The first credible indications that China is looking at developing a true strategic bomber capability are starting to emerge. Currently, the People’s Republic of China operates a small fleet of upgraded Xian H-6 bombers (cruise missile carriers) which are based on the antiquated Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-16 Badger.
According to the Chinese Military Aviation blog, which tends to be fairly accurate in tracking China’s aviation developments, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) will likely select a stealthy flying wing configuration for its new strategic bomber program called the H-X.
Among the configurations studied by China’s 603rd Institute/Xian Aircraft Company was a supersonic delta wing design and a four-engined flying wing design, but the flying wing looks like it has won out. That means China is the third country after Russia–whose developmental Tupolev PAK-DA was recently revealed to be a flying wing–to adopt the configuration, which was first adopted operationally on the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit.
Whatever aircraft ultimately emerges from the H-X program could be powered by a non-afterburning derivative of the Shenyang Liming WS-10 turbofan, according the posting. The aircraft would also likely carry CJ-10K/CJ-20K air launched cruise missiles internally on a rotary launcher.
One can also assume the Chinese are designing the aircraft to operate against modern air defense systems, but there is no information on what kind of performance parameters the PLAAF is looking at. Nor is there any concrete information on what kind of missions the H-X might be intended to fly.
But one can theorize that a primary mission will likely be to attack US carrier strike groups. But given that the program aims to develop a strategic bomber, China could potentially be designing the aircraft as part of an effort to build a nuclear triad consisting of land-based ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and now a long-range nuclear-capable bomber.
But the aircraft would almost certainly have a conventional role like US and Russian bombers. Right now, the Pentagon expects to be able to hit the Chinese mainland directly during any military confrontation without any real fear of retaliation against the continental United States. China has no way to respond in kind except via cyber-warfare or some other asymmetric means. If the H-X is designed with sufficient range, payload and is survivable enough, it could change that and hold targets inside the US at risk for the first time.