Beijing has officially confirmed that it is developing the Xian Y-20 strategic transport aircraft, following the emergence of images on Chinese defence sites during the last week of 2012.
"We are developing large transport aircraft on our own to improve the capability of air transport," China's defence ministry said.
"The advanced long-range carrier is being developed to serve the military modernisation drive, as well as to meet demands in disaster relief work and humanitarian aid in emergency situations."
The defence ministry gave no indication as to when the aircraft will be deployed, but only said that the "research and development of the large transport aircraft is going forward as planned".
The confirmation is unusual since Beijing is typically silent about the development of new aircraft, such as the Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31 fighter aircraft. Images of these aircraft regularly appear on Chinese defence websites, but little is known about the plans for their development and future missions.
A major weakness of China's air force is the lack of a robust strategic transport capability. It operates a fleet of 20 Ilyushin Il-76 strategic transports, with another 30 of the type on order.