China demonstrates its defense policy by copycat. China is at it again with new weapons acquisitions based on U.S. designs. The Chinese defense industry has one stealth fighter, the J-20, that shares features with the F-22 and F-35. Now it is developing a flying-wing stealth bomber that looks like the American B-2 and B-21. It is a tit-for-tat competition and China has no problem stealing pages out of the U.S. defense playbook. China’s H-20 bomber could someday put North America in its crosshairs, so let’s take a deeper look into this airplane to examine what it brings to the table and how it could positively affect China’s overall defense strategy.
Looks Like a Flying Wing Is the Go-to Design
Defense analysts know little for sure about the H-20, but it appears from the latest videos and artist renderings that the next-generation bomber will have a flying wing design like the B-2 and B-21. As reported by Warrior Maven, the H-20 features a similar rounded upper fuselage, blended wing body, and curved upper air inlets, as well as essentially no vertical structures. That reminds you of U.S. stealth bomber designs.
Long Range and Big Payload
The Department of Defense’s 2021 report on Chinese military power, said the new Chinese bomber would be stealthy, have a range of over 5,000 miles (putting Guam and Australia at risk), and a 10 metric ton payload.
A Boost to China’s Nuclear Triad
The H-20 will be nuclear-capable to improve China’s nuclear triad of land-based ICBMs and submarine-launched nuclear missiles. It could not only threaten Guam and the first island chain of Japan and the Philippines, but with in-air re-fueling, could even reach Hawaii.
A recent article in The Drive stated that the H-20 could have enviable characteristics, suggesting that analysts expect the H-20 to emerge with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. It may also use conformal antennas and will have a primary armament of subsonic cruise missiles that will be carried internally on a rotary launcher.
China Turns Fear Into Strength
Thus, besides these observations, much of the details on the H-20 are still under wraps, but it shows China is serious about matching the military prowess of the United States. The H-20 would give the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) capabilities that would make it more of a strategic rather than only a regional power. The PLAAF had an estimated 2,084 aircraft as of 2022. China must be afraid of the B-2 and forthcoming B-21 and yearns to have its own tools for nuclear delivery to intimidate its own neighborhood and abroad.
Defense To Offense
Having a stealth fighter and stealth bomber would give the Chinese both propaganda and a psychological boost. If that requires copying U.S. designs, so be it. It is worth building airplanes that can penetrate airspace and bring the fight to the enemy. The PLAAF has transformed its strategy from defense to offense in the last 20 years. It sees the United States as having to fight a potential two-front war with engagements in Europe and perhaps over Taiwan, which would undermine U.S. strength in the Indo-Pacific.
Massive Conventional Retaliation With Aircraft
This means the PLAAF will act to prevent attacks before they happen and retaliate through the massive use of fighters and bombers, especially if the United States comes to the aid of Taiwan in a cross-strait assault. Naval aviation figures into this calculus as well with China’s three aircraft carriers in what I call the “two at sea – one at home” carrier configuration that adds to Beijing’s military strength.
Could China Use the PLAAF to Attack First?
The former PLAAF strategy was “never open fire first” in a war, but with the J-20 and H-20 it has the wherewithal to start a conflict instead of just defending the homeland – projecting power instead of conserving power.
China is aiming for full military modernization by 2049 in what author Michael Pillsbury calls the “One Hundred Year Marathon” in which Beijing hopes to overtake the United States as the sole military, economic, and political power in the world. The PLAAF will be a large part of these transformations in China’s national defense strategy. With stealth fighters and bombers, the PLAAF will be ready for 2049.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood 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. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.