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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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International

Study claims China can down USAF’s B-21 Raider stealth bomber

Nov 28, 2023

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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The United States Air Force flew its newest stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, for the first time in early November. A few weeks later, a Chinese scientist claimed China’s own stealth fighters can shoot down the B-21.

The claim comes from Chen Jun, an associate professor at China’s Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xian. South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on the findings.

According to the SCMP story, Chen led a research team that used computer modeling to conduct a war game between a U.S. B-21 and an unrevealed Chinese stealth fighter jet with advanced capabilities.

In the war game, China’s secret stealth fighter supposedly has what’s known as ‘conformal skin’ which allowed the plane to survey the battlespace without radar and maintain radio silence. Under these conditions, the model showed the Chinese fighter jet could detect the B-21 and take it down with a hypersonic missile that used artificial intelligence to track its target.

Even though their war game showed China may be able to down the B-21, the Chinese research team said the ensuing U.S. counterstrike and fight for air dominance would lead to a prolonged and complex battle that could take hours to settle.

There’s not a whole lot known about the B-21 raider, other than it’s the most advanced stealth bomber ever made. Unlike those previous stealth bombers, the Raider can carry its own air-to-air missiles and will fly in formation with AI-piloted Collaborative Combat Aircraft, or CCAs.

The Raider’s radar signature is also similar to that of a mosquito. So, right off the bat, any claim that the Chinese can track the B-21, let alone intercept it, should be taken with a hefty helping of salt.

That being said, the claim isn’t being made in a vacuum. The Chinese are working nonstop to compete with, and eventually surpass, the U.S. military in every domain.

For instance, the Chinese hold a commanding lead in hypersonic missile technology over the United States. China’s stealth fighter program is also growing. China likely has more J-20s than the U.S. has F-22s. However, the U.S. has far more F-35s than China has J-20s. Fighting China would mean using aircraft carriers, at least to start. The U.S. maintains 11 aircraft carriers across its fleet. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) currently keeps up with two.

But the PLAN is nearing completion of what will be its third and largest carrier, the Fujian. Like the newest U.S. carriers, the Fujian features an electromagnetic launch system. So, larger aircraft with heavier payloads can take off from its deck.

New imagery taken from a commercial passenger plane and posted online appeared to show one of the carrier’s three catapult launchers being tested at a shipyard near Shanghai. If China is testing the launch system, that means it’s probably preparing the Fujian for its sea trials. Once a ship completes sea trials, it can be commissioned into service.

Getting back to China’s claim it can down a B-21: China is putting the resources in place to hypothetically be able to achieve the claim put forth by the team at Northwestern Polytechnical. However, the claim is based solely on a computer model made by a team of scientists, with questionable motivations, while working at a Chinese university under sanction by the U.S. for its close ties to the Chinese military.

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THE U.S. AIR FORCE FLEW ITS NEWEST STEALTH BOMBER, THE B-21 RAIDER, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN EARLY NOVEMBER. A FEW WEEKS LATER, AND A CHINESE SCIENTIST ALREADY CLAIMED CHINA’S OWN STEALTH FIGHTERS CAN SHOOT DOWN THE B-21. SO, SHOULD YOU BELIEVE THE HYPE?

EHHH.

THE CLAIM IS COMING FROM AN ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT CHINA’S NORTHWESTERN POLYTECHNICAL UNIVERSITY. HE LED A RESEARCH TEAM THAT USED COMPUTER MODELING TO CONDUCT A WAR GAME BETWEEN A U.S. B-21 AND AN AS YET UNREVEALED CHINESE STEALTH FIGHTER JET WITH ADVANCED CAPABILITIES.

IN THE WAR GAME, CHINA’S SUPER SECRET STEALTH FIGHTER SUPPOSEDLY HAS WHAT’S KNOWN AS ‘CONFORMAL SKIN,’ WHICH ALLOWED THE PLANE TO SURVEY THE BATTLESPACE WITHOUT RADAR AND MAINTAIN RADIO SILENCE. UNDER THESE CONDITIONS, THE MODEL SHOWED THE CHINESE FIGHTER JET COULD DETECT THE B-21 AND TAKE IT DOWN WITH A HYPERSONIC MISSILE THAT USED ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO TRACK ITS TARGET.

