Why China’s New Refueler Y-20U Sends Ominous Signals To India & Others In The Indo-Pacific?

Tshering22

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New domestic aerial tanker would seriously give China an edge over India.

China’s development of a new aerial refueler, known as the Y-20U, would significantly boost the PLA Air Force’s capability to carry out long-range raids. This could have ominous implications not only for India but also for the whole of the Indo-Pacific.

A variant of China’s Y-20 military transport aircraft, Y-20U has a maximum take-off weight of 220 tons, and the refueling version is expected to be able to carry up to 60 tons of fuel, more than three times the maximum capacity of the indigenous H-6U, which is currently used for air-to-air refueling.

The new Y-20U is fitted with three refueling points, compared to two on the H-6U that China has at the moment. China’s PLA Air Force (PLAAF) is believed to have roughly 24 Xian H-6Us, as well as three Il-78 refueling aircraft imported from Ukraine. With additional specifications, the new refueling tanker aircraft will significantly boost the PLA Air Force’s long-range raid capability and substantially extend the combat radius of its aircraft, it is believed.

In military terms, combat radius refers to the maximum distance a ship, aircraft, or vehicle can travel away from its base along a given course, with normal load, and return without refueling. However, one round of aerial refueling is expected to widen the combat radius of China’s H-6N bombers by 25 to 30 percent, boost that of its J-8 and J-10 fighters by 30 to 40 percent, and give its Y-9 transport planes a 100 percent increase in combat radius.

PLAAF’s Operational Range To Expand With Y-20U
Chinese experts say that combinations of the Y-20 aerial tanker with the likes of the J-20 fighter jet and H-6N strategic bomber can significantly expand the operational range of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force and defend China against military aggression from West Pacific. Teng Hui, commander of an Air Force aviation regiment of the PLA Western Theatre Command and Y-20 pilot has been quoted by the Chinese media to have said that “The Y-20 cargo plane has variants like the Y-20 aerial tanker and Y-20 aerial early warning aircraft. I believe that people will see our Y-20 aerial tanker debut on the battlefield in the not too distant future.”

Upon receiving aerial refueling from the Y-20 aerial tanker, the J-20 can extend its range to more than 10,000 kilometers and combat radius to more than 3,000 kilometers, the Chinese analysts point out.
They add that the combination of the Y-20 tanker variant and the J-20 can cover the entire first and second island chains, becoming the PLA Air Force’s sharpest spear in both attack and defense.

The Chinese also believe that the Y-20 tanker version can refuel not only tactical warplanes like the J-20 but also strategic ones like the aerial refuel-capable variant of the H-6 bomber. At the moment, though airbases in the Chinese mainland and island outposts are good enough to project its airpower, air-tankers will further augment this power in the western Indo-Pacific, where the likely battle zones can be a thousand miles or more from major landmasses and their large airfields.

The United States, China’s principal rival in the region, has around 500 strategic tankers, most of them KC-135s.

Implications For India
The Indian Air Force refers to the refueling tankers as MARS (Mid Air Refuelling System). The IAF acquired its first air refueller, the Russian IL-78, in 2003. It currently operates six such aircraft. The IL-78 is a three-point tanker, which can fuel three fighter jets simultaneously. It has a total fuel carrying capacity of about 110 tons and can refuel six to eight aircraft per mission.

But the IAF needs much more. The reasons cited are that for a country of India’s size, you must have the capability for refueling. As Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retired) says, “The Chinese will have 50 air-refuellers; the IAF at least deserves a sufficient number of such aircraft. If they are making more and more refuellers, then we must build our capacities too.”

Refueling is a tactical necessity for India while dealing with even Pakistan in the sense that with many of its fighter aircraft based at Thanjavur in the deep south, Chabua in Assam and Pune in western India, well away from PAF reach, IAF interceptors and fighter bombers can join a battle at any frontline at a few hours’ notice, if refueled mid-air.

