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On September 1, 2016 during an interview given at the “2016’s PLAAF open day” in Changchun, Chinese Air Force Commander General Ma Xiaotian confirmed to the media that development of a new long range bomber is underway (Global Times, September 3, 2016). While presenting the latest H-6K to the public he announced that “the Chinese air force has now entered a phase of transition, we want to build a powerful Air Force both defensive and offensive.” Pointing to the H-6K he added: “Our long range strike capability has much improved compared to the past, and an even bigger improvement is coming. We are developing a new generation of long bomber” (Weibo, September 2, 2016).
Nearly two years later, reports are becoming more frequent and reliable. Many interpret this openness as a hint of an imminent unveiling. Two reports give additional credence to this. In December 2016 China Central Television (CCTV) displayed a notional rendering of a future bomber—surely fan-art only as a placeholder—but in itself some sort of confirmation. Later, Retired Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo, director of the PLA Navy’s Expert Consultation Committee and also a regular media commentator on Chinese military developments for CCTV, noted when asked on when the next-generation strategic bomber will make its debut, “we should have some patience.” Though his statement does not reveal any specifics, it is typical of the way China discloses such major programs to its public. In 2009, for example, Lieutenant General He Weirong, announced that “a Chinese fourth generation (by Chinese definition) fighter (referring to the J-20) will fly soon and be operational between 2017 and 2019,” a timeline which has been borne out by events.
Following these reports, several scaled-down models were built and test-flown so that by 2011 a four-engined flying wing design similar in configuration to the US B-2 or even B-21 was chosen. Concerning other technical details, one can only speculate but the engines are most likely modified, afterburner-less WS-10A as an interim solution to the WS-15-derivative later. Academic concept papers published after November 2015 indicate that the H-X most likely features engines buried deep within the main wing’s structure to further reduce the radar cross signature (how stealth it is) and twin dorsal S-shaped engine intakes with saw tooth lips similar to those of the B-2 (AVIC, November 2015). The paper it was featured in also mentioned that development work on the ‘cockpit section’ and ‘intake configuration’ was finished by a joint R&D-team from Xi’an and Hanzhong’s 012 Base.
The Chinese internet community is eagerly expecting the unveiling of the new bomber and are anticipating a maiden flight within the next two years. If a more reasonable timeline is used by assuming a similar development-cycle and timeframe comparable to the China’s indigenously-produced Y-20 transport aircraft—a roll out can be expected earliest around late 2019 and the first prototype could fly as early as 2020.