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China expanding YY-20 aerial refueller fleet

China's XAC YY-20A tanker is capable of refuelling the PLAAF's most advanced and modern aircraft. The aircraft is a critical component of China's plan to project long-range power beyond the first island chain. (Getty Images/Janes)

The Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is operating more Xi'an Aircraft Company Ltd (XAC) YY-20A air-to-air refuellers than before.

A Janes assessment of imagery released by the PLAAF and satellite observation has determined that China has at least eight YY-20As in service. Until early 2022 it had a single aircraft in service. By late 2022 it was operating four aircraft.

Recent imagery released by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) plus publicly posted images have revealed seven YY-20As with unique serial numbers (20841, 20842, 20843, 20844, 20845, 20847, and 20848). The PLA also appears to be operationally using one YY-20A prototype.

The induction of the aircraft has allowed the PLAAF to conduct interoperability exercises with a variety of modern platforms. These include Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) J-16s, Chengdu Aircraft Industries (Group) Company (CAC) J-20s and J-10 fighter aircraft, XAC H-6N strategic bombers, and Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation (SAIC) KJ-500 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.

In the months following its commissioning into service on 31 July 2022, the YY-20A initially conducted refuelling operations involving J-16s and J-20 stealth fighter aircraft. According to the state-owned newspaper, Global Times , it refuelled J-10 fighter aircraft for the first reported time in November 2022, during an exercise.

According to Janes

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