EVEN THOUGH THEIR WAR GAME SHOWED CHINA MAY BE ABLE TO DOWN THE B-21, THE CHINESE RESEARCH TEAM SAID THE ENSUING U.S. COUNTERSTRIKE AND FIGHT FOR AIR DOMINANCE WOULD LEAD TO A PROLONGED AND COMPLEX BATTLE THAT COULD TAKE HOURS TO SETTLE.

THERE’S NOT A WHOLE LOT KNOWN ABOUT THE B-21 RAIDER, OTHER THAN IT’S THE MOST ADVANCED STEALTH BOMBER EVER MADE. UNLIKE THOSE PREVIOUS STEALTH BOMBERS, THE RAIDER CAN CARRY ITS OWN AIR-TO-AIR MISSILES AND WILL FLY IN FORMATION WITH AI-PILOTED CRAFT. ITS RADAR SIGNATURE IS ALSO SIMILAR TO THAT OF A MOSQUITO. SO, RIGHT OFF THE BAT, WE SHOULD TAKE ANY CLAIM THAT THE CHINESE CAN TRACK THE B-21, LET ALONE INTERCEPT IT, WITH A HEFTY HELPING OF SALT.

THAT BEING SAID, THE CLAIM ISN’T BEING MADE IN A VACUUM, AND THE CHINESE ARE WORKING NON-STOP TO COMPETE WITH, AND EVENTUALLY SURPASS, THE U.S. MILITARY IN EVERY DOMAIN.

FOR INSTANCE, WE KNOW THE CHINESE HOLD A COMMANDING LEAD IN HYPERSONIC MISSILE TECHNOLOGY OVER THE UNITED STATES. CHINA’S STEALTH FIGHTER PROGRAM IS ALSO GROWING. CHINA LIKELY HAS MORE J-20S THAN THE U.S. HAS F-22s, BUT THE U.S. HAS FAR MORE F-35s THAN CHINA HAS J-20s. FIGHTING CHINA WOULD MEAN USING AIRCRAFT CARRIERS, AT LEAST TO START. THE U.S. MAINTAINS 11 AIRCRAFT CARRIERS ACROSS ITS FLEET. THE PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY NAVY CURRENTLY KEEPS UP WITH TWO.

BUT THE PLAN IS NEARING COMPLETION OF WHAT WILL BE ITS THIRD AND LARGEST CARRIER, THE FUJIAN. LIKE THE NEWEST U.S. CARRIERS, THE FUJIAN FEATURES AN ELECTROMAGNETIC LAUNCH SYSTEM. SO, LARGER AIRCRAFT WITH HEAVIER PAYLOADS CAN TAKE OFF FROM ITS DECK.

NEW IMAGERY APPEARS TO SHOW ONE OF THE CARRIER’S THREE CATAPULT LAUNCHERS BEING TESTED AT A SHIPYARD NEAR SHANGHAI. IF CHINA IS TESTING THE LAUNCH SYSTEM, THAT MEANS IT’S PROBABLY PREPARING THE FUJIAN FOR ITS SEA TRIALS. ONCE A SHIP COMPLETES SEA TRIALS, IT CAN BE COMMISSIONED INTO SERVICE.

GETTING BACK TO CHINA’S CLAIM IT CAN DOWN A B-21: WE KNOW CHINA IS PUTTING THE RESOURCES IN PLACE TO HYPOTHETICALLY BE ABLE TO ACHIEVE ITS CLAIM. HOWEVER, THE CLAIM IS BASED SOLELY ON A COMPUTER MODEL. A MODEL MADE BY A TEAM OF SCIENTISTS WITH QUESTIONABLE MOTIVATIONS WHILE WORKING AT A CHINESE UNIVERSITY UNDER SANCTION BY THE U.S. FOR ITS CLOSE TIES TO THE CHINESE MILITARY.