The Chinese Air Force launched the Y-20 for the first time on Saturday (as reported by AFP), an event the Chinese government press heralded as "a significant milestone" that would "enhance . . . global power projection."
The Y-20 looks a lot like the Boeing-built C-17 used by the U.S. Air Force, but critics say it falls short of the Globemaster III's performance in a number of respects. Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of the Canadian-based Kanwa Defense Review, said that the Y-20 was technologically inferior to other military transport planes. True figures for the Y-20's maximum load and flying range were likely to be lower than those cited in state media due to the plane's reliance on a "very old" Russian-designed engine.
"(The engine's) oil consumption is very bad, it wastes a lot of fuel," he said, pointing out that because of noise some developed countries have banned aircraft using it from landing, threatening its potential appearance at European air shows. (And that reality wouldn't help it's foreign military sales effort or international reputation.)
Chang also noted that the C-17's long-range performance is possible because of the airplane's composite materials, the manufacture of which the Chinese have struggled with to date. And the Y-20 was likely to take at least another five years to enter operational service, he added.
But the Chinese only want to talk about capabilites. The Y-20 has a maximum payload of 66 tons, which it can carry as far as 2,700 miles, the China Daily said, and with 55 tons on board it could fly from western China to Cairo.
It is big enough to hold the heaviest tank used by China's army, the paper added, quoting a military expert as saying that "the heavy air freighters will ensure that we are able to safeguard our interests overseas."
The Y-20 also allows the Chinese to end their dependence on Russian-made Il-76s for their transport needs.