China is to build a new strategic bomber aircraft to enhance the country's long-range strike capabilities, national media reported.
The news was announced by the commander of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), General Ma Xiaotian, who said that the new aircraft was in development and will be fielded "sometime in the future," according to the China Daily. No further details were disclosed.
The PLAAF currently fields approximately 120 XAC Hongzhaji (H)-6 bombers. Essentially an upgraded version of the 1960s-era Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 'Badger', the H-6 is powered by two Russian Soloviev D-30KP-2 turbofan engines and can carry a bomb/missile load of up to 9,000 kg in an internal weapons bay or on six under-wing hard-points out to a combat radius of 3,500 km (for the latest H-6K variant).
It is not clear from General Ma Xiaotian's comment whether the new bomber will be a clean-sheet design, or a further development of the H-6. While conceptual drawings of a futuristic bomber have appeared online in China, there is no indication that there has been any official input into these designs. If the platform turns out to be a newly upgraded variant of the H-6, it will join the 13 already developed, built, and fielded by the PLAAF to date.
In terms of China's technical expertise in the field of aeronautics, while great advances have been made over recent years (culminating in the rolling out of a number of indigenous types, including the J-20 and J-31 fighters, and Y-20 air-lifter), it still falls short in the development of engines in particular.
That the country has recognized this shortfall in its expertise, and is working hard to bridge the knowledge gap with all of the resources it is able to bring to bear, indicates that it will not be too long before its domestic aerospace industry has caught up with those near-peer nations of Russia and the US that it is looking to emulate.