Is China’s Home-Grown Early Warning Aircraft KJ-600 Ready For Its Upcoming Carrier?

China’s domestically-developed, carrier-borne early warning (EW) aircraft KJ-600 is going through the trial phase, according to military officials. Images of the aircraft, that bears resemblance to the US E-2 Hawkeye, were doing the rounds on social media recently.

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This indicates that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) is inching towards the completion of its forthcoming aircraft carrier, and its onboard equipment. 

According to an unnamed source, the test flight took place early on Wednesday in Xian. The aircraft bears striking resemblance to the American E-2 Hawkeye, which is used in a similar role, giving the impression that China has again ‘copied’ a western design. 

Wednesday’s test was termed as a ‘regular’ one for the aircraft before its formal induction into PLAN. 

The KJ-600, like its American counterpart, has a dome-mounted AESA radar above its fuselage and wings, enabling it to carry out searches over a vast area. It will significantly enhance the carrier’s detection range over hundreds of kilometers in each direction. 

The aircraft is meant for China’s future Type 003 aircraft carrier, which would be larger than the existing STOBAR-configured Liaoning and the Shandong, featuring CATOBAR (catapult assisted takeoff but arrested recovery) launch system.

However, the carrier’s designation of Type-003 is itself controversial. Originally, China’s military did not officially confirm the designation of the Shandong carrier before it was commissioned. This led the observers to believe that it would be designated as ‘Type 001A’ and China’s third carrier will be designated as “Type 002”. 

However, upon commissioning of the Shandong as Type 002, observers now believe China’s third aircraft carrier would be designated as Type 003 instead. 

According to Kristin Huang, writing for the South China Morning Post, the KJ-600’s radar would be capable of detecting stealth planes such as the F-22 Raptor or F-35 Lightning II at far greater ranges owing to its AESA radar. The capability would improve PLA-Navy’s surveillance over the disputed South China and East China seas. 

Beijing claims the whole of the South China Sea as its territory and has marked a ‘9-dash line’, leading to tensions with its neighbors.

Recently, the United States deployed a carrier strike group in the sea, led by USS Theodore Roosevelt to promote freedom of navigation operations, after which China deployed three warships in the region. 

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