Air Platforms

Aerial refuelling capability of China's J-20 fighter confirmed

19 November 2018

Two Chinese J-20 multirole fighters fly in formation during the 6–11 November Airshow China 2018 defence exhibition in Zhuhai. Source: Via China Ministry of National Defense

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV has shown video footage confirming the in-flight refuelling capability of China's J-20 multirole 'fifth-generation' fighter aircraft. However, the images, which show the platform's refuelling probe being extended and retracted, were pixelated to obscure any details, and no images of the J-20 undertaking in-flight refuelling have yet to be released.

The J-20 was one of the principal exhibits at the 6-11 November Airshow China 2018 defence exhibition in Zhuhai, which has become a key event, not only for displaying Chinese equipment promoted to potential overseas customers, but also as a conduit through which information on China's military capabilities can be released in a controlled but unofficial way. For instance, the images that have emerged of the platforms and weapons chosen for static and aerial display are of much higher quality and detail than those normally circulating on the internet.

The J-20's flying display was one of the highlights of this year's show, with the opening of the aircraft's weapon bays resulting in many images of the air-to-air missile load featuring on the internet and in media outlets around the world. This display coincided with comments made by People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Xu Anxiang announcing Beijing's intent to make the PLAAF a "world-class air force".

Another aerial display at Zhuhai that prompted much interest was that of a J-10B fighter equipped with Chinese-made thrust-vectoring engines. When questioned during a conference in Zhuhai about whether the J-20 will be similarly equipped in the future, J-10B chief design engineer Yang Wei hinted that such trials with the J-20 may already have been conducted.

Other interviews conducted by state media at Zhuhai included that featuring J-20 test pilot Li Gang, who flew the aircraft during its inaugural flight in 2011.

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