Friday, April 27, 2018

New Chinese Bomber

China has been building up an impressive defensive force that extends out to the first island chain.  China considers the first island chain and all land and water within to be sovereign Chinese territory – a claim that the US has done little to dispute.  Having all but formally announced the annexation, China is now engaged in solidifying their gains via the construction of island bases. 

The next logical step is to transition from a defensive force aimed at holding the South and East China Seas to an offensive force intended to forcefully expand China’s holdings to the second island chain and beyond.  To this end, China is developing a far ranging submarine force, major ocean-going surface ships, and, most alarming, a modern strategic bomber force.

China is actively developing a long range, supersonic, penetrating, stealthy, strategic bomber, according to a recent report (1) and is on the verge of unveiling it.  The new bomber will replace the existing H-6 (derived from the Soviet Tu-16).

“China Daily reported on July 2015 that, according to Chinese military officials, a new strategic bomber should be capable of striking targets beyond the second island chain without aerial refueling, while carrying a payload of at least 10 metric tons.” (1) [emphasis added]

The phrase, “beyond the second island chain”, is clearly a reference to Guam and Pearl Harbor.

Additional features are suggested:

“Subsequent reports assess the new bomber to be a stealthy design in order to evade modern air defense systems and penetrate deep into the enemy’s territory. Its range has to be dramatically longer than the current H-6K’s (range of more than 10,000 km, and combat radius of over 5,000 km and in-flight refueling-capable) while able to carry a heavy weapons load (smaller load than the B-2A’s 23 tons, but larger than H-6K) for both nuclear and conventional ordnance. The few images published so far suggest a single center weapons-bay—albeit there are artworks depicting two bays—capable of carrying at least six KD-20 ALCMs or any other precision strike munition on a rotary launcher.

Consequently, the new bomber is expected to feature a modern avionics system built around an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar with conformal antennas again similar to the U.S. AN/APQ-181 LPI radar. Additionally, it is said to feature a modern electronic warfare-capability and to be also capable [of] acting as a C4ISR node to interact with other sensor platforms like UAVs, AEW- and strategic reconnaissance aircraft to share information and target data (data fusion).” (1)

The article suggests that the bomber will be a flying wing similar to the US B-2 bomber.  However, more recent articles suggest a more conventional delta wing shape with angled tails. (2)  Moreover, references to Chinese bomber development have labeled the bomber variously as H-X, H-20, and JH-XX.  Whether these are all the same development programs or whether there are multiple bombers under development remains to be seen.

Artist's Concept of Chinese Bomber

Regardless, this bomber is obviously intended to threaten the US military’s ability to operate anywhere in the Pacific.  Given the extreme paucity of military bases in the Pacific, it doesn’t require much strategic imagination to see that if China can incapacitate Guam and Pearl Harbor, the US would be hard pressed to deny China control of the entire Pacific Ocean right up to the west coast of the United States.

Development of a bomber with this type of range should also suggest to the United States what direction to take with its fighter/air superiority force and it isn’t the F-35.  We need a very long range fighter with good speed and capable of carrying a large weapons load and operating a powerful sensor suite.  This suggests a much larger aircraft than has traditionally been considered a “fighter”.

Such a bomber is clearly offensive in nature and is intended to be used.  Chinese apologists can’t even pretend to call such an aircraft “defensive”.  China has their sights solidly set on the Pacific and removing the United States from it.  The first island chain annexation - masterfully accomplished, it must be acknowledged - is merely a first step towards global domination.  The United States needs to recognize and admit China’s goals and begin taking action to counter their ongoing global conquest.


(1)Jamestown Foundation website, “The PLA Air Force’s “Silver-Bullet” Bomber Force”, Publication: China Brief Volume: 17 Issue: 10, Andreas Rupprecht, July 21, 2017,

(2)Popular Mechanics website, “Is This China’s Stealth Bomber?”,  Kyle Mizokami, Apr 9, 2018,


  1. "This suggests a much larger aircraft than has traditionally been considered a “fighter”."

    I can imagine something in between the size of a F-111 and a B-1, powered by two F-135 engines, so twice as big as a F-22.

  2. "Beyond the second island chain" means Guam for sure, but Hawaii is a totally different story. That's a 5,700 mile flight, one-way. It would require multiple air refuelings from not-stealthy tankers.

