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PLA’s aerial refuelling tanker fleet

Currently the PLA operates two dedicated aerial refuelling tanker aircraft: the Xian HY-6 and the Ukrainian IL-78. The HY-6 represents the very first steps taken by China in developing the aerial refuelling capability for long-range power projection beyond its own territories. The acquisition of three ex-Ukrainian Air Force IL-78 tanker aircraft in 2014 represents another significant boost in the PLA’s ability to extend its operations in the East China Sea and South China Sea regions.

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Shenyang J-8 fighter: A history of evolution

The Shenyang J-8 is a single-seat, twin-engine interceptor fighter that first entered development in 1965, though the aircraft did not enter operational service until the early 1980s. Over the years, the aircraft continued to evolve with new sensors and weapons added to improve its capabilities. This process continued until the late 2000s, when it was finally succeeded by a new generation of fighter aircraft such as the J-10 and J-11.

An early J-20 prototype in test flight in 2014

Third Chengdu J-20 prototype flies

The third prototype of the Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter made its maiden flight successfully on Saturday 1st March. According to the witness report on Chinese social media, the J-20 prototype “2011” took the sky at about 12:00 local time, escorted by a Chengdu J-10S two-seater fighter. The entire flight lasted about 30 minutes before the aircraft landed safely.

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PLA’s Flanker fighter family

The acquisition of the Russian Sukhoi Flanker series fighter aircraft has been an important part of China’s effort to modernise its air power. Between 1992 and 2004, China received a total of 176 examples of the Flanker series fighter in four variants: Su-27SK (Flanker-B), Su-27UBK (Flanker-C), Su-30MKK (Flanker-G) and Su-30MKK2 (Flanker-G). Another 100 examples of the Su-27SK have been built by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) under license as the J-11.

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Shaanxi Y-9 Transport Aircraft

The Y-9 (Yun-9) is a medium-sized, medium-range turboprop multi-purpose transport aircraft designed and manufactured by Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation. Derived from the Y-8 (An-12 Cub) transport aircraft, the Y-9 features improved engines and modern avionics including a ‘glass’ cockpit, and is believed to be comparable to the U.S. Lockheed Martin C-130J in general performance.

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PLAAF converting air divisions into brigades

As part of its modernisation restructuring programme, from early 2012 the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) began to convert its air divisions into more combined and flexible brigade-sized units, similar to the air wings in the USAF. This is possibly the most significant organisational change in the history of the PLAAF, with the aim to achieve a more ‘flat’ administrative and command and control structure.