via David Cenciotti

Oh Great, Now China’s Got a Stealth Bomber, Too?

Or maybe not. Who can even tell?

The above images, dug up online by China aviation expert Andreas Rupprecht, are the first public glimpse of what could Beijing’s future stealth bomber.

True, those are just plastic and computer-generated models you’re looking at. But in the past, models of new Chinese warplanes have appeared shortly before full-scale, working prototypes.

Case in point: the J-31, Beijing’s answer to America’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Models of the twin-engine stealth fighter appeared at trade shows years before the actual J-31 took off on its debut flight last fall.

Many of China’s new drones also began as trade-show display models before evolving into working hardware. Which is not to say there aren’t also plenty of totally fanciful Chinese weapons concepts floating around.

A J-31 model, above, and the real thing, below. Via Chinese Internet

For sure, the shape of this alleged stealth bomber is intriguing. It seems to share design elements with several older U.S. planes, including the recently-retired F-117 Nighthawk and the YF-23, a 1990s-vintage fighter demonstrator that lost a flyoff against the YF-22, which later became today’s F-22 Raptor.

China acquired pieces of an F-117 after one was shot down over Serbia in 1999. Beijing’s spies got data on the U.S. Air Force’s B-2 stealth bomber from a turncoat defense contractor. More recently, Chinese hackers have also stolen blueprints of the F-35.

The apparent Chinese stealth bomber could be Beijing’s answer to the new Russian PAK-DA as well as to the U.S. Air Force’s B-2, which has been in frontline use for 20 years. But in contrast to these rival subsonic planes, the Chinese design could be optimized for supersonic flight. Hence the highly-swept wings.

In any event, China is working a lot on stealth planes. There’s the J-31 and the three-year-old J-20, both of which are prototypes for radar-evading dogfighters. A third developmental stealth fighter is rumored to exist somewhere within China’s vast state-owned aerospace industry.

And a few hours before the U.S. Navy launched its X-47B unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator off the deck of an aircraft carrier for the first time, images of China’s first weaponized stealth drone appeared on the Chinese Internet.

David Cenciotti contributed to this article.