Chinese military plane boosts global reach: State media

BEIJING (AFP) - China's new long-distance military transport aircraft will "enhance its global power projection ability", state media said today, after the plane's maiden flight at the weekend.

The Y-20, China's biggest home-produced military transport jet to date, had its first test flight on Saturday in the north-west of the country, just months after Beijing's first aircraft carrier entered service.

The state-run Global Times hailed the "significant milestone", saying China needed the planes, which can carry a load of 66 tonnes over distances of up to 4,400km, to "enhance its global power projection ability." The aircraft will allow China's military to end its dependence on the Russian-made Il-76, a mainstay of humanitarian and disaster relief around the world, the Global Times quoted a military expert as saying.

The Y-20 is capable of carrying the heaviest tank used by China's army, the China Daily reported, quoting a military expert as saying that "the heavy air freighters will ensure that we are able to safeguard our interests overseas".

"With them, we can transport our people or large equipment to farther destinations to retrieve them," said Liang Fang, professor of strategy at the PLA (People's Liberation Army) National Defence University.

With a 55-tonne payload, the Y-20 can fly from western China to Cairo, the state-run paper added.

But it also said the Y-20, which relies on Russian engines, lags behind the US-made Boeing C-17 Globemaster III due to its "comparatively conservative aerodynamic design and lack of a domestically developed engine".

The US Air Force says on its website that it has more than 200 of the model in its inventory.

Also at the weekend, China announced its second successful land-based missile interception test, the official news agency Xinhua reported.

"The test has reached the preset goal," it quoted a defence ministry official as saying, without giving detailed information. "The test is defensive in nature and targets no other country."