India, at the moment, is thinking of leasing foreign mid-air refueling aircraft rather than buying them outright. For this purpose, the IAF will adopt a new methodology for the process based on the number of hours of availability per year as criteria, according to senior defense officials.

Reportedly, the IAF has sought financial quotes for leasing from American aviation giant Boeing and the European aerospace major Airbus. It is said that the IAF has requested quotes for two mid-air refuellers from Airbus and one from Boeing. Speculations are that on the basis of the experience of the three leased tankers, the IAF might eventually go in for a large order of six refuellers.

The A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft is a derivative of the twin-engine A330 passenger aircraft of Airbus, whereas the KC-46 tanker is a derivative of the Boeing 767 passenger jet. The A330 has a ferry range of 14,800 kilometers.

It may be noted that the A330 refuellers of France and the UAE Air force have been used to ferry the 17 Rafale fighters that India has already transported to the Ambala base from Merignac-Bordeaux airbase in France since July 2020. Three more are scheduled to land in India by Thursday, taking the total number of IAF Rafales to 20.

The French manufacturer Dassault will deliver all the 36 Rafales that India purchased by the latter half of the year.
 

fire starter

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New domestic aerial tanker would seriously give China an edge over India.

China’s development of a new aerial refueler, known as the Y-20U, would significantly boost the PLA Air Force’s capability to carry out long-range raids. This could have ominous implications not only for India but also for the whole of the Indo-Pacific.

A variant of China’s Y-20 military transport aircraft, Y-20U has a maximum take-off weight of 220 tons, and the refueling version is expected to be able to carry up to 60 tons of fuel, more than three times the maximum capacity of the indigenous H-6U, which is currently used for air-to-air refueling.

The new Y-20U is fitted with three refueling points, compared to two on the H-6U that China has at the moment. China’s PLA Air Force (PLAAF) is believed to have roughly 24 Xian H-6Us, as well as three Il-78 refueling aircraft imported from Ukraine. With additional specifications, the new refueling tanker aircraft will significantly boost the PLA Air Force’s long-range raid capability and substantially extend the combat radius of its aircraft, it is believed.

In military terms, combat radius refers to the maximum distance a ship, aircraft, or vehicle can travel away from its base along a given course, with normal load, and return without refueling. However, one round of aerial refueling is expected to widen the combat radius of China’s H-6N bombers by 25 to 30 percent, boost that of its J-8 and J-10 fighters by 30 to 40 percent, and give its Y-9 transport planes a 100 percent increase in combat radius.

PLAAF’s Operational Range To Expand With Y-20U
Chinese experts say that combinations of the Y-20 aerial tanker with the likes of the J-20 fighter jet and H-6N strategic bomber can significantly expand the operational range of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force and defend China against military aggression from West Pacific. Teng Hui, commander of an Air Force aviation regiment of the PLA Western Theatre Command and Y-20 pilot has been quoted by the Chinese media to have said that “The Y-20 cargo plane has variants like the Y-20 aerial tanker and Y-20 aerial early warning aircraft. I believe that people will see our Y-20 aerial tanker debut on the battlefield in the not too distant future.”

Upon receiving aerial refueling from the Y-20 aerial tanker, the J-20 can extend its range to more than 10,000 kilometers and combat radius to more than 3,000 kilometers, the Chinese analysts point out.
They add that the combination of the Y-20 tanker variant and the J-20 can cover the entire first and second island chains, becoming the PLA Air Force’s sharpest spear in both attack and defense.

The Chinese also believe that the Y-20 tanker version can refuel not only tactical warplanes like the J-20 but also strategic ones like the aerial refuel-capable variant of the H-6 bomber. At the moment, though airbases in the Chinese mainland and island outposts are good enough to project its airpower, air-tankers will further augment this power in the western Indo-Pacific, where the likely battle zones can be a thousand miles or more from major landmasses and their large airfields.

The United States, China’s principal rival in the region, has around 500 strategic tankers, most of them KC-135s.

