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Air force commissions new refueling aircraft

By Zhao Lei and Yang Zekun | | Updated: 2022-07-31 18:28
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The People's Liberation Army Air Force has commissioned the YY-20 large aerial refueling aircraft, which observers said will extensively enhance the service's operational capability.

Senior Colonel Shen Jinke, spokesman for the PLA Air Force, said at a news conference on Sunday in Beijing the YY-20 has recently carried out aerial refueling exercises with the J-16 strike fighter above the sea and the operations helped improve combat training.

The tanker is a variant of China's Y-20 strategic transport plane. Like the Y-20, the new tanker is product of the State-owned defense contractor Aviation Industry Corp of China.

As part of China's latest aerial refueling hardware, Shen said the YY-20 can effectively strengthen the PLA Air Force's long-range mobile capability and can also undertake personnel and cargo transportation tasks like the Y-20.

This has been the first time the Chinese military has confirmed the existence of the YY-20.

Before the YY-20, the PLA Air Force has deployed a small number of HY-6 tankers refitted from decades-old H-6 bomber aircraft. It also operates several Ilyushin Il-78 aerial refueling jets bought from Russia.

However, those planes are far from enough to meet the demands of the PLA Air Force and also are not good enough to fit in modern air operations, highlighting the need for a new, domestically developed model that can be deployed on a large scale.

Wang Yanan, editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said a large aerial refueling plane is as important as a stealth strategic bomber to the PLA Air Force because it will greatly extend the flight radius of its fighter jets, bombers and support aircraft like early-warning and electronic warfare planes.

Wu Peixin, an aviation industry observer in Beijing, said the YY-20's service means China has become the fourth country in the world capable of building large tanker aircraft, following the United States, Russia and France.

He said the plan can greatly amplify the PLA Air Force's fighting prowess over high seas.

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