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New Chinese long-range bomber on military’s horizon, air force chief says

China is developing a new generation long-range strategic bomber but the aircraft could be up to eight years away from a maiden flight, according to a military observer.

On the sidelines of an induction day for 1,200 air force recruits at the People’s Liberation Army Air Force Aviation University in Changchun, Jilin province, on Thursday, air force chief General Ma Xiaotian said the military was working on a more advanced bomber but gave no details about the programme. “China will have a more advanced long-range strategic bomber,” Phoenix Television and Shenzhen Satellite Television quoted Ma as saying. “You will see it in the future.”

Military observers said the new generation would be more advanced than the air force’s H-6K bomber and Y-20 transport aircraft, with improvements in load capacity and range.

Military observer Zhou Chenming, who worked for a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the main state-owned contractor for the country’s space programme, said the aircraft was seven or eight years away from its ­debut.

“It takes huge sums of money to successfully design and manufacture a high-performance bomber,” Zhou said.

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He said a big budget and a stable research team were key to realising the plans. The United States’ new generation B-21 stealth bomber reportedly cost about US$564 million each.

Beijing-based military analyst Li Jie said the new bomber programme would also have to address shortcomings in take-off and landing distances, supplies and early-warning systems.

“Preparation for modern warfare is taking on greater importance and the new long-range strategic bomber has to have improved stealth capacity to counter US bombers,” Li said.

Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong said the new bomber would be able to take bigger loads than the Y-20, and be able to cover a range similar to the US’ B-2.

Jinan University international affairs analyst Dai Fan said China was upgrading its long-distance bombers so that its capacity to project power matched its growing global ambitions.

“China’s main rival is the US, whose armed forces can reach every corner of the globe in a very short time,” Dai said. “And in doing so, China can also deter Japan, which has maritime disputes with China in the East China Sea.”

China first revealed its new-generation H-6K strategic bomber at a military parade last year to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war. The new aircraft will be equipped with DH-20 land-attack cruise missiles, putting Australia within striking distance. Only Russia and the US can now launch cruise missiles from the air.

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In July, CCTV revealed the H-6K bombers had been deployed to the southern theatre to patrol the South China Sea’s Scarborough Shoal, which both Beijing and Manila claim. The Y-20 made its air force debut in July. But both aircraft use Russian engines, reflecting China failure to resolve its aviation “heart disease”.