• The H-20 bombers prioritize stealth and long distance over speed
  • It would threaten U.S. assets and interests in the Asia-Pacific
  • The entire U.S. will be within range of the H-20 if it took the Arctic route

Though China has not been very forthcoming about its new H-20 stealth bomber, defense experts have sounded the alarm about the jet, and how it can strike distances that were otherwise outside the range of the PLAAF bombers, including the U.S. homeland.

Last January, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) had shared footage of what most believed to be the Xian H-20 stealth bomber. It showed a flying wing design with two intakes at the back of the airframe, similar to the U.S. Air Force's B-2 Spirit bomber.

A few months later, a monthly magazine by state defense corporation China North Industries Group released four computer-generated pictures of the design of the Xian H-20. The pictures showed the aircraft had a weapon bay, two adjustable tail wings, an airborne radar at the front and two stealth air intakes on both sides. Beijing, however, claimed the pictures were "fake news."

Despite that, experts still believe the H-20 is a game-changer, equipped with nuclear and conventional missiles and can fly at subsonic speeds and potentially fire four powerful hypersonic stealth missiles. But the H-20's potency is in the fact that it prioritizes stealth and long-distance over speed.

"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," Jon Grevatt, a warplane specialist and Asia-Pacific defense analyst at Janes, told South China Morning Post in an earlier interview.

What makes America's defense planners worried is its reported range of 7,500 miles – enough to reach the U.S. homeland without refueling. The unrefueled range of a U.S. Air Force B-2 bomber is approximately 6,000 miles, and the next-generation stealth bomber B-21 is still in the making.

Earlier reports suggested that the H-20 can extend beyond the second island chain, thereby holding the Philippines, Japan and areas of the South China Sea at risk. Not just these regions, but it can also threaten Hawaii and even parts of the continental U.S. It would also put all 50 U.S. states within striking distance if the H-20 took an Arctic flight route.

However, many agencies do not buy the claims about its range. According to 1945, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency estimates that the H-20 can only fly 4,000 to 5,000 miles without refueling. Even then, it is still a significant range. China may have carried out further upgrades, bringing the bomber's range to somewhere near the speculated 7,500-mile range.

Despite the different narratives over its range, H-20 is still a dangerous weapon, thanks to its ability to fire nuclear and conventional missiles. That means, it can threaten Guam, South Korea and Okinawa.

Naturally, the US. will have to find counter-stealth technologies, which were formerly most sought after by Russia and China. The fact that the U.S. Air Force is contemplating owning a stealth tanker to overcome the range limitations of its stealth fighter fleet speaks volumes. Still, that would not be the perfect answer for the H-20.

bomber us
A B-1B Lancer, a long-range strategic bomber capable of flying intercontinental missions without refueling and penetrating present and future sophisticated enemy defenses, flies over Wyoming in an undated photo. Getty Images/Douglas C. Brunelle/Courtesy of U.S. Air Force