TechChina potentially gearing up its stealth fighters with atomic weaponry: A shift in nuclear stance?

China potentially gearing up its stealth fighters with atomic weaponry: A shift in nuclear stance?

J20 Fighter
J20 Fighter
Images source: © Wikimedia
7:08 AM EST, December 25, 2023

In October, Yang Wei delved deeply into his visions for the future of airborne military operations. He analyzed the American B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber and speculated on the still unpublicized H-20 Stealth bomber being developed by the Xi'an Aircraft Corporation in his lecture. His claim that China "has a chance to develop its planes much faster than the U.S." and that their aircraft "are better than American ones" certainly provoked a strong response.

Could Chinese fighters carry nuclear weapons?

Beyond the provocative content of his presentation, another detail stands out. Yang Wei alluded subtly to a collaboration between CAEP (China Academy of Engineering Physics) and his own institute, CAC. This disclosure prompts questions about the direction of fighter projects under Yang's supervision.

CAEP is the primary Chinese entity responsible for research and development in nuclear weaponry. While Yang did not share many details, he hinted at ongoing joint research and consultation with CAEP and CAC to potentially equip Chengdu-built fighters with nuclear weapons. It's worth noting that Chinese fighters have not previously carried nuclear weapons, marking a significant shift in China's stance on atomic weapons.

Historically, China's nuclear doctrine has emphasized on strategic weapons for defense deterrence and retaliation, rather than weapons designed for tactical use and advantages in military operations. This policy includes a "retaliatory strike" approach and a small, albeit rapidly expanding, nuclear arsenal in recent years.

To date, only the H-6 bombers have been equipped with atomic weapons, and these are not renowned for their high maneuverability. The suggestion of deploying the J-20 Stealth fighters with atomic weapons, therefore, would be a logical step should China decide to alter its reliance on nuclear armaments. From a technical standpoint, the J-20 Stealth demonstrates the zenith of Chinese stealth technology and is currently the only manned jet using this technology in the country's arsenal. Although modifications would be required to carry atomic weapons, such a transition is not implausible.

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