In the tech world, many new gizmos, gadgets, and even software apps are often touted as the “next big thing” – only to never actually materialize. These quickly earn the colorful moniker “vaporware,” as they never even get to the prototype stage. It would be apt to suggest that China’s highly hyped JH-XX supersonic, stealth, tactical bomber/fighter-bomber is certainly an example of military vaporware.
It is reportedly the second stealth bomber being produced by Beijing, and though its existence has been confirmed by the United States intelligence community (IC), few details have actually emerged about the aircraft. Yet, even so, the Pentagon had set off alarm bells about the still notional aircraft and has gone so far to warn that it could be a fighter-bomber capable of long-range strike and even nuclear weapons delivery.
“The PLAAF [People’s Liberation Army Air Force] is developing new medium- and long-range stealth bombers to strike regional and global targets,” an early 2019 report from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) warned. “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.”
One of Multiple Bombers in Development
Beijing is reportedly working to develop multiple bombers, which include the H-20 stealth heavy bomber, while the JH-XX is believed to be a more “regionally-focused” fighter-bomber. The H-20 is believed to be a long-range strategic bomber.
The Pentagon has speculated that the JH-XX – if it does actually exists – could have a far greater speed for use against regional adversaries to help defend China’s territorial claims in the East and South China Seas. There has also been conjecture that the JH-XX could be used on a carrier, and online experts continue to speculate what capabilities it may offer. It would likely serve as a replacement for the H-6K medium-range bomber, and thus have a combat radius between 1,000 and 2,000 nautical miles – which could still put the U.S. island of Guam within its crosshairs.
More ominously, it would certainly be able to easily strike the self-governing island nation of Taiwan from bases within mainland China, and thus greatly enhance the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
While few details 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 some have even theorized even enhanced dogfighting potential.
As previously reported, the JH-XX could be similar to the proposed FB-22, a bomber variant of the F-22 Raptor fighter. Though the F-22 does not have long-range bomber characteristics, and its operational range is only about 600-miles, the upscaled FB-22 called for an airframe that could carry 15,000 pounds of weapons. It also is widely believed that Chinese hackers stole some of the designs of the F-22, as well as the F-35, so it may be safe to speculate that Beijing is now building on a design that the United States Air Force passed on.
Of course, whether it gets past the vaporware stage is simply anyone’s guess.
JH-XX: Artist Renderings of What It Might Look Like
Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
The main image is an artist rendering of what could have been the FB-22, something some experts argue China’s JH-XX had drawn inspiration from.