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China commissions Y-20 air refueller

The PLA has formally commissioned the tanker version of the XAC Y-20 into service. This suggests that additional air refuellers will be manufactured. (Xi'an Aircraft Company)

China has formally commissioned the air refueller variant of the Y-20 Kunpeng jet-powered strategic transport aircraft.

Senior Colonel Shen Jinke, spokesperson of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), said during a press conference on 31 July that the tanker has started combat-readiness training. β€œThe aircraft recently carried out aerial refuelling exercises with the J-16 strike fighter above the sea, and the operations helped to improve combat training,” he said.

Images by the state-owned broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) show the aircraft using a probe-and-drogue system to refuel two Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) J-16D fighter aircraft.

Col Shen added during the press conference that the aircraft has been designated as the YY-20. Similar to the Y-20, the new tanker is manufactured by Xi'an Aircraft Company (XAC), which is a subsidiary of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).

This is the PLAAF's first confirmation of the existence of the air refueller. The aircraft was earlier believed to have been designated as the Y-20U. The formal commissioning of this new aircraft suggests that additional tankers will be manufactured.

According to Janes data, the tanker variant of the Y-20 first flew as a prototype in 2018. On 24 February 2020 a broadcast by state-owned CCTV appeared to confirm development of this tanker variant. Subsequently in November, footage on Chinese social media suggested that an aerial refuelling variant of the Y-20A had entered service with the PLAAF.

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