    1. Hmm, and what if this new H-X or whatever they call it has also a tanker mod, so it could also refuel the J-20?

    2. J-20s would never reach Hawaii, refueling or not. It was a struggle for USAF to fly F-111s from the UK to attack Libya during Op El Dorado Canyon, and that was only half the distance.

      H-X's refueling H-Xs might, but you would need a LOT of them flying as tankers to refuel a handful of strikers.

      It's likely H-X won't be a great tanker, compared to a widebody aircraft. It just won't have the offload capacity.

    3. Well, the article suggests a combat radius of around 3000 miles. Add to that a CJ-10/20 type air launched cruise missile with a 1000 mile range. Thus, it would only require a single outbound refueling and perhaps a return leg refueling. Seems doable. We fly B-2s from ConUS to anywhere in the world.

    4. Storm Shadow, I suggest you look into Operation Black Buck and what it took to do it.

      CNO, we do, but we have inflight refueling fleets distributed the world over allowing efficient refueling, as far as that goes. And we're using refueling planes with fuel loads much greater than any of the planes they are refueling.

    5. Currently, the Chinese operate two H-6 tanker variants (H-6U, H-6DU) and the Il-78M (roughly equivalent to the KC-135) which carries 80,000 lb of fuel in internal fuselage tanks.

      Here's a good reference: Chinese Tankers

      Given the Chinese speed of development (look at their rate of progress in carrier development, for example!), they could develop an even more capable tanker almost overnight, if they desired.

  3. North American XF-108 Rapier your time has come.
    Avro Canada is busily looking for the CF-105 Arrow plan
    in the archive room. The AIM-54X specs are down in the basement, free to a good home.

    A.V. Roe

    1. Actually the A-12 was the closest thing the US had to a workable long ranged heavy air defence interceptor.

  4. As understand USAF chose the Lockheed more agile F-22 Raptor in 1991 over the longer range Northrop YF-23 which would have been more suited to operating in Pacific, F-22 production ended after only 187 production a/c, has been subject to continuing upgrades.

    At present Air Force and Navy have no fighter in production or likely in near future, though studies for 6th generation studies continue, left with the relatively slow/troubled F-35 Mach 1.6 attack a/c. Air Force are seriously funding the new generation AETP 45,000 pounds thrust engines for service ~ 2025 with an increase of 25% fuel efficiency and range by 30% over the P&W F-135.

    Another worry is the lack of long range AAM, Navy never replaced the AIM-54 Phoenix, not clear if any serious funding behind the Pentagon Long Range Engagement Weapon, LREW, two stage motor hit to kill missile. Europeans have the Meteor with its throttleable ducted rocket/ramjet, talk of UK/Japan derived version with an AESA seeker. UK version of F-35B planned to have Meteor integrated with Block 4 ~ 2025.

    Congress banned export of F-22, including Japan who wanted to buy, now mention of Japan contracting Lockheed to design a hybrid of the F-22/F-35 to counter Chinese/Russian 5th generation bombers and fighters.

    China has the DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missile with range of ~2,500 miles to threaten Guam's airfields with both conventional and nuclear warheads.

    1. We need IRBM's.

      We need a long range interceptor/fighter, with a reasonable amount of stealth. The YF-23 sounds like it would have been better than the F-22 from everything I've read. But that's not what the air force wanted. They wanted something more suited to Europe and shorter ranges.

      We need more ASW, and the ability to protect our supply ships/threaten the enemies supply ships.

      Carriers as a weapon are fine, if they have the right airwing.

      Carriers without the right airwing are expensive targets.

      Right now we have a half a solution for the pacific. We have Carriers, Subs, and naval patrol craft. We don't have good ASW, long range air wings, good fighters, or simple numbers.

      To me that seems a recipe for disaster. Marching a carrier into the pacific against a peer the way we are now is like driving a tank into battle against a peer without infantry support. You'll end up with a very expensive dead tank.

      There are many ways to solve this conundrum. Arm way up for sea control and attack. Go cheap and have tons of submarines that, while they can't perform sea control can do sea denial. Just accept we won't have control of the Pacific. But we aren't following any one cogent path. So we are spending a lot of money for not a lot of return.


