The ‘existence” of the H-20 was not exactly “announced” or was defiantly given a glimpse of (as in the case of Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31) but was hinted into existence when Xi’an Aviation Industrial Corporation released a promotional video in May this year imitating Northrop Grumman’s Superbowl ad for its new B-21 stealth bomber that it is designing and developing for the US Air Force. The ad Xi’an Aviation went on to show portrayed a shrouded flying wing bomber in its final seconds. Later, the silhouette of a possible new bomber appeared at a PLAAF gala. The gala was held on October 7th at an unspecified strategic bomber division under the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command, the official PLA Air Force website reported it on 11th October.
All of this comes two years after PLAAF Gen. Ma Xiaotian in 2016 formally confirmed the Hong-20’s existence as a ‘concept’. This subsonic stealth bomber of China, the H-20, is making “great progress”, according to the state broadcaster CCTV, and military analysts say it could make its maiden flight soon where as some sources suggest that China can unveil its new long-range strategic bomber at the large-scale air force military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PLAAF in 2019. However, there’s no official statement or confirmed from the Chinese government or military.
The detail specifications are yet to be revealed but SCMP went on to report that H-20 or Hong-20, had been in development since the early 2000s, and is a stealth aircraft with a maximum take-off weight of at least 200 tons and can carry a payload of up to 45 tons and will be able to carry nuclear weapons and is expected to fly at subsonic speeds, and it could possible have the capability of unleashing four powerful stealth or hypersonic cruise missiles. The cruising distance of the aircraft was estimated to be more than 8,500km (5,280 miles) by the US Department of Defense in its report on Chinese military developments released in August. But other military experts have put the distance at more than 12,000km, which would mean Hawaii would be within its striking range. The PLAAF defines these bombers as being able to carry more than 10 tons of air-to-ground munitions and with a minimum range of 8,000km without refueling, according to state media.
The important question is why China needs them or is developing them. To which the answer is pretty straightforward: China needs a long-range strategic bomber so that its air force can attack further out into the Pacific Ocean and if the H-20 does have the range and the stealth characteristics attributed to it, it could alter the strategic calculus between the United States and China by exposing U.S. bases and fleets across the Pacific to surprise air attacks. And this would give China the ability to penetrate the “second island chain” – the islands further east in the Pacific, including the US territory of Guam, thus taking the rivalry with the USA for the control of the Pacific to another level.
Only three countries have both the imperative and the resources to develop huge strategic bombers that can strike targets across the globe: the United States, Russia and China. This new design for strategic bombers makes sense for China because Beijing perceives dominance of the western Pacific Ocean as essential for its security due to its history of maritime invasion, and the challenge posed by the United States in recent years in particular. The two superpowers are separated by five to six thousand miles of ocean—and the United States has spent the last century developing a network of island territories such as Guam, foreign military bases in East Asia and super-carriers with which it can project air and sea power across that span. H-20 challenges all that and implies to put all of these assets and preparations to the defensive.
[SCMP, Defense Blog, The Drive]