Chinese air force’s new aerial tanker seen flying in Taiwan ADIZ for first time

A recently developed aircraft designed to extend the range China’s air combat forces was detected flying in airspace southwest of Taiwan today, November 28.

The Y-20U aerial tanker was one of 27 aircraft to draw a response from Taiwan’s air defence forces by flying into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) today. Fifteen of the sorties continued through the Bashi Channel to into airspace over the Philippine Sea southeast of Taiwan.

According to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, among the 15 aircraft that flew over the Philippine Sea was a Y-20U aerial tanker escorted by two J-16 fighters.

map of PLAAF incursions into Taiwan's ADIZ
Ministry of National Defense map of PLAAF incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ November 28, 2021

Based on the Y-20 airlifter, the Y-20U aerial tanker has been in development since the maiden flight of a prototype in 2018. Four of the aircraft were spotted on the ground in satellite imagery in December 2020, and the first sighting of a Y-20U operating with a fighter plane was recorded in September 2021. Today’s mission may be the first detected outside Chinese airspace.

The Y-20U is designed to fill a shortfall in aerial tanker capacity and enable China to extend its air combat reach.

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