    2. One thing, I thought the latest AMRAAM could do 90 miles or so. That isn't fantastic but it's close to the Phoenix.

      It's not perfect, but if I have to make a choice between 'better ASW' and ' New long range missile' I'd live with the AMRAAM and build up ASW skills.

    3. The effective range between the YF-22 and the YF-23 was not that great; not enough to change the balance in favor of the YF-23. The YF-22 was selected because of its greater agility and somewhat smaller radar cross-section. Also, LM offered a Naval variant of the F-22(what might have been!..) and since the USN had a vote, that clinched the deal. The Navy, in its infinite wisdom, declined to purchase any F-22's. There's no point debating how many stealth fighters can dance on the head of a pin; the F-23 would have been great, the F-22 is great. What we need to focus on is getting Congress to order the restarting of the F-22 line, and begin producing--in large numbers--the F-22B and the Naval variant.

  5. For a navy that cut its teeth in the Pacific, and has operated there successfully for decades, we aren't acting very intelligently.

    The Pacific is vast. Range rules. These bombers only need to be decently stealthy in order to hide in the spaces of the pacific.

    I honestly think that with projects like the LCS, Zumwalt, Tico retirement, laggard ASM replacement, lack of action on the first island chain...

    We're giving up. We are so caught up in making money for vendors, being starry eyed over tech, and getting sweet jobs for admirals afterward that the Navy isn't a unit to defend/control the sea anymore. It's a political football for Washington, the industry, and the admirals. I don't have any other explanation.

    Sorry if I'm too cynical. But our moves just don't make sense unless it's just gross incompetence.



    1. "The Pacific is vast"

      Last month Navy cancelled program to turn Burke Flight IIA's gas-guzzling destroyers into hybrids, HED, (GT's are most efficient at maximum power output, at lower rotational speed the pressure of the compressed air drops and thus thermal and fuel efficiency drop dramatically and they become gas guzzlers).

      Navy justification for cancellation for HED was the Burkes have three generators, two of which run while a third remains in standby, which rotates through while generators are down for maintenance or in case of an emergency. Running the electrical motor that turned the shaft while also running the ship’s power-hungry radars and related systems maxed out the capacity of those generators. “At that point you are a light switch flipping on away from winking out the whole ship,” the unnamed official said.

      Burkes electrical energy needs can be supplied by a single generator set (with HED used second GT generator to power electric motor, all main GT propulsion engines turned off). However, because crews cannot afford the risk of waiting for a second generator set to power up should the first fail, two sets operating underway to ensure power reliability. Navy funded $17M development and estimated $88M for production) DRS in 2011 to develop an ESM/uninterruptible power supply to provide enough backup emergency power to support the ship’s electrical bus following a loss of generator casualty and ensure the system fault does not result in a dark ship. By enabling single generator operations, ESMs are projected to provide the Fleet with a potential annual fuel savings of more than 5,000 barrels per ship/year planning for a production ESM to be delivered to the Fleet in 2016, cancelled and now HED cancelled which was to give additional 2.5 days between refuelling.

      The cost of modifying the 34 Flight IIAs to incorporate HED by L-3 was budgeted at $356.25 million, $10.5 million per ship, peanuts. Flight III design excluded HED as with additional weight unable to meet Service Life Allowance / Future Growth Margin.

    2. Why didn't they design them so in the first place ?

  6. Engines are one of the most crucial developments for a bomber. I don't know a lot about the Chinese military engine industry. Are the Chinese capable of developing a suitable engine required for the bomber as described?

    1. The indigenous Chinese engine industry is a decade behind ( at best ) from that of the west .

      One reason they bought the Su-35 was to get a loot at the engine tech.

    2. I think anything larger than the J-20 is going to require a 4 engine layout. If the rumors are true, the J-20 barely makes due with its engines.

      In that case I think the only design that makes sense for stealth capability is a big flying wing like the B-2. I think that would keep it subsonic though.

  7. Raises the question of radar and should Air Force and Navy be developing long waveband VHF and UHF radars to detect the new stealth Chinese bomber, Russians and Chinese have numerous VHF radars to counter stealth aircraft.

    The current US radars in production and development i.e. TPY-2, SPY-6 and the Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) are X and S-band for detection of ballistic missiles, not stealth aircraft.

