China is flexing its nuclear triad and one of the big legs of that powerful platform will be the new H-20 stealth bomber that resembles the American B-2. The Xian H-20 has that familiar flying wing design that looks like it stole design characteristics from the U.S. Air Force. Does it have the range to reach the United States for a nuclear bombing run while evading radar? That’s a head-scratching dilemma for American defense planners as they ponder Chinese aerial power. The H-20 has a reported range of 7,500 miles – enough to reach the homeland without refueling.
Looks Like A Copycat
Kris Osborn at Warrior Maven describes the H-20 in the following manner. “It features a similar rounded upper fuselage, blended wing body, curved upper air inlets and essentially no vertical structures. There appears to be a fair amount of evidence, simply available to the naked eye, to demonstrate China’s overt ‘copycat’ maneuver.”
Bigger Payload Than American Bombers?
Moreover, the H-20’s munitions payload eclipses that of the B-52 and the B-2, if reports can be believed. It can deliver 45 tons of bombs and stand-off missiles. By comparison, the next-generation stealth bomber, the B-21, can only carry 15 tons of payload.
Whatever the Final Tally, It Has Long Range
The 7,500-mile range may be a stretch as the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency estimates that the H-20 can only fly 4,000 to 5,000 miles without refueling, but that is still a significant range. That report from the DIA is from 2019 and China may have improved the bomber since then.
Delivering Nuclear, Even Hypersonic Weapons
Nevertheless, the H-20 will be an airplane to reckon with as it is believed to be nuclear-capable and maybe hypersonic-weapon capable. And it would also have the ability to attack Guam, South Korea, and Okinawa – all areas with U.S. military personnel. The H-20 is bad news for Taiwan as well.
Could Aircraft Carriers Be in Danger?
It could perhaps be equipped with air-to-surface missiles to threaten American aircraft carriers. That may be a departure as China’s ground-based ship-killing missile, the DF-21D missile, has only been tested from a destroyer. It’s not clear if the DF-21D could be launched from airplanes, but China could likely have this capability in the coming years if the H-20 also advances as expected.
If They Don’t Have It, They’ll Steal It
Even though it is not likely to be ready until 2030, the H-20 is a key defense acquisition priority for China. It would be able to protect Beijing’s interests in East Asia and reach Pearl Harbor. It may be ready at the same time as the B-21 to mitigate the U.S. Air Force’s leap forward in stealth bomber innovations, especially if China embarks on other efforts to steal American airplane technology.
Burgeoning Chinese Military
The H-20 is frustrating for the U.S. military. China seems to be matching capabilities with the United States step-by-step. A new aircraft carrier was just launched. China’s shipbuilders are pumping out additional destroyers and submarines. Hypersonic missiles are being tested. Pilots are getting better at flying warplanes with stealth characteristics. These developments are giving Americans a huge headache.
While not everyone agrees on the exact range of the H-20, it is safe to say it can fly missions from distances that will menace its neighbors. China’s Air Force and Navy can, with some systems like ICBMs, venture beyond its neighborhood and deliver destruction in a global manner. China’s military strategy plays the long game and bides its time to improve general military capabilities and its nuclear triad.
The H-20 will be a large part of these worldwide ambitions.
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.