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China’s New Carrier-Based AWACS Made Its Maiden Flight

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China's New Carrier-Based AWACS Made Its Maiden Flight

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On August 29, 2020, the first prototype of a Chinese carrier-based AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) and control aircraft made its maiden flight at the Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation airfield.

Reportedly, Chinese AWACS use Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) technology which is more advanced than the technology used in AWACS built by USA and Russia.

To provide context: The radar in the American E-3C and Russian Beriev A-50U carry out 360-degree azimuth scanning by using older technology of mechanically rotating the antenna. On the other hand, in the KJ-2000 there is no rotating antenna.

The Chinese AWACS aircraft has no rotating antenna. The scanning in azimuth and elevation is done electronically. Three flat aerials are mounted in the radome on top of the fuselage in an equilateral triangle. Each aerial electronically scans 120 degrees, thus covering full 360 degrees in azimuth. There are little other details available, but the radar can be expected to have a maximum detection range of 400 km.

The new Chinese carrier-based AWACS and control system is intended to be included in the air group of the in-construction Chinese aircraft carrier – the type 002, which is being built at a shipyard in Shanghai.

The AWACS Aircraft likely refers to the KJ-600. Popular Science reported in July 2017 that China had developed the KJ-600, a carrier-based early warning and control plane that can help fill a critical gap against the US Navy. Built by the Xian Aircraft Corporation, the KJ-600 weighs 25-30 tons and is powered by twin-engine FWJ-6C turboprop engines.

The KJ- 600 is based on the experience gained from the earlier JZY-01 technology demonstrator. Due to its heavy weight and limited engine power, KJ-600 is designed to take off from the aircraft carrier using a catapult only.

The satellite imagery that shows the KJ-600 in the most recent report was identified by Chris Biggers, an expert on the matter.

Military aerospace and maritime expert H. I. Sutton also reviewed the imagery and according to him it shows the KJ-600.

According to Sutton, the KJ-600 strongly resembles the US-made E-2 Hawkeye, but it obviously has a less potent radar.

“The layout is remarkably similar to the U.S. Navy’s E-2 Hawkeye family of aircraft. They are both twin turboprop aircraft with high-mounted long straight wings that can fold for carrier storage. They have a relatively small fuselage just large enough for a crew of 4 to 6. 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.

The layout of the two planes is virtually identical, to the point that aircraft recognition may prove a challenge in the future. The Hawkeye is a well proven design that first flew 60 years ago, and is still in service aboard U.S. and French aircraft carriers.”

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