 may thus be an offensive platform while the JH-XX the defensive platform to address any counter-attacks in the region. All this should be a concern not only to Washington, but to the governments in Taipei, Tokyo and really throughout Maritime Southeast Asia.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.