China’s Regional Bomber and Its Implications

The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) published an unclassified assessment of Chinese military developments on 15 January 2019. The report, China Military Power: Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win, disclosed that China is developing ‘new medium- and long-range stealth bombers to strike regional and global targets', thus confirming long-standing rumours regarding a potential regional bomber. The development of a new strategic bomber, the H-20, had been confirmed by the commander of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) in 2016. The medium-range bomber is also described as a tactical bomber and a fighter-bomber in the DIA report: significantly, the new aircraft will reportedly possess a long-range air-to-air missile capability. The medium-range stealth bomber programme is indicative of China's efforts to expand and enhance its air power capabilities, in particular through the pursuit of multiple fifth-generation aircraft (such as the J-20, J-31 and H-20), unmanned air systems, and an aircraft carrier force. It will also constitute a potent addition to China's growing long-range strike capability. Although the DIA report does not provide detailed information concerning either of China's stealth bomber programmes, it does offer useful insight, which together with other open-source analyses, enable some discussion of the regional bomber, its potential roles, and the implications both for the PLAAF and more broadly.

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