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Why the US and China Want New Military Refueling Aircraft

MQ-25. Image Credit - Creative Commons.

Refueling Aircraft: More Range Could Determine who Wins a Conflict – New refueling aircraft in development with the US and Chinese militaries hit important milestones in recent weeks, demonstrating both militaries’ focus on long-range operations, a vital capability in the vast Pacific.

On November 28, a Y-20 aerial-refueling plane was one of 27 Chinese military aircraft to fly into Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone, a security zone declared by Taiwan that is not territorial airspace.

Mass flights of Chinese aircraft around Taiwan are common, but the November 28 flight was a first for the tanker version of the Y-20, a strategic airlifter operated by China’s military.

The Y-20 tanker can refuel fighter jets, like the stealthy J-20, and larger aircraft like the H-6 bomber, five of which took part in the November 28 flight.

Days later, the US Navy said its newest refueling aircraft, the MQ-25 Stingray, had arrived aboard the USS George H.W. Bush for “its first test period aboard the aircraft carrier.”

The Navy issued an $800 million contract for the MQ-25 in August 2018, and the unmanned aircraft took its first flight a year later.

During June 2021 test flight with a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet, it became the first unmanned aircraft to conduct aerial refueling with another aircraft.

Multiple days of testing aboard the carrier “will provide an early evaluation of MQ-25 operations in a shipboard environment,” said Jamie Cosgrove, a spokeswoman for the Navy’s program executive office for unmanned aviation.

Written By

Christopher Woody writes and edits stories on military issues, defense policy, and foreign affairs. He is based in Washington, DC.