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Chinese Airborne Early Warning (AEW)

The acquisition of an Airborne Early Warning (AEW) platform capable of conducting data relays has held a high priority in the PLAAF's efforts to modernize. China's acquisition of an AEW system would provide a dramatic advance in China's operational abilities. China has been actively pursuing an advanced airborne surveillance and control aircraft since the 1960's. China tested an AEW radar rotodome on a TU-4 platform, but there is no indication that this unique aircraft is intended as a prototype for subsequent production. In 1999, it introduced an airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft, the Y-8AEW.

In November 2004 it was reported that the Chinese military was test-flying the first models of a domestic design surveillance aircraft. The new Chinese airborne warning and control system was said to use domestically produced advanced radar mounted on a Russian-made Il-76 transport aircraft.

China has developed and manufactured airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft - KJ-2000 and KJ-200 - which were on display at the PRC's 60th anniversary parade on 01 October 2009. The deployment of the AEW&C aircraft could considerably enhance the C4ISR capability of the PLAAF by reconnoitering aerial and maritime targets, collecting and disseminating information, and even undertaking the command if necessary.

Richard D. Fisher, Jr., Senior Fellow, International Assessment and Strategy Center, in testimony for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Hearing on China's Emergent Military Aerospace and Commercial Aviation Capabilities, May 20, 2010, noted that "There are now about five AWACS programs alone plus multiple other electronic support aircraft programs underway. China has apparently masters critical large active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar technology for AWACS, meaning they are a generation ahead of the technology used on U.S. Northrop-Grumman E-2 and Boeing E-3 AWACS. During the 1980s and 1990s there were multiple attempts to acquire foreign AWACS technology. Britain's Marconi apparently sold at least one example of its Argus radar from the cancelled Nimrod AEW program, which China placed on a modified Russian Ilyushin Il-76 transport. Then in the mid-1990s Britain's Racal Co. sold six of its Skymaster lightweight naval airborne early warning (AEW) radar, which still fly on the PLA Navy Air Force's Y-8J aircraft. Ostensibly sold to help China "combat piracy," by 1999 the Y-8J was observed in exercises providing long-distance cuing for ship-launched anti-ship missiles....

"... AWACS program is called by some sources the ZDK-03, uses a rotating radar array and is due to be delivered to Pakistan's Air Force in 2010. There may also be multiple airborne radar programs underway for the PLA Navy Air Force. ... In 2005 a Chinese magazine carried a photo of a politician visiting an aircraft design bureau and also seen was the partial image of an apparent fixed-wing turboprop powered AWACS aircraft similar in size to the U.S. Grumman E-1 Tracer. Then a 2009 journal article from China's Northwestern University featured a wind tunnel study of a Russian Sukhoi S-80 twin-boom turboprop with "saucer" and "beam" radar configurations, suggesting an alternate future AWACS for Chinese aircraft carriers."

Wayne A. Ulman, of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, U.S. Air Force, in testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing on "China's Emergent Military Aerospace and Commercial Aviation Capabilities", stated on 20 May 2010 that "Many of the key supporting aircraft are not yet operational, or are not yet deployed in sufficient numbers. The KJ-200 and KJ-2000 AEW&C aircraft may just be reaching operational status and have not yet been built in large numbers."


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