  8. Is it only the US that can make and deploy offensive weapons and equipment?

    1. Of course not. Why would you even ask that?

  9. Greatly enjoy your posts. I noticed an article in the Diplomat, discussing Japanese dissatisfaction with the F35, and their desire for a different design, and thought I would post a link. Tim

    1. I hadn't seen that link although I've been aware of Japan's desire for a better aircraft. Thanks.

      It seems odd that we wouldn't provide or share the F-22 or, now, the plans for it. China only has two significant counters in the region: Japan and India.

      We're not supplying Japan with what it needs and we're not making a concerted effort to befriend India. Puzzling.

    2. Here's the key statement, the last sentence, from the article,

      "But judging by the report itself, which underlines over and over again that any dollars put toward F-22s could be taken from the F-35 program ..."

      The report, as noted in the supporting article, was written by the AF and undoubtedly intended to prevent the F-22 from competing with F-35 funding. Some of the cost estimates are ridiculously high, as noted in the article. The report was written to support a pre-determined, desired conclusion.

      My assessment remains unchanged that the F-22 could be restarted quickly and cheaply. I find the alternate, non-AF report, whose name/authorship I can't recall off the top of my head, far more compelling.

    3. "He doesn't provide much evidence to support the idea that the paper's estimates are "ridiculously high". "

      For example, the report claims non-recurring start up costs of $10B. That's utterly absurd. I've been involved in huge industrial manufacturing facility construction projects and the costs are on the order of $100M. Add in the fact that most of the tooling already exists and all of the knowledge is already developed and documented and the non-recurring start up costs become even more ridiculous.

      It sounds to me like someone took the ultra high end of every individual cost estimate and added them all together - and even then I can't fathom even remotely this kind of estimate.

      Here's another example, the original RAND report which estimated around $350M non-recurring start up costs assumed three cases and resulting costs: no pause, a two year pause, and a three year pause. The key was that knowledge loss would be 100% after 3 yrs (incorrect but we'll go with it) and therefore the most costly to restart. That's fair and reasonable. What the AF did was to take the three data points (0,2,3 yrs) and then extrapolate to 10 yrs while ignoring that once the 100% loss point occurred, there can't be any further loss or cost - and yet, that's exactly what they did. It's a joke.

      And so on.

      The evidence for "ridiculously high" estimates is quite solid.

    4. "He doesn't provide much evidence to support the idea that the paper's estimates are "ridiculously high"."

      I've downloaded the original AF report and I think I'll do an analysis of it for a post. Any interest in doing an objective assessment of the report for a guest post?

  10. The new bomber would complement China's recently introduced DF-26 IRBM which is capable of striking Guam and possibly Hawaii.

    1. With enough ballistic missiles, you don't need bombers!

      Interesting that all the people who wring their hands in fear that China might misinterpret any ballistic missile we might employ as a nuclear weapon don't seem to have any problem with China launching massive salvos of ballistic missiles at us.

  11. Maybe they believe China's no first use policy. I don't.

    1. The Chinese are claiming to have but few hundred nuclear warheads, and Western intelligence services don't disagree.
      That's not a nuclear arsenal for a first strike on teh U.S., unless you believe that EMP attacks are super-powerful (5x 1 Mt at 500 km altitude could cover the entire CONUS with effects from multiple angles, but that would still not knock everything out).

  12. A not fully ridiculous scenario for such a bomber would be the use of the Y-20 transports with ramp-dropped cruise or ballistic missiles. It's feasible, has been done in tests even with huge ballistic missiles.
    You need no stealth or supersonic speed if you have 2,000 km standoff capability.
    The distributed cool-looking YF-23 inspired artist's impression doesn't come close to looking like a Pearl Harbor-ranged bomber (see the cockpit for size reference). Well, one way maybe.

    1. As noted in the post, the bomber is purported to have a design combat radius of a bit over 3000 miles. Add to that a 1000 mile cruise missile and you're almost all the way there! Throw in an outward bound refueling at the periphery of the first island chain (1000 miles out from the mainland) and a return leg refueling in the same location and you appear to have a viable mission in terms of distance.

