China is developing an aerial refueling version of the Y-20 strategic airlifter aircraft after rejecting a proposal to buy more Russian Il-78 tankers due to their high asking price.
A tanker variant for the Y-20 is now under development, an unnamed expert told Global Times newspaper. Recent satellite imagery reportedly sighted a prototype aerial refueling version of the Y-20 in Yanliang Airport in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province.
China is in urgent need of an aerial refueling tanker that has a larger fuel capacity than the HU-6, a tanker developed from the H-6 bomber.
The J-20, China's most advanced stealth fighter jet, is able to receive aerial refueling, China Central Television (CCTV) reported earlier this month. Several other aircraft in the Chinese air force such as the J-11 and the Su-35 are capable of in-flight refueling.
China needs aerial refueling capability to extend the range of its fighter fleet as it is engaged in a maritime dispute with Japan, South Korea and the United States over control of the South China Sea.
Although China also operates a few Russian II-78 tankers, which are much larger than the HU-6, Russia was reluctant to sell more at a reasonable price, leading China to decide to develop its own large tanker, the expert said.
China's Y-20, a domestically made 200 ton-class large multi-purpose transport aircraft, is of similar size to the Russian Il-76 transport aircraft, on which the Il-78 is based, he said.
In addition to the aerial refueling version, China could develop an early warning aircraft based on the Y-20.
China's largest domestically-developed transport aircraft, the Y-20, recently conducted its first joint airdrop training. In a post on People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force's Sina Weibo on Tuesday, AF spokesperson Shen Jinke said the Y-20, which joined the air force in July 2016 and was displayed at the grand military parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the PLA in July 2017, has started actual combat training
Russias advanced aerial refueling tanker Ilyushin Il-78M-90A performed its maiden flight on Thursday, local media reports. "Today, on January 25, the flight model of the Il-78M-90A perspective aerial refueling plane performed its first flight
Russia has rolled out the first IL-78M-90A modernized tanker aircraft for the Russian Aerospace Forces at the Aviastar-SP production facility. The IL-78M-90A is modernized version of Il-78 military transport aircraft
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