Describing the bomber force of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is a unique task. Compared to recent Chinese fighters, much less has been published on the development of its offensive types. Until now, scant information has been generally available, despite the multiple versions of the current Xi’an H-6 bomber now in service and the wide variety of roles in which it serves.
It is well known that China has dramatically strengthened the power-projection and area-denial capabilities of its air and naval arms in recent years. However, the PLA still operates a fairly low percentage of offensive types. Above all, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) still lacks a true expeditionary force to project power far from its borders, including strategic bomber capabilities. Today’s small but still-capable bomber fleet operates as a kind of ‘silver bullet’ force, to strike targets at longer ranges than the PLAAF’s regular assets, but it is in no way a strategic branch. However, that is only the case today and, with the fast pace of developments in Chinese aerospace, some changes are expected in this regard, too.
Observers and enthusiasts alike have long speculated about when a new long-range bomber will appear and what it will look like. The still-secret H-20 will provide a long-overdue replacement for the H-6 fleet. Most likely, it will be the PLAAF’s first true strategic bomber and will offer stealth capabilities.
This book examines the historical side of the story to understand why the PLA still lacks a proper strategic bomber force and looks at the different types that have been used up until today. In the process, it sheds light on how the PLAAF has managed to find innovative interim solutions to address its much-needed long-range strike capabilities.