Saturday, January 26, 2013

China tests its first indigeneously produced heavy transport aircraft

The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) began test flights of its first domestically produced heavy transporter aircraft, the Y-20.  The aircraft is similar in size to the Russian-made Il-76, which the PLAAF currently utilizes as its primary heavy transport aircraft, although smaller than its U.S. counterpart, the C-17.
(Photo from People's Daily 1/27/13)

The development of the Y-20 is important to the Chinese military for a number of reasons.

 Long range military air transport and power projection 
The Y-20 will give Beijing expanded options in terms of transporting its heavier hardware across the globe if necessary.  The People's Daily, an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party,  stated today  that the aircraft will "be able to accommodate most large PLA combat and support vehicles, including the Type 99 series tanks, with a capacity to carry up to 66 tons of goods".  This tonnage capacity will also allow Beijing to expand potential aid and rescue operations outside of the East Asian region with a higher rate of efficiency, thus expanding potential "good will missions" to areas that have suffered from recent natural disasters.  In addition, the aircraft could be used to evacuate Chinese nationals from foreign states if a situation arises.

  Potential refueling platform 
The Y-20 platform will likely  be modified in the near future to form an aerial refueling aircraft, which would allow for the PLAAF to conduct extended missions beyond the immediate area of its borders, allowing for sustained missions in conflict areas, including the disputed South China Sea island chains.

 Air assault 
The Y-20 could potentially  fill the role of being a primary mode of  transport for air-assault/parachute insertion operations, in which troops and supplies could be moved in large numbers quickly and in a cost-effective manner.


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