China’s first carrier-based fixed-wing early warning aircraft (AEW) has successfully made its maiden flight and become only the second country after the United States to have successfully developed such a platform.
The new Xian KJ-600 AEW is going to boost the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN’s) combat capability with its far-reaching eyes. “China’s aircraft carriers currently rely on early warning helicopters to do the job, but they can only carry smaller radars, have limited speed, and only cover a radius of about 200 kilometers, while a fixed-wing early warning aircraft can cover about 400 to 500 kilometers,” Wang Ya’nan, chief editor of Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times (GT).
The PLAN currently has two aircraft carriers. CNS Liaoning, which was originally a Soviet-era vessel which is 67,500 tons, 999 feet long and 246 feet across.
CNS Shandong which is China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier was commissioned last year by President Xi Jinping. It can carry at least 36 J-15 fighter jets on its flight deck, unlike Liaoning which could carry only 24.
It has conventional propulsion systems and uses a ramp to launch J-15 fighter jets, the spearhead of China’s carriers, like CNS Liaoning. The ship also deploys several types of helicopters. “It features the advanced Type 346 S-band AESA radar system,” said a CSIS note on the vessel.
According to reports, the KJ-600 was spotted in satellite imagery of the Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation’s airfield at Xian-Yanliang in central China.
The Xian KJ-600 is a twin-engine, high-wing cargo aircraft and airborne early warning and control aircraft. “There is no evidence yet if the KJ-600 can operate on China’s current two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, which use ski-jump flight decks without catapults,” Wang told GT.
China’s third aircraft carrier is expected to use a flat flight deck with electromagnetic catapults, which will be compatible with the KJ-600, the analyst added. The KJ-600 is expected to be deployed on Type 003, China’s third aircraft carrier that hasn’t been launched yet.
Experts have pointed out striking similarities to the US’ Grumman E-2 Hawkeye. As reported earlier by EurAsian Times, images surfaced on the media showed a new Chinese carrier-based Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft named KJ-600, strikingly resembling the US Navy’s E-2C Hawkeye- twin turboprop with high mounted long straight wings that fold for carrier storage. The radar is carried in a large rotodome atop the fuselage. Lastly, the tail is split into several smaller vertical stabilizers, like bombers of World War II.
Two decades ago, the US pressured Israel to scrap the AWACS deal because the spy plane would give China a strategic advantage over America’s AWACS aircraft in any conflict over Taiwan. This acted as a major dent in Israel-China ties.
Israel has recently signed a $2 billion deal with India which includes plans to sell its Phalcon AWACS. Under the deal, India and Israel plan to jointly manufacture arms supplies and defense equipment.
Beijing-based military expert Li Jie told Global Security in January 2018 that the aircraft can detect Lockheed Martin’s stealthy, fifth-generation F-35, and F-22 aircraft. Unconfirmed reports have said that Chinese radars are capable of tracking the F-22, although the PLA dismissed such reports claiming that it sent warships and helicopters to an area in the East China Sea after detecting the Raptor.
“While the Chinese report might be easily dismissed as propaganda—it is not beyond the realm of possibility. In fact—it’s very possible that China can track the Raptor. Stealth is not a cloak of invisibility, after all. Stealth technology simply delays detection and tracking,” wrote Dave Majumdar for US magazine – the National Interest.