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11:16 AM, November 26, 2018
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China Finds Il-78s Expensive, Developing Aerial Refueling Version of Y-20 Airlifter
Chinese J-10A jets being refueled from H-6U tanker: Image via Chinese media

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.

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