No, That Satellite Image Going Around Social Media Isn't Of China's New Stealth Bomber
China's new stealthy bomber could emerge at anytime, but this isn't it.
By most indications, China is in the late stages of a new strategic bomber project. Rumors are swirling that the prototype for the supposedly stealthy flying wing aircraft was rolled out clandestinely in June. This very well could be, as Chinese officials have touted such a project repeatedly in the past, but the latest satellites image making its rounds on social media simply isn't that prototype.
The satellite image (seen above) is said to have been taken of Chengdu, where China's company by the same name builds and tests many of the country's most capable fighters, including the J-10 and the now famous J-20 stealth fighter-interceptor among others. That simply isn't true. The location of the image is at a relatively new radar cross-section measurement facility near the town of Gaobeidian, located roughly 30 miles southwest of Beijing.
The craft in question, which has a similar planform as Northrop Grumman's "cranked kite" design found on the company's X-47B demonstrators, is parked near a light aircraft with a wingspan of roughly 25 feet. This gives the article in question an overall wingspan of roughly 50 feet. The unmanned X-47Bs have a wingspan of 62 feet by comparison.
So no, this is not China's new stealth bomber, that aircraft would have a wingspan of at least three times that of the article we see in the photo, nor is it even located at an air base that could facilitate its operation. However, it could possibly be a sub-scale radar cross section measurement mockup that mirror's the new bomber's shape and configuration. But this test facility seems to work more with unmanned aircraft than manned ones, and due to its size, it's most likely an example of an ongoing unmanned aircraft project or a radar cross-section test article to learn more about different potential design configurations and their radar reflectivity, including those that mimic U.S. designs. China's military and scientific apparatus is notorious for making elaborate scale or near scale replicas of America's most capable aircraft, and even its own.
Another indication of the subject's less than top secret nature is that according to Terraserver.com, it sat outside between the 9th of July and the 12th of July, and could still be sitting there today. The area is heavily monitored by foreign satellites, so it's more of a sign that China wanted the US to see it than the other way around.
Engineers from a slew of American defense contractors use a large number of Radar Cross Section facilities spread out from Palm Beach, Florida to Boardman, Oregon—with America's southwest being spotted with many of the installations—to test all types of aircraft and missile designs and shapes. These facilities helped give birth to the age of stealth, including the advent of America's own first stealth bomber. Today, these installations test designs that we likely won't see for decades to come if ever at all. So why would China, who undergoing a stealth revolution of their own, be any different?
There is a decent chance that we will see China's new prototype bomber in the not so distant future—which will represent not just a massive leap in combat capability but also one in construction techniques and material science for Beijing—but this absolutely isn't it. Although it could share its shape, it's more likely that the article belongs to China's quickly advancing unmanned combat air vehicle development initiative or that of other flying wing drone programs—like the "Star Glory" SG-1 and CH-805 that are presently underway. The Star Glory in particular looks very similar to the object spotted in the satellite image and its stated dimensions seem near spot on.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com