Deployment of Y-20 not connected with South
The Y-20, a new domestically developed long-range transport aircraft has formally entered service in the Chinese air force.
The newest military aircraft has a maximum takeoff weight of 200 tons and is ideal for carrying cargo, people and heavy equipment over long distances in difficult weather conditions, the air force said in a short statement on its official Weibo account.
"The Y-20 entering service marks a crucial step for the air force in improving its strategic power projection capability," Chinese air force spokesperson Shen Jinke said Wednesday at a ceremony to announce the plane's deployment in Sichuan Province.
Song Zhongping, a military expert, told the Global Times that the Y-20 will be invaluable in deploying troops overseas for UN peacekeeping missions.
"In the past, the Chinese military could only rely on the Russian-made Ilyushin 76 cargo aircraft and even civilian aircraft to transport troops for UN peacekeeping and counter-terrorism missions, but the Y-20 will largely improve this situation. It will allow China to contribute more to help maintain international security, anti-piracy and global counter-terrorism," Song said.
Li Wei, a Chinese counter-terrorism expert, told the Global Times that China's new counter-terrorism law allows China to send troops abroad for the first time to participate in counter-terrorism operations. The Y-20 can help in this regard if China has permission from other countries to enter their territories for counter-terrorism purposes.
The Y-20 will form a powerful arm of the air force and help boost China's image as a responsible power, said Wang Mingliang, professor at the Air Force Command College.
Addressing a ceremony for the handover of the planes on Wednesday, Central Military Commission vice chairman Xu Qiliang called for better aviation design and manufacturing, and to develop skilled maintenance personnel.
Tang Changhong, Deputy Chief Engineer of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) and chief designer of the Y-20, told the Global Times that since the beginning of their research, the Y-20's designers took into consideration the plausibility of building derivative models for the large transport aircraft.
Tang said they are considering extending the body of the aircraft, which he called "the easy part," and increasing the plane's weight-carrying capacities.
Designed and manufactured by the State-owned AVIC, the Y-20 took its maiden flight in January 2013, and made its debut at the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in November 2014.
Last month, the first two Y-20 planes were delivered to the air force, after five years of design and manufacture as well as another four years of test flights.
The Y-20 has entered service a little less than a week before the ruling of the South China Sea arbitration initiated by the Philippines.
Song told the Global Times that, although the timing is interesting, the Y-20 has nothing to do with the arbitration, as it is based on technological reasons rather than political or diplomatic reasons.
"The Y-20 is not built for the situation in South China Sea because it's for long distance transportation. The Chinese navy and air force have many other aircraft in service should they want to transport troops to the South China Sea," Song said.
Song admitted that recent Chinese military aircraft do have "heart disease" which means that China relies on Russian-designed engines, but likely before 2020, China will solve this problem effectively as it has put a lot of effort into engine design.
In 2006, developing large aircraft was listed as a national key sci-tech project. A decade on, China is eying accelerated development of large aircraft, with the task having been written into the 13th Five-Year Plan, the country's blueprint for the next five years, in March.
Agencies contributed to this story