The First Aircraft Design and Research Institute of China Aviation Industry Corporation has recently ushered in the 60th anniversary of its founding. An article on its official WeChat account is believed to reveal that the Y-20 refueling tanker was officially commissioned on May 12.
The article reads, “On May 12, 2021, the first delivery ceremony of a key national model was held at Xi’an Aircraft Industry Group… As an important component of our army’s long-range combat equipment system, it is another important tool to realize our army’s strategic delivery and strategic support, and to enhance the combat effectiveness of air force equipment.”
It’s known that the First Aircraft Design and Research Institute is the chief design unit of the Y-20, while Xi’an Aircraft Industry Group is its chief manufacturing unit, so the delivery in May should be about Y-20, and relevant description indicated that it’s the long-rumored Y-20 tanker.
And just a few days ago, a Chinese in Guangdong captured the image of a suspected Y-20 refueling aircraft. In the picture, a Y-20 was dragging two refueling pipes behind it, and two heavy fighter jets were flying not far behind. It is obvious that they were undergoing aerial refueling training.
China used to have only a limited number of HY-6 refueling planes based on H-6 bombers, around 20, but their fuel-carrying capacity is insufficient, in addition to single-digit Russian-made IL-78 refueling planes.
With the new Y-20 tanker aircraft, just for the South China Sea alone, China’s twin-engine heavy fighters as J-11, J-16, and Su-30 can now take off without sub-tanks, fully loaded with ammunition, refuel in mid-air and then fly to the battlefield, and do not have to worry about fuel during combat cruises, as they can also refuel in the air when returning, further enhancing the scale and capability of China’s front-line air power.