China may have stealth bomber Xian H-20 ready by late 2020, will put US bases in Pacific under strike range
Beijing is, however, assessing what impact the fighter jet's debut could see when China is facing a global hostility in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic
With the relationship between the US and China racing to the bottom in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that has hit over 3.5 million people worldwide and killed more than 250,000, the Asian superpower is set to better its military might. China’s all-new supersonic stealth bomber could be ready by late 2020 and that will double its strike range and bring rival nations like Australia, Japan and South Korea within a striking range.
The possession of the Xian H-20 bomber will also see China becoming the third country after the US and Russia which is capable of launching nuclear missiles from land, air, and sea, hence completing the ‘nuclear triad’.
According to a report in South China Morning Post which confirmed the news, Beijing is also assessing the impact of the unveiling of the military hardware at a time when regional relations are complex because of the pandemic. An internal Chinese report has recently warned the country’s leadership that global sentiment is hostile against the country at the moment and the possibility of an armed confrontation with the US-led West could not be ignored.
The Post cited military sources saying the H-20 supersonic stealth bomber could make its public debut at the Zhuhai Airshow this November, given the pandemic comes under control by the time. “The Zhuhai Airshow is expected to become a platform to promote China’s image and its success in pandemic control – telling the outside world that the contagion did not have any big impacts on the Chinese defense industry enterprises,” the Post cited a source as saying.
“The Beijing leadership is still carefully considering whether its commission will affect regional balance, especially as regional tensions have been escalating over the Covid-19 pandemic,” another source was cited as saying. “Like intercontinental ballistic missiles, all strategic bombers can be used for delivering nuclear weapons … if China claimed it had pursued a national defence policy which is purely defensive in nature, why would it need such an offensive weapon?”
Tensions between China and the US and its allies have worsened over the past one month in the wake of the outbreak of the pandemic from Wuhan. The West has increasingly accused Beijing of covering up the pandemic even when it knew the danger it posed. The common belief that the pandemic started off from a wet market in Wuhan has also been challenged now with the theory that it got leaked from a lab in the same city has gained traction.
Besides the US, countries like Japan and Australia have also witnessed their relations with China plummeting.
China’s strategic competition with the US has also intensified as with the US Navy getting heavily hit by the coronavirus, the Asian power has increased its naval presence in its surroundings, raising concern in Japan and Taiwan.
Chinese jet can hit American bases in various countries
The defense department has predicted that the H-20, the last in China’s 20 series of new generation fighter planes, would have an estimated cruising distance of over 5,300 miles. China’s state TV sources predicted that the H-20 could transform the strategic equations between the US and China by doubling the range of its current H-6K, called its own B-52. The Chinese jet has reportedly been made to hit targets beyond the second island ring that includes American bases in Guam, Japan, Philippines and other countries.
"If the H-20 does have the range and passable 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," National Interest reported.
The third island chain goes till Hawaii and coastal Australia. The plane will carry nuclear and conventional missiles with a maximum take-off weight of at least 200 tonnes and a payload measuring up to 45 tonnes.
The Post cited some military experts who felt the US Air Force would not care much about the new Chinese jet because it is not powerful enough to challenge their B-2 and B-21 bombers. Some feel the H-20 might feature the NK-321 Russian engine while others think the H-20 would be fitted with the upgraded WS-10 engine. They said the WS-10 is still a transitional engine for the H-20 because it is not too powerful.
The Post also cited a military source as saying that if the US deployed more F-35 supersonic fighter jets, it would see China unveil its bomber even faster.
Meanwhile, while the Trump administration continued to blame China for not having acted adequately against the coronavirus outbreak, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of China’s Global Times hit out at Trump in an editorial, accusing him of ‘publicly lying about China’.