The Y-20, with a maximum takeoff weight of about 200 tons, officially joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in a ceremony Wednesday in the southwestern city of Chengdu, the ministry said in a statement.
Designed to transport cargo and people over long distances in challenging weather, the Y-20 — powered by four turbofan engines — is reportedly capable of flying 4,500 kilometers with a full load. Its range would extend to almost 8,000 kilometers when carrying 40 tons of freight.
The plane is part of a massive program to modernize China’s armed forces, the world’s largest, which includes the development of aircraft carriers, anti-satellite missiles and stealth fighters.
The Y-20 — whose maiden flight took off in 2013 — is often compared to the Boeing C-17, the large military transporter that has been carrying U.S. troops and cargo around the world for the past two decades.
Although the C-17 is bigger, Boeing closed its production last year, while China is in the midst of an ambitious program of upgrading its military hardware and considers the Y-20 a breakthrough in the country’s aircraft development.
Some analysts view the timing of the Y-20’s formal entry of service as a sign of China’s plan to seek potential overseas buyers at this year’s Farnborough International Airshow, to be held in England next week.