China is likely to soon unveil one of its most anticipated weapons — a new-generation long-range bomber, aviation industry observers said amid disclosure of the plane's appearance by its developer on Tuesday.
Aviation Industry Corp of China, the nation's leading aircraft maker, displayed a front view of what appears to be a flying-wing aircraft concept at the end of a promotional video. The video was published on its WeChat account to mark the 60th birthday of Xi'an Aircraft Industry, an AVIC subsidiary in Shaanxi province that is China's major builder of bomber aircraft.
The video shows an artistic rendering of a triangle-shaped plane under two English words and ellipses, "The Next……". The scene closely resembles a moment in a 2015 promotional video from United States aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman that depicted what is now known as the B-21 Raider, the U.S.'s next long-range, stealth strategic bomber.
AVIC did not explain the six-second episode, placed at the end of the video in an unmistakable attempt to highlight the plane's significance and mystery.
Despite its brevity, the video seems to have ended debate among Chinese military fans and aviation industry observers on whether the country's new bomber will adopt a conventional aerodynamic configuration or a flying-wing design previously used only by the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.
General Ma Xiaotian, former commander of the People's Liberation Army Air Force, told reporters in September 2016, "We are now developing a new-generation, long-range strike bomber that you will see sometime in the future." Ma's remarks put an end to years of speculation on whether China would develop a new aircraft to replace its half century-old H-6 bomber series.
Shi Jian, senior editor at Aviation World Monthly magazine, said the latest AVIC move indicates that the State-owned defense giant believes the new bomber's design and technologies have advanced enough that the company wants to let people know of the program's progress.
"I think the new bomber will be unveiled to the public in the near future," he said. "It is now not uncommon for the PLA to make public its top weapons before their delivery thanks to the increased level of transparency and confidence brought about by our technological advancement."
He said the flying-wing design should not have been difficult for Chinese engineers when they designed the bomber, explaining the real challenges lie in the plane's flight-control system and engines.
Fu Qianshao, an aircraft expert from the PLA Air Force, anticipated that the new bomber would be better than the U.S.'s B-21 in flight range and carrying capacity.
He said it will probably have an operational range of at least 12,000 kilometers and a maximum payload of 20 metric tons of bombs and missiles.