The new tanker variant of China’s Y-20 transport plane reportedly conducted aerial refueling of a J-20 stealth jet, which could extend its range to over 8000km and combat radius to 3000km.
An unauthorized photograph circulating on social media shows the Y-20 dragging a refueling hose in the air, with a J-20 approaching from the rear in a move that looks similar to aerial refueling. If true, it hints at the tanker variant entering its critical final testing stage.
The Y-20 tanker is capable of refuelling even strategic aircraft like the aerial refuel-capable H-6N bomber that made its debut in October 2019. The latter can carry weapons including air-launched ballistic missiles and hypersonic missiles.
Upon receiving aerial refueling from the Y-20 aerial tanker, the J-20 can extend its range and combat radius to over 8,000km and 3,000km respectively. The jet will be able to travel more than 10,000km for intercontinental flights, Ordnance Industry Science Technology, a defense magazine based in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, reported on Monday.
Judging from the photo, the Y-20 aerial tanker was using a hose-and-drogue refueling system, while the J-20 was using a fuel-receiving probe, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
China is said to be developing two other variants of the Y-20: Aerial Early Warning (AEW) and Electronic Warfare versions.
"The Y-20 cargo plane has variants like the Y-20 aerial tanker and Y-20 AEW aircraft. I believe that people will see our Y-20 aerial tanker debut on the battlefield in the not too distant future," Teng Hui, commander of an Air Force aviation regiment of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Western Theater Command and a Y-20 pilot, was quoted as saying by Chinese state media in February.
Tang Changhong, chief designer of the Y-20 plane, has hinted at the development of the aircraft’s variants multiple times in the past. Just over two years ago, western media reported spotting the Y-20’s tanker variant using satellite images.
China unveiled in September, the latest iteration of KJ-500 AWACS plane with a probe to allow aerial refuelling.