Implications For India
The Indian Air Force refers to the refueling tankers as MARS (Mid Air Refuelling System). The IAF acquired its first air refueller, the Russian IL-78, in 2003. It currently operates six such aircraft. The IL-78 is a three-point tanker, which can fuel three fighter jets simultaneously. It has a total fuel carrying capacity of about 110 tons and can refuel six to eight aircraft per mission.

But the IAF needs much more. The reasons cited are that for a country of India’s size, you must have the capability for refueling. As Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retired) says, “The Chinese will have 50 air-refuellers; the IAF at least deserves a sufficient number of such aircraft. If they are making more and more refuellers, then we must build our capacities too.”

Refueling is a tactical necessity for India while dealing with even Pakistan in the sense that with many of its fighter aircraft based at Thanjavur in the deep south, Chabua in Assam and Pune in western India, well away from PAF reach, IAF interceptors and fighter bombers can join a battle at any frontline at a few hours’ notice, if refueled mid-air.

India, at the moment, is thinking of leasing foreign mid-air refueling aircraft rather than buying them outright. For this purpose, the IAF will adopt a new methodology for the process based on the number of hours of availability per year as criteria, according to senior defense officials.

Reportedly, the IAF has sought financial quotes for leasing from American aviation giant Boeing and the European aerospace major Airbus. It is said that the IAF has requested quotes for two mid-air refuellers from Airbus and one from Boeing. Speculations are that on the basis of the experience of the three leased tankers, the IAF might eventually go in for a large order of six refuellers.

The A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft is a derivative of the twin-engine A330 passenger aircraft of Airbus, whereas the KC-46 tanker is a derivative of the Boeing 767 passenger jet. The A330 has a ferry range of 14,800 kilometers.

It may be noted that the A330 refuellers of France and the UAE Air force have been used to ferry the 17 Rafale fighters that India has already transported to the Ambala base from Merignac-Bordeaux airbase in France since July 2020. Three more are scheduled to land in India by Thursday, taking the total number of IAF Rafales to 20.

The French manufacturer Dassault will deliver all the 36 Rafales that India purchased by the latter half of the year.
 

Tshering22

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By the time IAF puts a tender forward, China would have inducted 40 of them. Let's not kid the pace at which the government machinery works. Not to mention that the PLAAF has the home turf advantage - they can make as many as they like, export these jets by the dozens and earn sizable foreign exchange to offset their costs of developing them.

What advantage can we cite, except operational commonality with the A330 due to civilian fleet? Also, may I point out that the IAF is as unfamiliar with the Airbus as the civilian pilots in India are with Il-76/78 series. Indian military aviation has largely been Russian while civilian has always been Western.
 

SexyChineseLady

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Watch for Y-20 AEW, MPA, stretched and civilian versions in the near future!

The new more powerful WS-20 engine for the Y-20 will lead to a plethora of new variants:
 

Okabe Rintarou

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Airborne Refuelling Tankers is how PLAAF can offset its current geographical disadvantage vis-a-vis Indian Air Force. PLAAF jets taking off from rarefied airfields of Tibet will be able to carry heavier loads now if they start deploying Airborne Refueling Tankers. Because then their jets can take off with low fuel load but heavier weapons load and then immideately after take-off, get refueled by the tanker before heading off to their AOR. Not to mention that their airfields are, on average, further away from the LAC than Indian airfields meaning their jets get less time on station and waste more fuel just getting to the fight.

The aforementioned also means that PLAAF needs disproportionately more tanker aircraft than IAF. IAF jets taking off from airfields at much lower altitudes will not need to refuel as soon as they are in the air despite carrying high weapons load.

Now add to this another problem: Y-20U carries only 60 tons of fuel apiece. Compare this to the 100+ tons that Indian aerial refueling tankers carry for refueling. Then add the additional problems that the Chinese tanker aircraft will need to come from far away airfields near Chengdu or Hotan which will further reduce the fuel availability for PLAAF jets taking off from Tibetan airbases much below 60 tons. Further add the serviceability issues and low fleet availability where IAF will be better off.

