Our first clear look at the nose of China’s KJ-600 carrier-based radar plane
A photo has emerged on social media offering the clearest look yet of the nose and nose of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s KJ-600 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft Chinese (PLAN). The snapshot surfaced around the same time as a video showing the prototype undergoing flight tests over the city of Xi’an, where the plane is built. These developments all come just over a month after the launch of the new China-built Type 003 aircraft carrier. Fujian, signaling the introduction of a new carrier air wing of which the KJ-600 is expected to be a key component.
The Chinese KJ-600 began flight testing in the fall of 2020 and is being developed by the Xi’an Aircraft Company. It is a twin-turboprop aircraft that is at least externally very similar to the US Navy’s E-2 Hawkeye. Like the E-2, the KJ-600 is also designed for a crew of four to six and has a large radar above the fuselage.
While the new static shot of the KJ-600’s nose and cockpit configuration certainly resembles the E-2, the video footage of the alleged test flight over the city of Xi’an that came out a few days later early, as well as many past images, also makes the plane’s “H” style tail with multiple vertical stabilizers hard to miss. Like the E-2, this is to provide stability even if airflow is blocked by radar, especially at higher angles of attack, such as when recovering on a carrier.
As of now, at least four prototypes of the KJ-600s currently exist, and possibly as many as six. twitter user @louischeung_hk even shared a brief video breaking down recent sightings of the KJ-600 and noted that three such prototypes were spotted without the air data probe used for flight testing which can be seen in the final image.
As for the role the KJ-600 will play in the air wing that PLAN seems to be assembling for its newest Fujian aircraft carrier, it will be responsible for greatly extending the radar range of the aircraft carrier, especially when it comes to spotting low-flying objects or even surface contacts, similar to the E- 2 works. This is in addition to working as a battlespace manager. Onboard controllers will direct aircraft as required and function as central command and control and battlespace awareness elements for highly coordinated missions. The KJ-600 radar image and data from other passive sensor systems will be linked to the carrier group and other tactical aircraft for real-time operation. Working as a central data merge and replay node is also a good possibility. You can read all about E-2C operations in this old feature of ours.
The Type 003’s air wing will be much more diverse than its predecessors and will include J-35 stealth fighter jets as well as derivatives of the J-15 Flanker. The first high-resolution image of a prototype of the upcoming J-35 fighter, which you can read in detail here, appeared online last week and also comes amid China’s efforts to complete the fleet of its new Type carrier. 003. Drones, including stealth types, will also be an essential part of from Fujian air wing, once it is fully ripe.
The June launch of China’s newest Type 003 carrier also highlights the KJ-600’s compatibility with the ship’s catapult launch capability. At the moment, the KJ-600 is unlikely to fly from the existing Type 001 in China. liaoning and type 002 shandong carriers because these ships are equipped with ski jump ramps. While the PLAN’s active fleet of Shenyang J-15 fighter jets can handle this launch concept at lower gross weights, the turboprop KJ-600 will likely require one catapult, of which the Type 003 has three.
Possibilities for further development could even include the ability to adapt the KJ-600 to other use cases, such as Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), drone controller or tanker roles. Such a development precedent exists in the US Navy’s C-2 Greyhound COD aircraft, derived from the E-2. Prior to this, the Navy also had carrier-based AEW, COD, and ASW aircraft like the E-1 Tracer, S-2 Tracker, and C-1 Trader that shared a main airframe.
With catapult-capable J-35, KJ-600 and J-15 aircraft, all look set to become part of China’s new Type 003. Fujian aircraft carrier, the PLAN is preparing for a massive leap in naval capability. Yet, we are years away from that becoming a reality, but when it does, it will forever change the nature of PLAN’s combat capabilities.
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