China’s new YU-20 aerial tanker begins combat training

China Central Television

China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has officially unveiled its new YU-20 aerial refueling tanker during a press conference 

The YU-20 is a tanker variant of the Y-20 strategic airlifter developed by Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation. The latter entered service with the PLAAF in 2016. 

The tanker already conducted aerial refueling exercises, PLAAF’s spokesperson Senior Colonel Shen Jinke said during a press conference on July 31, 2022.  

Though the PLAAF only acknowledges the operation of the YU-20 now, the tanker already participated in sorties in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) with Shenyang J-16 fighter jets on November 28, 2021, as the Ministry of National Defense of Taiwan reported

The YU-20, which can also act as an airlifter like the Y-20, is due to replace the three Soviet-made Ilyushin Il-78 aircraft currently operated by the PLAAF. The tankers were bought from Ukraine in 2011. After undergoing an overhaul at Nikolaev Aircraft Repair Plant in Mykolaiv, southern Ukraine, they were delivered between 2014 and 2016.  

The PLAAF also operates several Xian H-6, a license-built version of the Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 bomber, converted into tankers. These will likely be retired as well as more YU-20s enter service. 

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