B-2 Spirit Stealth

Courtesy Northrop Grumman

We were heading to the air museum at Edwards Air Force base in southern California, driving along the dry lake bed in my brother’s Ford Explorer.

This was before the world went batsh-t crazy over security, of course, and foreigners were allowed to visit the facility by appointment and proof of citizenship.

Then suddenly, we saw an incredible sight at our 3 o’clock position.

A massive B-2 stealth bomber, on the deck — and I mean, on the deck — at high speed, doing knife-edge turns, with an F-16 chase plane, mirroring its every move.

We didn’t dare take out our video camera, as we were now on the base proper and we were not allowed to stop — it likely would have brought down the base security apparatus on us.

I will never — never — forget the image of that aircraft doing the impossible. I knew then this was no ordinary airplane and no ordinary technology.

I would later learn the B-2 had special anti-gravitic technology — a technology decades in advance and pioneered in total secrecy.

Now fast forward two decades. 

While America was largely asleep, China — always playing the long game — turned to other countries for “inspiration” to outfit its armed forces.

According to a Defense Intelligence Agency report (DIA), the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is now developing not one, but two stealth bombers, Mark Episkopos of National Interest reported.

And analysts say they both look a helluva lot like Northrop Grumman’s B-2 Spirit.

How China has achieved this is nothing short of mind-boggling.

Although stealing foreign military technology could be seen by some as a strategic weakness, China skips expensive and time-consuming R&D, Popular Mechanics reported.

And nowhere is fast-and-loose weapons adoption more apparent than in China’s Air Force (PLAAF). Like the US, China deploys aircraft with a broad range of capabilities, but unlike the US, most of China’s planes are based on plans purchased or stolen from its adversaries. 

According to a report, by the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School, China’s cyber espionage activities represent a significant threat to the US military and the safety and security of the nation. 

Defense contractors, research institutes and universities have all failed to adequately secure their computer networks allowing China to steal R&D pertaining to some of America’s most important military technology. This wholesale theft represents losses in the range of hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

Which leads us back to the H-20, a long-distance flying wing stealth bomber with a robust electronic countermeasures (ECM) package and sensor fusion integration.

As with its US B-21 Raider and Russian PAK-DA counterparts, China’s next-generation bomber will prioritize stealth performance and deep penetration capabilities over raw speed and maneuverability. 

Rather, the H-20 bomber is set to drastically expand China’s threat projection capabilities against its US adversary. 

The new bomber “will be able to strike targets a long distance away, perhaps in the second island chain and beyond,” military expert Jon Grevatt explained to the South China Morning Post.

“That means it would threaten U.S. assets and interests in the Asia-Pacific. If the aircraft becomes operational, it has the potential to be a game-changer,” he added.

Even more fascinating is the mysterious JH-XX bomber project.

Described by the DIA report as a “fighter-bomber,”  the JH-XX is the tactical counterpart to the H-20 strategic bomber. 

It’s widely speculated the JH-XX is the early concept bomber depicted on the May 2018 cover of the prolific Chinese defense magazine “Aerospace Knowledge,” brought to the attention of western audiences by China Defense Blog, Episkopos reported.

If true, these images depict a conventionally designed, super-maneuverable, supersonic bomber with an internal weapons bay. 

Several aspects of the JH-XX’s design, including the jagged air intakes and the way the twin-engine nozzles are embedded in the tail, suggest a decent measure of engineering attention paid to stealth performance.

But whereas stealth is a top design priority for the H-20, the JH-XX seeks to balance low-detectability features against speed and limited dogfighting abilities; to that end, the JH-XX will carry anti-air missiles. 

The  PL-15E, a Chinese long-range missile with a host of best-in-class features, is an ideal candidate for this type of aircraft.

Beyond visual range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAM) are used by fighters to knock out enemy fighters, bombers, tankers, drones and other aircraft from ranges beyond 150 km.

More importantly — and something that has been noted by Pentagon military planners — the JH-XX will also likely boast a more modest combat radius of around of up to 2,000 km, as opposed to the H-20’s 5,000 km, and is almost certainly not in the same weight or payload class as the H-20.

A rough portrait emerges of the JH-XX as a supersonic regional bomber that doubles as a stealthy, long-distance interceptor. 

With its blend of anti-ship and anti-air capabilities, China’s latest fighter seems even more tailor-made than the H-20 for countering American Carrier Battle Groups, Episkopos suggests. 

The JH-XX thus plays a clear role in China’s Pacific strategy: namely, it strengthens Beijing’s grip over the first island chain off China’s east coast and poses a credible deterrent to any outside force seeking to intervene in a prospective Chinese invasion of Taiwan. 

Together with the H-20, the JH-XX could also be the latest milestone in China’s long-term goal of contesting the second island chain by threatening the US base on the island of Guam.

Thinking even further ahead, US forces in Africa are keeping a watchful eye, worried Beijing is getting closer to establishing a network of military and naval bases across the continent — a threat that is setting off alarm bells at the Pentagon, Voice of America reported.

Classified US intelligence reports say China intends to establish its first permanent military presence on the Atlantic Ocean in the tiny Central African country of Equatorial Guinea.

“We know the Chinese desire a network of bases around the globe,” the head of US Africa Command, General Stephen Townsend, told lawmakers in April, adding, “My concern is the greatest along the Atlantic coast of Africa.”

Would China ever base its fleet of stealth bombers at any of those potential military sites? That would be upping the ante, but then again, the US is fully in China’s face right in its own backyard, the South China Sea.

What would stop Xi Jinping or the PLAAF from taking that next step?

According to sources, the H-20 is on the verge of being formally announced and is planned to enter service in the PLAAF by the mid-2020s. 

Meanwhile, not much is known about the JH-XX timeline. It may not even be in active development, it could just be a concept at this point. 

Then again, China likes surprises.

Dave Makichuk is a Western Standard contributor

He has worked in the media for decades, including as an editor for the Calgary Herald. He is also the Calgary correspondent for ChinaFactor.newsand has written extensively on the military situation in Asia

Columnist

Dave Makichuk is a Western Standard contributor. He has worked in the media for decades, including as an editor for the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun. He also wrote extensively on military and security issues for the Asia Times in Hong Kong.

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