China unveiled the Y-20 transport aircraft refueling tanker Monday, demonstrating its capabilities over the sea with a J-16 fighter.
The Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation YY-20 will enhance the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF) “long-range maneuver capability” while retaining the Y-20’s airlifting capability, the Chinese Ministry of Defense stated.
The aircraft can also be customized for airborne early warning and control and anti-submarine warfare roles.
The PLAAF’s tanker fleet currently consists of two dozen Xian H-6 (a license-built version of the Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 jet bomber) and a trio of ex-Ukrainian Il-78 Midas aircraft, according to Avicion Online.
The YY-20 can reportedly carry 90 tons of fuel — roughly equal to that of the Midas and the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker — and over four times that of the H-6, which can carry 18.6 tons.
The PLAAF included the YY-20 in a fleet of 27 aircraft sent into Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone in November after a Lithuanian parliamentary delegation landed on the self-governing island.
The indigenously-developed air refueler will enhance PLAAF aircraft range and operational time, state-run Global Times wrote, citing a Beijing-based military expert.
“This will enable the PLA aircraft to operate extensively also to the east side of the island of Taiwan, giving Taiwan secessionists no ability to hide while also intercepting foreign forces that might wish to interfere,” it added.