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Breaking News: China Reveals Cutting-Edge Y-20B Aircraft Featuring Indigenous WS-20 Engines, Inspired by US Tech and Powered by Russian Engineering

Moreover, there are reports indicating that this latest version might have already been put into service by the People‚Äôs Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The most recent video featuring the new Y-20B plane appears to have been showcased on the Military Report program, produced by the state-owned CCTV-7 TV channel dedicated to displaying PLA content. The video demonstrates a Y-20B aircraft loaded with cargo that is subsequently air-dropped using parachutes. Specialists propose that the PLAAF may have introduced the Y-20B into service. However, the aircraft shown in the video lacks serial numbers, suggesting that it could be a pre-production model used for testing. That being said, it is also possible that the serial number or any identifying markings have been concealed for the aircraft’s public appearance. The Y-20B & WS-20 High-Bypass Turbofan Engine The Y-20B, propelled by the domestically manufactured WS-20 high-bypass turbofan engine, is considered a significant advancement compared to the Y-20A, which utilizes the Russian-made Soloviev D-30KP-2 engines. The WS-20 is anticipated to generate a thrust of approximately 31,000 pounds (137.89 kN), in contrast to the 26,450 pounds (117.65 kN) produced by the D-30KP-2, which powers the original Y-20A that became operational in 2016.

The D-30KP-2 is a low-bypass engine, meaning that less air bypasses the engine than flows through its core. Low-bypass engines cannot generate the same level of thrust as similarly sized high-bypass engines and are considerably less efficient. The Y-20 transport aircraft represents a significant capability for the PLAAF, as evident from the substantial resources allocated by China for its development. Prior to the Y-20, the most effective transport aircraft in the PLAAF’s arsenal was the Russian-made Il-76 Candid, also equipped with the D-30KP-2. However, China encountered difficulties in acquiring a sufficient number of these aircraft, with only approximately 20 in use. As previously reported by EurAsian Times, it has been alleged that the Y-20 heavy transport aircraft was developed using stolen designs from Boeing. Furthermore, the Y-20 bears a striking resemblance to the US military’s Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. Interestingly, in 2009, a former employee of Boeing was reportedly convicted of selling C-17 technical details to China during the early stages of Y-20’s development. Another notable aspect is the production rate of the Y-20, with a significant number of aircraft being manufactured at Xi’an. The importance of the Y-20 for the PLAAF is also reflected in the apparent progress of the aircraft’s re-engining program. The first evidence of a Y-20 equipped with a WS-20 engine emerged in late 2020, when images surfaced showing the aircraft conducting a test flight at Xi’an-Yanliang Air Base.

However, the availability of the WS-20 was not expected until 2024, and even then, it was anticipated to be in limited production. Nevertheless, based on the recent video and claims of the Y-20B becoming operational with the PLAAF, there seems to be a reasonable level of confidence that the engine will be available in sufficient numbers. This accelerated development of the WS-20 could be due to the program’s increased priority or because the engine is facing fewer developmental issues than anticipated. As previously discussed by EurAsian Times, China has long struggled to master engine technology, which requires expertise in various disciplines such as combustion, fluid dynamics, materials, and control theory. For instance, China developed the WS-10 Taihang turbofan engine as part of its effort to replace the Russian-made AL-31F turbofans in its fighter jets.

However, the WS-10 engines encountered numerous quality control issues, hindering mass production. Importance of Y-20 for China’s Aerial Power The Y-20 aircraft enables the PLA to deploy and sustain forces over significantly greater distances, thereby allowing China to achieve a true global power status. For example, in April 2022, China conducted an unprecedented overseas mission in which six Y-20 heavy transport aircraft flew simultaneously to Serbia, surprising flight trackers and aviation enthusiasts. These Y-20s transported FK-3 surface-to-air missiles to Serbia, viewed as China’s demonstration of military prowess in Europe during the ongoing Ukraine crisis. According to Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, this operation showcased a significant advancement in the PLA Air Force’s long-range strategic transport capabilities and the heavy transport aircraft’s intercontinental logistics support and maintenance capabilities. The Y-20 can transport cargo as large and heavy as the Type 99 main battle tank. The introduction of WS-20 engines will further enhance the aircraft’s ability to transport substantial amounts of equipment and supplies over long distances. Currently, the original D-30KP-2 engines allow the Y-20 to carry a maximum payload of 132,000 pounds (nearly 60 tons), which falls short of the payload capacity of the US Air Force’s C-17, capable of carrying 170,900 pounds (nearly 78 tons).

Therefore, it remains to be seen how much the WS-120 can narrow this gap for the Y-20. The improved WS-20 engines are also expected to address other gaps in the PLAAF’s capabilities, such as tanker capacity. Presently, the PLAAF’s aerial refueling capability mainly relies on three second-hand examples of the Soviet-era Il-78 Midas and ten tanker conversions of the H-6 Badger bomber. The Y-20U aerial refueling tanker has reportedly become operational with D-30KP-2 engines and is a likely candidate to receive WS-20s. As the PLAAF continues to showcase its strength in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Taiwan Strait, tanker support is crucial. Therefore, an upgraded version with improved payload capacity and efficiency would certainly be beneficial. Additionally, there have been speculations about a new airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) platform based on the Y-20 airframe, possibly designated as KJ-3000. However, there is no conclusive information about this aircraft. Unconfirmed suggestions indicate that a wind tunnel model of the KJ-3000 has been tested. An image of the model surfaced in December 2022, displaying a Y-20B-based design. However, this model does not feature the traditional rotodome for the main radar antenna. Instead, it showcases a series of large radomes above and below the forward fuselage, along with smaller fairings on the sponsons’ leading edges. Therefore, it appears that the model may be related to an airborne command post or a long-range communications aircraft, possibly intended for operation with the PLA Navy’s ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), similar to the US Navy’s E-6B Mercury.

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