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Is the first glimpse of China’s new stealth bomber?

Photo: via Chinese internet

 

An image from an official Chinese promotional video may well show the country’s next-generation stealth bomber. The screen grabs, which were posted on several forums this morning, appear to show a 3D rendering of the long-rumoured H-XX/H-20. The source of the imagery is an official video from Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) or perhaps even from the Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation (XAC).

At first sight, the footage in question appears to be a near-exact reproduction of a previous commercial video from Northrop Grumman’s unveiling of the B-21 Raider bomber for the US Air Force. This ad was first shown at the 2016 Superbowl.

While the two scenes are not exactly the same, the Chinese video is clearly inspired by the Northrop original: the black background, the lighting – including the arc of spotlights above the aircraft – the pattern of lights on the intake and the way in which way the bomber’s shape is obscured by a tarpaulin are all similar.

It is tempting to ask whether this was pure laziness on the part of the video-maker, a simple copy of Northrop’s promotional concept or even a deliberate reuse of the same concept as an expression of ‘friendly rivalry’ with the B-21.

Regardless of the true intention, it seems almost certain that someone from AVIC’s upper echelons officially sanctioned the video-maker to imitate the final scene (beginning at 5:09 in the Chinese video) and to copy Northrop’s concept. Whatever the truth, this is the first official confirmation by any Chinese source that a flying wing aircraft is under development at XAC. Perhaps it is also a hint that a public unveiling is planned for the near future.

Here’s a link to the video, with footage that begins with the XAC H-6 bomber:

http://defenseimg.81.cn/data/mediafile/pic/video/2018/05/08/a973a15a8b8d4a1cb2e4d5e4f02ab2bd.mp4

Background to the H-20

In China, both the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and Naval Air Force (PLANAF) currently operate a single-type inventory and have introduced specialised new-build versions of the veteran H-6, as well as upgrading older versions of the Badger to keep them operational.

Compared to recent Chinese fighter development, progress on new bombers has been limited. However, the small bomber fleet now represents a capable force and will surely continue to do so for several years to come, especially with the latest H-6K armed with air-launched cruise missiles. However, the H-6 will need replacement in the foreseeable future. A new long-range strategic bomber – officially known so far only as the ‘strategic project’, but reportedly designated H-20 – has been under development at the No 603 Institute and XAC since the early 2000s.

For a while, the PLAAF was reportedly unsure of its requirements, and various configurations were studied, ranging from supersonic configurations to conventional and innovative designs, one reportedly featuring delta wings and canards. Finally, the PLAAF settled on what is likely a four-engined subsonic bomber with a stealthy flying wing planform. Based on the most reliable reports, several scaled-down models were built and by 2011 the configuration had been frozen. The few (unofficial) images published so far suggest a powerplant of modified WS-10A engines without afterburning, and one central weapons bay able to carry at least six KD-20 missiles on a rotary launcher. Given the greater urgency of the Y-20 airlifter programme, it was reported that the H-20 project only gained full momentum after the successful flight of the latter in late 2012. A 3D digital mockup is said to have been constructed in late 2015. Andreas Rupprecht

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