      As far as defending AWACS and fighters, the ocean is a huge place and we do not have truly long range fighters for patrols and intercepts. Consider that we believe our stealth B-2 bombers are going to be able to penetrate China's A2/AD zone - why would we believe that their stealth bomber couldn't do the same to us?

      BTW, welcome back. Good to hear from you! I'm still hoping for a guest post from you at some point.

    2. "possible route"

      First, I have to say, what a great global map image! Did you make that yourself?

      Second, regarding the "meaning" of the circles, they convey the combat radii but not the coverage. Each circle covers something in the vicinity of a million square miles. A given aircraft can cover only an infinitesimally small fraction of that area. So, the circles are factually correct (I assume your circles are to scale) but operationally highly misleading.

      Of course, if you can predict the likely enemy aircraft path AND TIME, you can perch interceptors on the route and increase your odds of finding them. Time is a critical aspect to this. Even if you can predict a route, that route would have to be covered 24 hours a day. How many F-15s would it take to provide non-stop coverage around just one point, several hundred miles from base?

      The point is that the graphic is impressive but the operational realities of trying to intercept a Chinese stealth bomber are daunting.

      Intercepting the tankers is, of course, the preferred and, theoretically, easier approach. However, unless the Chinese are idiots, they aren't going to hang their tankers out to dry, unescorted. Even if we could find the tanker locations, could we maintain a 24/7 combat patrol presence at the location that was sufficiently powerful enough to fight toe-to-toe for the airspace against front line Chinese fighters? And, if we did, presumably the Chinese would simply relocate and the hunt/fight would have to start all over again.

      In short, trying to prevent a stealth bomber attack on Pearl would be a challenge. I'll repeat, we think our B-2's can penetrate Chinese airspace (I have severe doubts but that's the official AF belief) so why would we think they can't penetrate ours?

    3. "Besides, long range bomber sorties that just fire off a handful of cruise missiles might be an interesting show of force, but it's difficult to generate militarily useful effects that way."

      I've got to disagree. Taking a lesson from history, if the Japanese had opted to hit our tank farms, docking facilities, and assorted logistical/maintenance facilities at Pearl Harbor instead of antiquated battleships, we'd have been badly hurt for an extended period.

      The same holds true today. Proper target selection, likely quite similar to what the Japanese should have done, would cripple us today and could be achieved by a relative handful of missiles. Again, we think our cruise missiles will be quite effective so why would we not think the Chinese missiles will, too? The Japanese hit all the wrong targets at Pearl Harbor. I doubt the Chinese will make the same mistake.

      Further, I assume the Chinese will fight in a coordinated fashion. I doubt they'll send bombers on a mission with no support. I'm sure that they'll launch ballistic and sub-launched cruise missiles at our defending airbases to disrupt any anti-bomber effort we might attempt. Similarly, I'm sure they would use sub-launched cruise missiles to suppress Pearl Harbor's air defenses. This is the kind of stuff we would do so I assume the Chinese will do the same.

      Focusing on one tiny aspect of the operation in isolation - a single F-15 against a single tanker - is misleading in the extreme.

    4. Your graphic also quite effectively illustrates the tyranny of distance and paucity of basing that we face in a war with China. One of the best graphics I've seen on the subject!

    5. You outline the difficulties and dangers for the Chinese but you seem to attribute no difficulty or danger for us!

      An unrefueled F-15 at max range won't have any time on station. We'll need tankers. Why wouldn't our tankers be threatened by the Chinese VLRAAM? Why wouldn't we lose fighters, have our tankers threatened, and force our defensive effort to abort?

      If the Chinese know pretty much exactly when our fighters will need to be at the rendezvous point, why wouldn't they send fighters to kill our fighters while simultaneously attacking our tankers?

      You also ignored the idea that the Chinese would attack our airbases to suppress our defensive efforts.

      Finally, how do you account for our absolute conviction that we can penetrate their defenses with our bombers with total impunity but they have zero chance of doing the same to us? If you don't believe their bombers can penetrate our defenses then you can't believe that our bombers can penetrate their defenses. You need to be consistent in your logic. So, which is it? Can stealth bombers penetrate a defense or not?

      You're exhibiting the thought process that our military leadership is guilty of: the belief that all of our capabilities will work flawlessly and none of the enemy's will work at all.


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