PLA air defense missile unit tests quick deployment with Y-20 transport aircraft for 1st time
Published: Jan 18, 2023 10:01 PM
Y-20 transport aircraft participate in a close formation taxi known as elephant walk on the runway. Photo:China Military

Y-20 transport aircraft participate in a close formation taxi known as "elephant walk" on the runway. Photo:China Military

A top surface-to-air missile unit of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force recently took part in a systematic confrontational exercise, in which it for the first time tested its quick deployment capability by flying with Y-20 large transport aircraft. This method will significantly enhance China's air defense flexibility, analysts said on Wednesday.

Stationed in Southwest China's border region, a land-based missile battalion affiliated with the air force of the PLA Southern Theater Command participated in the Red Sword exercise and won the top award, the Golden Shield, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Tuesday.

During the exercise, a systematic confrontational one organized by the PLA Air Force with the participation of aviation forces and other land-based missile forces using other types of surface-to-air missiles, this battalion coordinated with friendly forces against hostile ones, simulated more than 50 missile launches, and defended against over 30 systematic targets in mock combat, according to the report.

The exercise marked the first time this battalion tested its quick deployment capability by flying with Y-20 transport aircraft, as it mobilized across the country to locations including Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Northwest China's Gansu Province, CCTV said.

The CCTV report included footage showing an HQ-22 air defense missile launcher vehicle entering a Y-20 large transport aircraft.

Long-range, rapid deployment of heavy surface-to-air missiles has great tactical and even strategic significance, as it enables the PLA to enhance regional air defense in a flexible manner, a Chinese military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Wednesday.

This is made possible thanks to the PLA Air Force's commissioning of the Y-20 transport plane in large numbers, since an air defense missile unit usually consists of many elements that require a fleet of strategic cargo planes for transport operations, including launcher vehicles, radar vehicles and other command and support units, the expert said.

In April 2022, many Y-20 large transport aircraft flew from China to Serbia over several consecutive days to deliver FK-3 air defense missile systems Serbia had procured from China. Observers called the mission at the time the largest overseas operation by the Y-20.

The FK-3 is the export version of the domestic-use HQ-22, so it is a natural development that the PLA Air Force is now practicing long-range transport of the HQ-22 using the Y-20, analysts said.