China's strategic transport project, the Xian Y-20, has been flying for a couple of years now, but this week's Zhunhai Air Show and weapons showcase is the first time it has found itself sitting across the ramp from both its IL-76 and C-17 'inspirations.'
What the Y-20 has in 'borrowed' pedigree and looks, it lacks in engine power. The inability for China to catch up with even Russian engine design has been the bane of many indigenous aerospace programs since the country's economic rise beginning almost two decades ago.
Currently, the Y-20 flies with a quartet of WS-10 engines, a low-bypass turbofan that is currently flying on the PLAAF's J-11 Flanker clones. The WS-10 program is arguably one of the very top priorities for the Chinese military, as once it fully matures, it will allow China to independently develop and sustain high-performance aircraft without having to import Russian engines. Some have referred to the program comparatively as China's Apollo program. Eventually, the Y-20 will be outfitted with the much higher bypass, more powerful and efficient indigenously developed, WS-20 turbofan.
The WS-20, which borrows the WS-10's core, is already flying on a converted IL-76 surrogate engine test aircraft. Once this large aircraft optimized engine is ready, the Y-20 should begin series production, and a fleet of potentially up to 400 of these aircraft is said to be in the works.
Even if this metric is inflated, the addition of an indigenously developed strategic air transport to China's rapidly improving list of advanced combat capabilities highlights the communist nation's changing geopolitical and military position in the world. In modern times, it is fairly challenging to project power over great distances without the ability to create a reliable logistics "air bridge." The Y-20 will allow China to do just that.
China's WS-20 flying on an IL-76 surrogate engine testbed aircraft:
This years Zhuhai Air Show will also be featuring a full array of advanced indigenous Chinese weaponry, including unmanned systems, cruise missiles, and especially the seemingly immature debut of China's F-35-ish clone, the J-31. Foxtrot Alpha has one of the best aviation photographers in the business attending, so stay tuned for some fantastic images and updates.
Images via Chinese internet, Twitter
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com