PLA Air Force H-6K bomber (File photo/Xinhua)
Chinese air force expert Fu Qianshao has speculated that China's new type of long-range bomber, currently being developed, may be equipped with four turbofan engines.
His remark came after Gen. Ma Xiaotian, commander of PLA Air Force, publicly confirmed the plane's existence for the first time.
Fu said his assessment was based on the comprehensive technological capacity of the PLA Air Force. He said the new bomber would most likely be equipped with the WS-10 (literally, turbofan-10), now being installed in fighter jets.
Since the WS-10 has two versions, one with an afterburner and the other without, Fu further speculated there would be three separate technological plans for the bomber's engine configuration.
The first plan emphasizes the bomber's stealth capability but not its supersonic penetration performance. It calls for a WS-10 version without an afterburner. The second plan requires the WS-10 to be fitted with afterburners to generate the extra thrust needed for rapid acceleration for a certain period. Under the third plan, both stealth ability and supersonic penetration are equally stressed, something the PLA is also capable of realizing with its present level of technical expertise.
Currently, only the United States and Russia possess long-range bombers. The United State has the B-52 Stratofortress, the B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit. The long-range bombers in the Russian air force are the Tu-95 Bear and the Tu-160 Blackjack.
Some military experts believe China's H-6K medium-long-range strategic bomber could have its engines and avionics upgraded to give it a range of 8,000-9,000 km. But Fu pointed out that medium-long-range bombers should have a range in excess of 6,000 km, while long-range bombers should be double that, carrying a payload of 20-30 tons.
He said the decision on which of three engine configurations to adopt rests with the military. However, once the new bomber is developed, China will instantly close the gap with world's leading military powers and possibly, even gain some advantage as a latecomer.
Another Chinese aviation expert, Wang Yanan, said the new bomber will resemble the Russian Tu-160 fixed-wing aircraft, instead of the U.S. B-2, which features a flying wing design.