Beijing tests flying oil tanker near Taiwan, in show of extended air force range
- A variant of the Y-20 military aircraft can refuel fighter jets and bombers mid-air, expanding the PLA Air Force operational range to 8,000km: Global Times
- The debut outing for the refuel aircraft comes after US lawmakers vow ‘rock-solid’ support for Taipei in a surprise one-day visit to the island
The H-6 bombers and six of the fighter jets flew south of Taiwan into the Bashi Channel separating Taiwan from the Philippines before steering out into the Pacific and returning to the mainland, according to a map provided by the Taiwanese defence ministry.
The Y-20 is a Chinese domestically developed large cargo plane. The aerial tanker variant of the Y-20 can refuel J-20 fighter jets and H-6 bombers mid-air using the probe-and-drogue refuelling method, which could expand the operational range of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force to more than 8000km (4,970 miles) and combat radius to 3,000km, according to a Global Times report.
It is widely expected that the tanker variant of the Y-20 will work together with – and eventually replace – the PLA’s few imported Il-78 tankers and the domestically developed but less capable HU-6, according to the report.
Military website Defensenews.com reported in February that serial production of the Y-20 oil tanker variant had begun, citing satellite imagery.
Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, said the Y-20 oil tanker variant could help Beijing prepare for military actions related to Taiwan.
“Oil tankers are important to refuel fighters and bombers during an attack mission, or can serve as the fuel backup for even longer operations into the Western Pacific,” Song said. “As the Y-20 oil tanker variant is an indigenous aircraft, it means China’s refuelling abilities can be fully guaranteed and no longer reliant on other countries.”
Taiwan has been self-ruled since the two sides split during a civil war in 1949, but mainland China considers the island part of its own territory. Beijing said it would use military means to reunify with the island if necessary.