BEIJING --- Several Y-9 transport aircraft attached to the Air Force of the PLA Western Theater Command took off from an airport in western China on December 2 and flew thousands of kilometers to an island in the South China Sea for simulated air-drop drill, and they flew back that night, according to the PLA Air Force's WeChat public account.
Such a cross-Theater Command flight operation by the PLA Air Force drew extensive attention.
According to Chinese military experts, a mid-size transport plane with the maximal takeoff weight of 70t, like the Y-9, is the mostly widely used transport plane in the world, and is of no less importance than the Y-20 for establishing a complete military air transport system.
Y-9 fleet's training exercise in South China Sea triggers conjecture.
It is reported that several Y-9 transport planes took off from a military airport in west Sichuan on the morning of December 2 and arrived at the airspace above an island in the South China Sea, where they shifted to low-altitude flight and carried out simulated air-drop drill with no artificial sign, no meteorological information and no command and guidance. Later, they flew around the island, quickly climbed up in altitude and returned safe and sound at night.
Y-9 is a China-made mid-size transport plane. After it was commissioned in an aviation regiment of the PLA Air Force, it has carried out training exercises in the desert, on the snow-covered plateau and over the South China Sea, been tested in sandstorm, thunder, gale and other extremely dangerous weather, and successfully accomplished such major tasks as army-air forces joint exercise, heavy-duty air drop and realistic airborne landing.
In September 2016, the Y-9 flew abroad for the first time to carry out the military transport task. It also participated in the Aviadarts contest in the 2017 World Military Games and performed superbly. At present, the aviation regiment that was the first to commission the Y-9 is striving for the purpose of realizing "all-terrain coverage and full-process use".
According to analysis, if the Y-9 fleet took off at 8:00 am and landed at 6:00 pm when coming back, it had flown for about 10 hours, which was consistent with the description that it arrived at an island in the South China Sea in the afternoon.
Usually the maximal speed of turbo-prop plane is 550km/h, so the Y-9 fleet had flown more than 5,000 km, indicating its great performance, reliance and also the pilots ' capability.
Y-9 can improve fast response capability across Theater Commands.
In addition to the long distance and duration, this flight operation spanned different theater commands and reflected the coordination capability among different Theatre Commands.
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post on December 2 quoted military observers as saying that the exercise was aimed to showcase the PLA's capability of resisting maritime assault and conducting transport between different Theater Commands in crisis.
It quoted a "retired PLA general" as saying that the long-distance exercise proved Y-9's capability of conducting air-drop anywhere over the South China Sea. "This proves that Y-9 is a kind of good tactical transport plane that is not only able to deal with problems near that water area but can also enhance the PLA's flexibility."
According to a maritime security researcher at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, the Y-9's maneuver from the PLA Western Theater Command that is close to the China-India border to the PLA Southern Theater Command that covers the South China Sea indicates the enhanced integration and cooperation capability among different troops.
"The PLA is improving its overall transport capability. Not only can the troops in the PLA Southern Theater Command carry out these tasks. If the crisis escalates or the conflict lasts a long time, the PLA can also assign troops from other Theater Commands even if they are not directly involved," he said.
A Chinese military expert who wished not to be named told the reporter on December 3 that the training of the aviation troops under the PLA Air Force caught so much attention because the fleet flew from a hinterland airport to the South China Sea island and conducted simulated air-drop drill, and it also demonstrated the long-distance fast response capability of Y-9 tactical transport aircraft.
Regarding the simulated air-drop drill, the expert said tactical transport aircraft can transport materials, personnel and equipment. Y-9 and Y-20 don't differ much in the transport procedures, but they have different payload. Y-9 can transport a paratrooper's IFV or about 20t materials. But he didn't say how many fully-armed troops the Y-9 can transport.
Y-9 is the critical link in PLA's strategic delivery capability.
Another Chinese military expert told the reporter that Y-9 is a 70t-class mid-size transport aircraft developed on the basis of the Y-8 platform, with improvements in the flight control system, cabin instrument, avionics and engine and substantial changes in the structure and aerodynamic appearance.
Compared with the Y-8 that was put into use quite early, the Y-9 features major improvements in flying range, reliability and handling. There are a variety of special-purpose planes with similar performance as Y-9 and also based on the Y-8 platform. They have participated in far-sea training multiple times, indicating the high reliability and adaptability of this platform.
This long-distance training of the transport aircraft fleet reached a new height in flying time and tested the aircraft's performance and reliability. Besides, Y-9 is not only able to carry out air drop over the South China Sea, but can also land on the island airport if necessary.
The expert pointed out that America's C-130 transport plane that has similar technical and tactical indicators as the Y-9 is frequently used and can land in almost all airports in the world. It's called the "symbol of American power" by the media. We look forward to the day when Y-9 becomes the symbol of Chinese power.