China to debut Xian H-20 stealth bomber this year?

According to local media sources, China is readying to publicly debut its first domestically-produced strategic subsonic stealth bomber, the Xian H-20, later this year.

The news was reported by the South China Morning Post on May 4, and quoted Chinese military sources as saying that the platform could make its first public appearance at the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition (Airshow China/Zhuhai Airshow) this November. The event is held every two years at Jinwan Airport, Zhuhai, in the nation’s Guangdong province.

The publication quoted a military source as saying: “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 Chinese defence industry enterprises.”

Xian H-20 [Weibo via Fox News] #1
An artist's impression of the Xian H-20. Weibo via Fox News

However, the debut may not occur this year as the Chinese government is reportedly considering the impact of the platform’s unveiling in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and a rise in regional and international tensions with the nation. The unveiling will likely not take place at the event if the pandemic is not sufficiently under control by November.

Tensions between China and other local and international nations have been rising over the last decade. Local nations, including Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam, are disputing the country’s claim on territorial waters in the region. Internationally, China has clashed with the US in recent years over trade and criticism over the COVID-19 pandemic. The South China Morning Post reports that the platform’s unveiling could increase tensions “by directly threatening countries within its strike range, especially Australia, Japan and the Korean peninsula.”

Another military source told the publication that “the Beijing leadership is still carefully considering whether its commission will affect regional balance, especially as regional tension have been escalating over the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Manufactured by the Xi’an Aircraft Industry Corporation, the H-20 will be operated by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). Although the aircraft’s specifications remain unknown, the US expects that it will be capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Air defence expert, Fu Qianshao, told China-based publication, Global Times, that the platform could have a range of at least 7,457 miles (12,000km) and a payload capacity of roughly 20 tons (18.1 tonnes). However, this has yet to be confirmed.