The Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Air Force (PLAAF) announced earlier this week that its Yunshuji-9 (Y-9) transport aircraft is fully operational and combat mission ready, according to a report in the state-owned Global Times, a subsidiary of People’s Daily. The aircraft is built by the Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation.
“The Yun-9 is now able to undertake combat missions after a fleet of the transport aircraft finished training in the South China Sea,” the Global Times reported, paraphrasing an announcement made by the PLAAF on social media.
According to the PLAAF’s statement, the South China Sea exercise, which was conducted on an unspecified date, was the “first long-range maritime exercise of the medium-sized transport aircraft.”
In the exercise, a Shaanxi Y-9 aircraft “flew from a military airport in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province in the morning, landed on an island in the South China Sea around noon and returned the same night.” The island was not specified.
The Shaanxi Y-9 is a medium-range transport aircraft, roughly comparable to the United States’ Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules, that is based off the Shaanxi Yunshu-8 (Y-8), a much older aircraft that has been in production since the early 1980s. (The Y-8 itself is an indigenous Chinese production of the Antonov An-12, which Beijing had started license producing in the 1960s.)
“The Yun-9 completed its air-drop missions without assistance from ground control and the crew prepared procedures to cope with any emergency,” the Global Times noted, citing Liu Bao, a PLA officer.
The Shaanxi Y-9 may play an important role for the PLAAF and People’s Liberation Army-Navy’s (PLAN) logistics in the South China Sea, where Chinese military planners are acutely aware of the need for robust transport aircraft capable of carrying out regular resupply and transport missions.
Accordingly, the Shaanxi Y-9 would be capable of using China’s recently constructed airfields on its artificial islands built on disputed features in the Spratly group. China has three such airstrips on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef (the so-called big three). China additionally has an airstrip on Woody Island in the Paracel Islands, its largest possession in the South China Sea.
China may look to export the Shaanxi Y-9 as a low-cost alternative to similarly equipped U.S. and Russian options. The aircraft is commonly promoted at trade shows to a range of international customers.