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Possible Tanker Variant of Y-20B

Satellite Imagery Also Shows Additional KJ-600 Prototypes

Analysis of commercial satellite imagery captured in November suggests that China’s Xian Aircraft Corporation (XAC) is also working on an aerial tanker variant of its Y-20B heavy transport aircraft, powered by four Shenyang WS20 high-bypass turbofan engines.

Published by Google Earth on 12 January, the imagery shows that at least two Y-20Bs at the Xian-Yanliang airfield – home to both an XAC plant and the China Flight Test Establishment (CFTE) – appear to have been fitted with in-flight refuelling pods. This suggests the company is producing an improved tanker variant of the Y-20U, which is being built in larger numbers for the PLAAF but is fitted with the less powerful, Russian-made Aviadvigatel D-30KP 2-series turbofans.

The images show that XAC is also making progress with development of the KJ-600 carrier-capable airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft, with three of these aircraft spotted at the facility painted in green primer. Including a previously spotted prototype painted grey, this means that four KJ-600 airframes have now been confirmed.

The emergence of these additional prototypes suggests that XAC is progressing flight-testing. The KJ-600 prototype maiden flight was reported in August 2020 – that of the Y-20B in November that year.

According to state-owned broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), the KJ-600, which will feature a rotodome expected to house the KLC-7 AESA radar, will require a catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) system for launch and recovery.

This means that its use will be limited to China’s third aircraft carrier – commonly referred to as the Type 003 – or future hulls featuring this system. The Type 003 carrier is at an advanced stage of construction at China’s Jiangnan Changxingdao shipyard.

Andreas Rupprecht and Gabriel Dominguez reporting for MON

A possible variant of the Y-20 heavy transport aircraft (baseline model illustrated) may be intended for in-flight refuelling missions, according to imagery released earlier this month. (Image via chinamil.com.cn)

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