China’s JH-XX Stealth Fighter-Bomber Is the Subject of Much Speculation – What We Know So Far: Is China’s JH-XX fighter-bomber vapor ware? Does it just exist as a figment of Chinese aspirations?
It may be too early to answer those questions. Speculation about the JH-XX has been circulating the web since at least 2018 when a vague description appeared in a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report that has since been removed from the Internet. Descriptions of a new fighter-bomber emerged in 2019 that were encapsulated from a few sentences in a China threat analysis from the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense. So, details have not been forthcoming.
What We Know
The Fifth-Generation stealthy JH-XX is likely to be highly-maneuverable and supersonic, able to bomb regional targets in the East and the South China Sea and fast enough to intercept enemy airplanes. The JH-XX could also threaten assets in the northeast of China in the Yellow and Japan Seas.
Magazine Cover Rendering Offers Clues
Another clue to the existence of the JH-XX is a Chinese aerospace magazine cover rendering that was considered a telling glimpse of its appearance. The airplane’s image showed a conventional swept-wing design as opposed to the flying-wing layout of China’s heavy, strategic, four-engine bomber H-20 that could fly as far as Hawaii. This makes the JH-XX likely to have less range than the H-20. The H-20 appears to be designed like the American B-2 Spirit.
If this rendering of the JH-XX is true, the Chinese fighter-bomber would resemble the American YF-23 technology demonstrator that competed with the YF-22 in the Advanced Tactical Fighter competition. This image also reminds analysts of some aspects of China’s J-31 stealth fighter.
Rick Joe of the Diplomat wrote that observers, “…Had described the JH-XX model as having a main ventral weapons bay, as well as separate side-mounted bays for what appeared to be air-to-air missiles.”
A Multi-role Fighter-Bomber
If fully developed, the JH-XX would be an intriguing airplane. It could protect various rocks and reefs the Chinese are militarizing in the East and South China Seas. It could threaten American assets in Okinawa and Guam. It could conduct preparatory bombing of Taiwan before a Chinese invasion. The JH-XX could also bully the United States and ROK-forces over South Korea.
Could It Be Based on a Carrier?
Stealth characteristics would also allow the fighter-bomber to fly in contested airspace and avoid air defense systems in those situations. Most reports have the JH-XX as being built for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, but it could have a presence for the navy on a new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the Chinese are planning.
Dog-fighting Ability and Nuclear-Capable?
In addition to bombs, the JH-XX could also carry air-to-air missiles that would enable it to challenge enemy interceptors in dogfighting scenarios. It is not clear if the JH-XX would be nuclear-capable, if so that capability would give many American naval planners headaches.
Clearly, not much is known about the JH-XX, and it could be vapor ware, but it is a concept to keep an eye on. It is probably more likely that the Chinese would develop the H-20 flying-wing strategic bomber before finishing the JH-XX, but either airplane could give the Chinese an aerial combat advantage.
Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.