In 2008, an 8.0-magnitude earthquake decimated China’s Sichuan province, killing nearly 70,000. The disaster which was compounded by the country’s lack of large cargo aircraft, which are essential vehicles for humanitarian missions, brought on by the military’s unyielding focus on fighter jets.
In response to this logistical shortfall (and the disgrace of having to accept a pair of loaner C-17s, from the Americans of all people), China’s military kicked a languishing strategic air freighter project into gear and have debuted the results: a C-17, minus the performance capabilities.
Developed beginning around 2006, the Yun-20 aircraft is built by the Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation, one of the country’s biggest aircraft manufacturers. Operating with a crew of three, the Y-20 is 47m long and 15m tall with a 45m wingspan. That puts it in the same size range as Antonov An-225, the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, and the Ilyushin Il-76, on which the Y-20 is based.
With a maximum payload of 60 tonnes, the Y-20 can just accommodate the 53-tonne Type-99A2 tank, the heaviest such vehicle in the Chinese armoury. And with a payload of 50 tonnes or less, the Y-20 can fly from western China to Cairo on a single tank, according to official Chinese reports.
What’s more, the Y-20 will be the country’s first freighter plane capable of mid-air refuelling, a feature that effectively doubles the Y-20’s reported 1000km operational radius. With a refuelling on each leg of the flight, the Y-20 could theoretically reach Papua New Guinea and with two refuellings per leg, they would be able to reach Australia — a Red Dawn down under indeed.
While the thought of an undead Patrick Swayze going war to against Chinese paratroopers sounds like an awesome way to to spend $US12, most military analysts are not confident in the performance metrics that the Chinese military has released; the phrase “technologically inferior” has even been bandied about. You see, the Y-20 i9s based on the Ilyushin Il-76, a Soviet-designed heavy transport plane developed in the 1970s but which has long lagged behind the freight planes of other nations. The new Y-20 does offer a host of updated systems including body panelling composed of composite materials and WS-20 engines. The problem is the WS-20 is based off an antiquated and inefficient Russian design. “(The engine’s) oil consumption is very bad, it wastes a lot of fuel,” Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of the Canadian Kanwa Defense Review said.
The Chinese military expects the Y-20 to improve both the Chinese military’s power projection and rapid deployment capabilities. Officials also hope the plane will help spur developments in related systems such as early warning and control, aerial refuelling, and anti-submarine aircraft. We’ll have to wait five years for the production model to see if their predictions are correct. [Defense Tech – China Daily – Wikipedia – Global Security]