06:38 GMT30 July 2021
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    Beijing's state-controlled media earlier tantalized weapons experts by releasing computer-generated pictures of China’s Xian H-20 - a projected subsonic stealth bomber design of the People's Liberation Army Air Force.

    The US Air Force (USAF) recently created a stir online and prompted speculation of deliberate trolling of China as it dropped a new image of its top-secret B-21 Raider.

    ​The new Northrop Grumman illustration of the next-generation strategic bomber was posted on the official USAF website and was the second official artist rendering. The first was released in 2016.

    The B-21, set to replace both the B-1 and B-2, is depicted taking off from Edwards Air Force Base in southern California.

    While not showing a complete view of the bomber, the image reveals important new details about the plane, designed to fly both conventional and nuclear strike missions.

    Two B-1B Lancers, assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., conduct a flyover before landing at Andersen AFB, Guam, July 17, 2020. The Bomber Task Force is deployed to Andersen AFB in support of Pacific Air Forces’ training efforts with allies, partners and joint forces. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Christina Bennett)
    Two B-1B Lancers, assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., conduct a flyover before landing at Andersen AFB, Guam, July 17, 2020. The Bomber Task Force is deployed to Andersen AFB in support of Pacific Air Forces’ training efforts with allies, partners and joint forces. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Christina Bennett)

    The first B-21 bomber has already been built, set for first flight in mid-2022, with the Raider force to be based at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, according to Popular Mechanics.

    However, the US Air Force chose to tweet an image on social media, posting a caption that said that it was “an artist’s interpretation of the B-21 design.” Many have underscored that this means the artist is likely not to have seen the aircraft depicted.

    The new image shows the plane’s belly and nose, in addition to the trailing edge. It has no tail surfaces, like its predecessor. The nose is straighter and somewhat longer than the nose of the B-2, with an unusual configuration of the outer windscreen. According to experts, the most striking feature of the new rendition is the multi-part cockpit window, which does not resemble that of previous aircraft.

    Earlier speculation had suggested that future stealth aircraft would not need windows, made redundant by systems like the EOTS camera in the F-35. The latter provides the pilot a high-definition 360-degree view all around them.

    Xian H-20

    Speculation of “trolling” was triggered after the release of the USAF image, as China is also in a race to build stealth aircraft, namely the Xian H-20 strategic bomber, which is said to be inspired by the B-2 Spirit.

    A May 2021 edition of Modern Weaponry, a monthly magazine run by state defence corporation China North Industries Group, or Norinco, released four alleged computer-generated pictures of the design of the Xian H-20 bomber, under development for years and photos of which have never been officially disclosed.

    The plane is expected by experts to be operational by the end of the 2020s, prioritising stealth and long distance. However, a Chinese source reportedly explained that the People's Liberation Army of China would not make significant announcements concerning a "major new weapon" in a magazine like Modern Weaponry. China dismissed the computer-generated images of the next generation bomber circulating in the media as irrelevant to the actual project and "only imaginary", the Chinese newspaper Global Times reported.

    Meanwhile, commenting on the release of a new image of a highly classified aircraft by the USAF, unimpressed aviation journalists expressed hope that next time a photo of the B-21 would be shared.

    ​The US Air Force has also released an updated fact sheet about the details regarding the B-21, a project they call “a component of a larger family of systems for conventional Long-Range Strike, including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, electronic attack, communication and other capabilities”.

    Related:

    China Lambasts Recent Story on Secret Stealth Bomber Images as 'Only Imaginary' - Report
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    B-21, B-21, US Air Force, US Air Force
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