The Chinese military is modernizing fast. One of the most interesting and mysterious military projects that Beijing is working on is the Xian H-20 stealth bomber that will seek to match the U.S. Air Force’s B-21 Raider stealth bomber that is under development.
Xian H-20: What We Know
The Xian H-20 stealth bomber is most likely intended as an aircraft that would be able to carry both nuclear and conventional munitions, all internally, to maintain its stealth status.
In the past, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has assessed that the Xian H-20 stealth bomber will have an operational range of 4,000 to 5,000 miles and an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar to better identify targets and threats.
Reports indicate that the Chinese military, in designing the Xian H-20, is prioritizing stealth performance and deep penetration capabilities over speed and agility—an aircraft that can’t be easily detected doesn’t have to be agile enough to avoid all anti-aircraft weapons.
According to the openly available information on the Xian H-20 stealth bomber, the Chinese military aims to have an operational capability by the end of the decade. That timeline roughly matches the one that the Pentagon has given for the B-21 Raider stealth bomber.
Thus far in the fifth-generation stealth aircraft race, China has always been a step behind the United States. It remains to be seen whether Beijing will manage to take this one home.
Unsurprisingly, artistic renderings of the Xian H-20 stealth bomber publicized by Chinese defense media have the mysterious aircraft look very similar to the American B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. Over the past 20 years, the Chinese intelligence services have managed to steal trillions of dollars worth of weapon systems and trade secrets from the U.S. and the West.
The U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) estimates that Beijing steals approximately $200 to $600 billion a year of U.S. intellectual property, including blueprints for advanced weapon systems, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter stealth aircraft.
Stealth and Bombers in Near-Peer Warfare
As military technology progresses, nations develop increasingly potent radar and anti-aircraft systems that are able to pick up, lock, and engage enemy aircraft from longer distances and more effectively. For aircraft, a way to bypass that threat is by flying better or by having better stealth capabilities.
However, it is important to note that stealth doesn’t mean being invisible. An F-35 Lighting II stealth fighter jet is as visible to the naked eye as the Nissan Rogue parked on the street. However, a combination of specialized coat of paint, specially designed airframe, and other technology makes the F-35 less visible on the radar.
As a result, in a near-peer environment in which both sides possess advanced and competent radar and air defenses, stealth is key for bombers that seek to strike deep behind enemy lines. In developing the B-21 Raider and Xian H-20 stealth bombers, both the Pentagon and Chinese military are investing in deep penetration capabilities that would allow the aircraft to deploy their munitions in a high-threat environment.
1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.