BEIJING, September 5 (ChinaMil) -- General Ma Xiaotian, commander of the PLA Air Force, said at a PLA Air Force Open Day event in Changchun that the PLA Air Force is developing the new-generation long-range bomber, which drew close attention because this was the first time that a high-ranking Chinese military official confirmed China's long-range bomber project.
But he didn't reveal the bomber's performance indicators or R&D status. Global Times interviewed Fu Qianshao, an expert from the PLA Air Force, on September 4 about the performance requirements, technical solutions and other hot topics about this significant weapon.
The Chinese leaders have defined the PLA Air Force as strategic air force, for which developing the long-range strategic bomber is a necessary step.
How to define this bomber then? Fu Qianshao introduced to Global Times on September 4 that there are two types of bombers - tactical and strategic, the latter including medium-range and long-range ones.
At present only the U.S. and Russia have long-range strategic bombers, the former having B-52, B-1B and B-2 and the latter Tu-160 and Tu-95, and only China and Russia have medium-range strategic bombers, the former having H-6 series and the latter Tu-22M.
Foreign media generally take H-6K as a medium-range and long-range strategic bomber, which they believe can reach the flying range of 8,000-9,000km when equipped with new engine and avionics system.
Some Chinese websites said that China's long-range strategic bomber "can make around-the-globe flight with 30-ton bomb load". According to Fu, no bomber today can fly around the globe without air refueling. The flying range of medium-range bomber is more than 6,000km and that of long-range ones is twice that long, about 12,000km with a bomb load of 20-30 tons.
What is the technical solution for China's new-generation bomber then? Fu Qianshao held that based on China's current overall technical preparation, its long-range bomber may have four engines, and the engine to be used will probably be the turbofan-10 that's already applied in fighter jets, but there are two versions of turbofan-10, one with thrust augmentation and one without.
Therefore, three technical solutions may be created according to different performance requirements. The first solution stresses stealth performance instead of supersonic defense penetration, for which the turbofan-10 engine without thrust augmentation may be adopted. The second solution stresses supersonic defense penetration, for which turbofan-10 with thrust augmentation may be adopted. And the third solution is the combination of the previous two, "which is possible because we have technical preparations in all relevant fields".
Wang Yanan, a Chinese aviation expert, said in a previous interview that China should develop a strategic bomber similar to Tu-160. "Our new bomber should be capable of supersonic performance like Tu-160, but it should adopt fixed wing rather than variable sweep aerofoil because the latter is too complicated and isn't very useful in modern air combat."
He added, "I don't think we need a flying-wing bomber like B-2 because its development is a challenge for China, both technologically and economically. Why do we have to invest an astronomical amount of resources in developing the Chinese version of B-2, just for its good looks or the questionable stealth performance?”
According to Fu Qianshao, which technical solution to use and which performance to highlight eventually depend on military considerations.
Whichever technical indicator China decides to prioritize, it has the technical preparation for it, although the solution that combines supersonic and stealth performance is doubtlessly the most difficult, Fu said.
Fu said that in the past, Chinese bombers were considered 50 years inferior to those developed by western powers, but that referred to the early types of H-6, not the upgraded H-6K.
Once China's new-generation long-range bomber is successfully developed, it can bring China to the same high level as world military powers, even obtaining late-mover advantages in certain indicators as, after all, America's latest stealth bomber B-2 that's currently in service was developed many years ago.
In addition, another huge advantage China has is that it has an excellent R&D team, the experts in which have been developing all types of military aircraft in the past few decades.
Some analyst said that according to the tradition of Chinese military, public confirmation of an equipment project means that project has been in progress for some time and some results have been achieved.
Fu believed the long-range bomber project has been established and under way for quite some time now, but he said nothing about its progress.
He stressed that the development of long-range bomber doesn't mean existing bombers are completely out of date, and it's highly possible that two types of strategic bombers will serve in the PLA Air Force side by side.
The U.S., for example, has B-2, but B-52, which is a veteran now, is still the most widely and frequently used bomber.
In the future, the old and new strategic bombers can carry out different missions. While H-6K can reach surrounding countries if anything happens, long-range bomber will be able to fly farther to demonstrate China's resolve and will to defend its national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.
The author is Liu Yang, a reporter from Global Times.