China baffles world with mystery bomber

Country's top-secret stealth bomber could be more advanced than the American B-2A and could reach the continental United States--if it exists.

China's H-8 stealth bomber may be more advanced than the American B-2A and capable of delivering a 350-kiloton nuclear warhead to the continental United States, or it could be a mock-up of the A-12 "Flying Dorito."

PLAAF

Those are just two of the rumors accompanying a video trumpeting some recent triumphs of Chinese aviation.

Although it's "top secret," Chinese quasi-official Web sites brag that the Xian H-8 is a stealth carbon fiber, "special nanotechnology"-coated strategic heavy bomber.

What we know for sure is that it has a range of 11,000 kilometers, without refueling, but it could refuel if it wanted to--possibly. In any case, it has extralarge fuel tanks. It has a crew of two and travels at Mach 1.2, or maybe 1.4. It carries an 18-ton bomb payload and/or 12 new stealth cruise missiles with a range of 3,000 kilometers. And three nuclear missiles, at least.

A prototype was successfully tested last year (witnessed by the deputy mayor of Xian) and will enter mass production and active service in the People's Liberation Army Air Force by 2010.

Then again, it's an enlarged version of the H-6 with the underwing engines, a project that was canceled in the 1970s. It has four Ws-10A engines based on Russian or U.S. technology--or both--and was designed by the 603 Institute.

Oh, and it was made possible by stolen American technology. Even with pilfered stealth technology, though, China will probably not have had "enough time to (successfully) fabricate and assemble a working aircraft," Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense hopes.

And the "Flying Dorito"? The stealth McDonnell Douglas A-12 carrier-borne attack aircraft was canceled in the 1990s by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. Or was it?

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