China could launch its own stealth bomber, the Xian H-20, by the end of this year as fears of the possible sale of F-35’s jets to American allies in the Indo-Pacific region rises.
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The H-20 project was first announced in 2016 by the People’s Liberation Army and is seen as a counterweight to possible US militarization of the region which includes providing stealth F-35 jets to neighbouring countries, reports the SCMP.
Tensions are already flaring up in the region due to activities by both China and the US in the South China Sea (SCS) and Strait of Taiwan as earlier reported by the EurAsian Times.
Military analysts speaking to SCMP believe that the military buildup in the region could escalate further if the US decides to sell F-35’s to countries in the Indo-Pacific. The US has already sold around 200 F-35’s to Japan and South Korea and this could push Bejing to launch its stealth bomber ever soon.
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Additionally, Beijing could be further pushed to launch the next generation bomber if the US also sells the F-35’s to India, Singapore and Taiwan in a bid to contain the rise of China.
One military analyst speaking to SCMP shares similar views. ‘’If some US decision-makers decided to deploy up to 500 F-35s by selling them Japan, South Korea, and even Singapore, India and Taiwan – making almost all of China’s neighbours in the Indo-Pacific region to contain China – that would push Beijing to launch the H-20 as soon as possible,” he said.
With the arrival of the H-20, the long-desired Chinese nuclear triad of ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles and air-launched weapons would be achieved.
Experts talking to the EurAsian Times citing the US defence department assert that the H-20 would have an estimated cruising distance of more than 8,500km.
The latest addition will also double the current strike range of the H-6K bomber thus enabling the Chinese Air Force to strike targets beyond the second island ring – which includes US bases in Japan, Guam, the Philippines from mainland China. The third island chain extends to Hawaii and coastal Australia.
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The subsonic stealth bomber will be loaded with nuclear and conventional missiles with a maximum take-off weight of at least 200 tonnes and a payload of up to 45 tonnes.
The bomber is expected to fly at subsonic speeds and could potentially unleash four powerful hypersonic stealth cruise missiles. Speculations are rife about engine details and the H-20 could possibly be powered by either the Chinese WS-10B or Russian- AL-31FM2/3 engine.
Although an early release of the Xian H-20 seems possible, Beijing could face backlash with this action. The poor handling of the coronavirus by China as well as provocative activities to claim the South China Sea has seen a rise in anti-China rhetoric around the world.
Many countries have pulled out their manufacturing and production units from Chinese territory while others have made an international outcry over Chinese actions. With the international image of China at an all-time low, and commissioning a nuclear stealth bomber could make it worse.