China Is Building a New Long-Range Bomber

Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber. Image: Creative Commons.

Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber. Image: Creative Commons.

By Dave Majumdar September 3, 2016

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is working on developing a new long-range strategic bomber, but there are scant details available about the project. Beijing currently relies on the Xian H-6K cruise missile carrier—which is a highly modernized derivative of the 1950s-era Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 Badger—for long-range strike capability, but the aircraft does not have the ability to penetrate enemy airspace nor does it have the range to attack the U.S. mainland.

“We are now developing a new generation of long-range bomber, and you’ll see it in the future,” PLAAF chief Gen. Ma Xiaotian said on Sept. 1 at the PLAAF Aviation University in Changchun according to China’s Global Times. But Ma offered no further details about the Chinese bomber project.

The fact that Beijing is developing a new bomber should not come as a surprise. A platform that would be capable of carrying a significant payload over great distances would be very useful over the vast reaches of the Pacific theatre because there are few land bases available. Outside the Chinese mainland, Beijing only has a handful of vulnerable artificial island airstrips from which it could try to project its airpower forward. Thus a new long-range bomber with intercontinental range and a large payload would enable China to threaten U.S. forces at longer ranges.

That could mean using massed bomber formations armed with cruise missiles to attack U.S. carrier strike groups further out to sea than is currently possible with the H-6K—similar to how the Soviet Union planned to attack those vessels using the Tupolev Tu-22M3 Backfire during the Cold War. Alternatively, China could use such an aircraft to strike more distant potential U.S. staging areas such as bases in Hawaii.

Indeed, with sufficient range, payload capability and an appropriate load-out of land-attack cruise missiles, a next-generation Chinese bomber could possibly hold targets within the continental United States at risk. Right now, China has no conventional capability to strike at targets with the continental United States save for cyber-attacks—as the RAND Corporation posited in a recent study. Meanwhile, the United States is unlikely to hold back from strikes against the Chinese mainland in the event of a war.

While there are no details available about the Chinese bomber project, Beijing could opt for long-range subsonic cruise missile carrier similar to the Boeing B-52 or Tu-95 Bear; a long-range supersonic design similar in concept to the Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack; or some kind of stealth design similar to the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit. Given that China has demonstrated some ability to develop stealth aircraft in the guise of the Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31, it is possible that Beijing will opt for a low observable aircraft design.

However, the problem for China is that its industry has not yet mastered developing and producing reliable jet engines. Beijing seems to be aware of this Achilles’ Heel and seems to be intent on rectifying the problem. Indeed, late last month President Xi Jinping established the Aero Engine Corporation of China (AECC) in order to position the rising superpower as a premier developer and manufacturer of gas turbine engines. As the Global Times reported, Chinese premier Li Keqiang has issued written instructions suggesting that breakthroughs in developing advanced turbines engines is a high priority necessary to enhance overall Chinese economic and military power.

While China has not been successful in innovating decent jet propulsion technology just yet, it is only a matter of time before Beijing discovers the secret to developing a producible and reliable jet engine. Once that problem is solved, the Chinese aviation industry—and with it Beijing’s military prowess—will grow in leaps and bounds.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for the National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Source: National Interest “China Is Building a New Long-Range Bomber”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

2 Comments on “China Is Building a New Long-Range Bomber”

  1. Steve says:

    Chances are China has already possess the confidentiality of the secrets of producing reliable state of the art jet engines, otherwise what’s the point of building a new long range bomber and hoping to secure foreign engines. We are referring to a huge payload with approximately 8,000 miles of flight time. China’s aviation industry and military prowess will grow in leaps and bounds. In fact it has already started.


  2. Joseph says:

    Another nonsense by Dave Majumbar. Western analysts are paid to write about Chinese military that they have no clue about. When the PLAAF chief said that China is developing new generation of long range bomber, they are scrambling to speculate. But if it is a poorly-guarded secret, it is not a secret at all, isn’t it? So they can only speculate with what little they know with. The H-6 bomber is an old design. it is by far is not the new generation. Nor is the Tu-22M. They will not be Chinese new bombers. If anything we learn from the past, the J-20 is nothing like J-10 or J-11. The new bomber would be nothing like the Western analysts has imaged. But it is a simple fact that the old H-6 is enough to reach the US mainland, challenging directly their defense systems. So for now, Western analyst can only expect with their limited imagination, that the H-6Ks will turn up on American skies. When the new bomber is finally revealed, they will have to work out new speculation, and new limited imagination.