In a massive exercise held by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) near Taiwan on Sunday, the refueling variant of the Y-20 large transport aircraft made its debut and even refueled J-16 fighter jets.
The PLA has not yet announced the commissioning of this variant of the Y-20. Such aircraft can give other airplanes much longer range and endurance. Aerial refueling is also faster and more efficient as planes do not need to return to base, land and take off again.
Taiwan’s defense authorities said two KJ-500 early warning aircraft, a Y-9 electronic warfare aircraft, five H-6 bombers, a Y-20 aerial refueling aircraft, six J-10 fighter jets, four J-11 fighter jets and eight J-16 fighter jets, entered its southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ) yesterday. Some of these aircraft flew to the southeast side of the island of Taiwan.
This is the first time a Y-20 aerial refueling aircraft has been spotted in a PLA flyover near the island of Taiwan, media on the island reported, noting that the Y-20 refueling aircraft apparently carried out aerial refueling procedures with the two J-16s.
Fu Qianshao, a Chinese mainland military aviation expert, told the Global Times on Sunday that the aerial tanker variant of the Y-20 has reportedly conducted aerial refueling tests above sea recently. "The Y-20 not only is an outstanding strategic transport aircraft, but also can spawn many variants," Fu said.
Training in locations to the east of the Taiwan islaand is of significance, as PLA fighter jets, particularly those with shorter endurance like the J-10, can now stay in the sky for extended time surrounding the island and expelling any foreign interference if the situation arises, another expert said.
The drills come shortly after a U.S. congressional delegation visited the island on Friday. Tapei officially commissioned Lockheed Martin F-16V fighter jets into service recently.