China is expected to test its next-generation bomber, the rumored H-20, by the year 2020, according to a new assessment based on press reports.
Defense News reported:
China’s official state-run media has confirmed the designation of the country’s newest long-range strategic bomber, with analysts speculating that the prototype is expected to make its first flight soon.
In a documentary reportedly broadcast in August, China Central Television referred to the “Hong-20” as the “new long-range strategic bomber” under development for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, or PLAAF, confirming for the first time the H-20 designation that has previously been used elsewhere to describe the program.
The documentary added that “great progress” is being made on the Hong-20’s development, although it did not provide other details. “Hong” is the standard abbreviation for the term “Hongzhaji,” or bomber in Chinese, although this is usually shortened to just the “H” in Western literature.
Andreas Rupprecht, an expert in Chinese military aviation and former analyst for the Jamestown Foundation, said he expects the first flight of the new bomber by 2020. He bases his estimate on the average time China normally takes to develop a new plane.
The existence of the bomber program was confirmed by PLAAF commander Gen. Ma Xiaotian in 2016, Defense News reported.
Rupprecht said the new plane has been under development, most likely, since the late 1990s/early 2000s.
Analysis: According to some assessments, the H-20 could resemble the B-2 “flying wing” design, complete with an internal weapons bay and shrouded engine exhaust ports. If the design turns out to be truly stealthy, the H-20 could be capable of launching at targets beyond the second island chain without aerial refueling and carry a payload of about 10 metric tons.
If the design does resemble the B-2, it’s a safe bet that China hacked/stole the data from the United States. That said, stealing data and actually building an aircraft are two different things, which would account for the lengthy development time. At present, it’s not known just how many of the planes China would build (there were 21 B-2 Spirits built at an average cost of about $737 million apiece).
Still, this could give China distinct new strategic strike capabilities it currently does not possess, that is, if the Chinese can master the technology as well as the technology and costs necessary to maintain such a high-value strategic asset.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is in the process of developing its own next-gen bomber, the B-21 Raider, which resembles the B-2 but which will be cheaper to procure (the Air Force wants to buy 80-100 planes). It is expected to be ready by 2025, which means the Chinese would once again be behind the curve when it comes to strategic bomber assets.
Nevertheless, U.S. defense officials will be looking hard for data on the new H-20 if/when the plane hits the skies.