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11:27 AM, March 13, 2019
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Chinese Y-20 transport aircraft (Image for reference)

China is developing several types of variants of Y-20 large transport aircraft, including an aerial tanker and early warning aircraft.

One or more Y-20 aircraft variant is expected to debut this year. "The Y-20 can serve as a general platform from which a variety of variants can be derived," Tang Changhong, a Chinese political advisor and chief designer of the Y-20, said at a Thursday press conference featuring Chinese legislators and political advisors in the aviation field, China Aviation News reported Friday.

It is now "playing its role as a [variant-spawning] platform as planned," Tang said, without elaborating on the form or function a Y-20 variant might take. Tang's remarks came amid reports and predictions made by military experts since 2018 saying that China is developing Y-20 variants, including an aerial tanker and early warning aircraft. Feng Wei, a Chinese legislator and Y-20 pilot, said "it will be refreshing to see the Y-20 this year and people won't be disappointed," news portal vos.com.cn reported on March 5. With a take-off weight of 200 tons, the Y-20 can carry more fuel or equipment than any other domestically made aircraft, and can stay aloft for extended periods, making it a great basic platform for tanker and early warning aircraft, Global Times reported quoting an unnamed expert.

The other possible variants may include a mobile hospital and an electronic warfare aircraft, he said. The Y-20 might also replace its current Russian engines with domestically made WS-20 engines in 2019. The military aircraft began service in the People's Liberation Army Air Force in 2016.

"The Y-20 has now entered the formal mass production stage, and intensive regular training with the military is going according to plan," Tang said.

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