Finally, add the number of tankers PLAAF needs for operations to project power from its vast coastline, in addition to the large number of tankers PLAAF needs to take on India. It becomes clear that even with a much larger fleet of airborne refuelling tankers than IAF, PLAAF will still be playing catch up with IAF.

That said, IAF needs to get the 6 A330 MRTT ASAP and then increase upon this number. Y-20U will indeed lessen the IAF's advantage on the LAC.
 

Tshering22

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Airborne Refuelling Tankers is how PLAAF can offset its current geographical disadvantage vis-a-vis Indian Air Force. PLAAF jets taking off from rarefied airfields of Tibet will be able to carry heavier loads now if they start deploying Airborne Refueling Tankers. Because then their jets can take off with low fuel load but heavier weapons load and then immideately after take-off, get refueled by the tanker before heading off to their AOR. Not to mention that their airfields are, on average, further away from the LAC than Indian airfields meaning their jets get less time on station and waste more fuel just getting to the fight.

The aforementioned also means that PLAAF needs disproportionately more tanker aircraft than IAF. IAF jets taking off from airfields at much lower altitudes will not need to refuel as soon as they are in the air despite carrying high weapons load.

Now add to this another problem: Y-20U carries only 60 tons of fuel apiece. Compare this to the 100+ tons that Indian aerial refueling tankers carry for refueling. Then add the additional problems that the Chinese tanker aircraft will need to come from far away airfields near Chengdu or Hotan which will further reduce the fuel availability for PLAAF jets taking off from Tibetan airbases much below 60 tons. Further add the serviceability issues and low fleet availability where IAF will be better off.

Finally, add the number of tankers PLAAF needs for operations to project power from its vast coastline, in addition to the large number of tankers PLAAF needs to take on India. It becomes clear that even with a much larger fleet of airborne refuelling tankers than IAF, PLAAF will still be playing catch up with IAF.

That said, IAF needs to get the 6 A330 MRTT ASAP and then increase upon this number. Y-20U will indeed lessen the IAF's advantage on the LAC.
You fail to factor in that ramping up numbers has never been a problem with China. They don't have to float tenders and wait for pot-bellied IAS to decide on the process. They can ramp up production up to 4-5 times within a year and get it done, meanwhile the IAF will have to issue tenders as there is no war and therefore government procedures prevent it from directly acquiring assets from overseas.

PLAAF can always supplement their fighter fleet with their attack drones (even if it means they lose more of them) to inflict heavy casualty on our troops and armor.
 

Okabe Rintarou

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You fail to factor in that ramping up numbers has never been a problem with China. They don't have to float tenders and wait for pot-bellied IAS to decide on the process. They can ramp up production up to 4-5 times within a year and get it done, meanwhile the IAF will have to issue tenders as there is no war and therefore government procedures prevent it from directly acquiring assets from overseas.
Isn't that exactly what I did? I factored in their ability to ramp up numbers. But their budgets are not unlimited. What is the PLAAF's annual weapons acquisition budget? Around 30 Billion dollars?
What is IAF's annual weapons acquisition budget? Around 10 Billion dollars.
Granted that their tankers cost them less (due to them being indigenous industry products), but then again, they carry less fuel. Add to that the fact that their Air Force is more than twice as large as the IAF (meaning they need more than twice as many tankers at the minimum. And then they need more on top of that due to the reasons I mentioned in the previous post. So with 3 times IAF's acquisition budget, PLAAF can at most field 6 times the IAF's strength in tankers on the LAC (being generous here). Factor in the reasons from my first post and you'll see why that is insufficient to overcome those Indian advantages.

PLAAF can always supplement their fighter fleet with their attack drones (even if it means they lose more of them) to inflict heavy casualty on our troops and armor.
Attack drones will suffer from similar problems of take-off from rarefied airfields, their weapons load will be pitiful. Not to mention jamming. I am more worried about their bombers.
 
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