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Chinese Y-20 tanker variant apparently conducts aerial refueling for J-20 fighter jet


The development of the aerial tanker variant of China's domestically developed Y-20 large cargo plane is apparently entering the final stages, as a recent photo captured what seems to be a Y-20 tanker variant conducting aerial refueling for a J-20 stealth fighter jet, media reports said. Liu Xuanzun reports on Global Times.

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Chinaese Y 20 tanker variant apparently conducts aerial refueling for J 20 fighter jet 1 Possibly an artist view of the air refueling of a J-20 fighter by a Y-20 (Picture source: Chinese media)


Combinations of the Y-20 aerial tanker with the likes of the J-20 fighter jet and H-6N strategic bomber can significantly expand the operational range of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force. The photo, which circulated on social media platforms over the past few days, although its authenticity hasn't been verified, shows a 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, Ordnance Industry Science Technology, a defense magazine based in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, reported on Monday. If the photo's content is conformed, it would be the first sighting of a Y-20 tanker variant conducting aerial refueling for a J-20 fighter jet.

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 November 17. Now that the Y-20 tanker has made it to the sky and tested its capabilities with the J-20, this type of aerial tanker variant is likely technically mature and can enter test service, Fu said.

In February, Teng Hui, commander of an Air Force aviation regiment of the PLA Western Theater Command and Y-20 pilot, said on China Central Television that "The Y-20 cargo plane has variants like the Y-20 aerial tanker and Y-20 aerial early warning aircraft. I believe that people will see our Y-20 aerial tanker debut on the battlefield in the not too distant future."

It is widely expected that the tanker variant of the Y-20 will work together with and eventually replace the PLA's very few imported Il-78 tankers and the domestically developed but less capable HU-6.

According to information published by the Chinese Air Force University’s Aviation Open Day, the maximum take-off weight of Yun-20 is 179 tons, the maximum fuel load is 77.5 tons, and the maximum load is 55 tons, China Arms reports. As Yunyou-20 was developed on the basis of Y-20, its fuselage oil load should be the same or even more. The fuel supply method is the core technology of aerial tanker modification and the key to the modification of Yunyou-20. The analysis pointed out that, based on the current news, it is speculated that the fuel supply method of Yunyou-20 will still use a hose to refuel, and the fueling pod is hoisted on the wing of Yunyou-20, and the fuel hose is extended backward to fighters to carry out aerial refueling. In addition, according to the experience of other tankers, there will also be a refueling point located in the middle of the fuselage. In this way, Yunyou-20 can refuel three military aircraft at the same time.

Upon receiving aerial refueling from the Y-20 aerial tanker, the J-20 can extend its range to more than 8,000 kilometers and combat radius to more than 3,000 kilometers, Ordnance Industry Science Technology magazine said, noting that with several refuels, the J-20 can travel more than 10,000 kilometers for intercontinental flights.

The combination of the Y-20 tanker variant and the J-20 can cover the entire first and second island chains, becoming the PLA Air Force's sharpest spear in both attack and defense, the magazine said.

Fu said that the Y-20 tanker version can refuel not only tactical warplanes like the J-20, but also strategic ones like the aerial refuel-capable variant of the H-6 bomber.

Making its first public debut at the National Day parade in Beijing on October 1, 2019, the PLA Air Force's H-6N bomber can receive aerial refueling. Media reports suggest it can carry weapons including air-launched ballistic missiles and hypersonic missiles.


Chinaese Y 20 tanker variant conducts aerial refueling for J 20 fighter jet Possibly an artist view of a J-20 about to be refueled by a Y-20 (Picture source: Chinese media)