ZDK-03 Y-8F-400 AEW
The ZDK-03 system is an advanced Airborne Warning and Control System [AWACS] with sophisticated integrated sensors and communications suite. The type is a new variant of the Shaanxi Y8 AEW&C aircraft designed specifically for Pakistan. Islamabad had ordered four ZDK-03s on order, with deliveries starting in late 2010. In parallel with the KJ-200 (Y8 'Balance Beam'), the Chinese aircraft industry developed and built a further AWACS version of the Cub referred to in some sources as the Y-8 AEW (Airborne Early Warning).
The PAF signed a contract in 2008 with China Electronics Technology Group Corporation [CETC] for the joint development of four ZDK-03 AWACS aircraft (ZDK means CETC) configured to Pakistan’s specifications. The radar was designed by the Research Institute of Electronic Technology (also more commonly known as the 14th Institute) at Nanjing, and it utilizes the experience gained from the 14th Institute’s earlier indigenously developed Type H/LJG-346 SAPARS (Shipborne Active Phased Array Radar System) that was completed in 1998.
The existence of the conventional AWACS derivative became known in 2005. The actual prototype wearing a civilian-style blue/white color scheme and the test serial 'T0518 Red' is based on the radar-nosed Y8F-400 ('Category II Platform'). Contrary to some sources, the first prototype base aircraft was not the Y8F-600 ('Category III Platform'), though this platform with six-blade engines was used for later aircraft. The aircraft has a conventional 'saucer' rotodome mounted aft of the wings on twin inward-canted pylons; the greater part of the rotodome is dielectric. The Chinese aircraft is powered by four turboprop engines and has a greater range than offered by the Saab Microwave Systems Erieye. The aircraft nose was shorter and improved from usual glass-fared nose, like the Y-8F400 or Y-8-X, however the engine are not changed. A canoe shaped dome like E-8’s array-phased antenna is located between the front and rear landing gears. The platform is characterized by the triple tail configuration (one large and two small), which was added for flight stability after the installation of new radar antenna.
Previously Pakistan bought Swedish Saab-2000 early warning airborne aircraft but the ZDK-03 is a much sophisticated aircraft with a well equipped equipment and also has the capability to remain airborne for longer duration than the Saab-2000.
The rollout ceremony of first Chinese ZDK-03 AWACS aircraft for Pakistan Air Force was held at Hanzhong, China on 13 November 2010. Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force was the Chief Guest on the occasion. The ceremony was attended by Commander PLA Air Force and other senior military and civil officials of China, a press release by PAF said. Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman speaking on the occasion described this occasion as another milestone in the exemplary history of cooperation between Pakistan and China.
He appreciated the efforts put in by all members of the Chinese team and Pakistan Air Force personnel who remained involved in the development of the system and its timely rollout. During his speech, he also emphasized on the long and enduring relationship between Pakistan and China. He said this system will strengthen the capabilities of the Pakistan Air Force to maintain peace with honour in the region. He also added that system is part of the overall Pakistan Air Force strategy of transforming its self into a lean and technologically advanced Air Force. The Chief of the Air Staff also assured the nation that Pakistan Air Force would not spare any effort to make the defence of the country impregnable.
Chairman CETC Mr. Wang Zhigang in his speech said “China and Pakistan have formed a special all-weather strategic partnership. Our cooperation is based on time honoured brotherhood which is not going to fade with passing time. ZDK-03 project is a milestone in the bilateral collaboration on national defence technology. It has received special attention and all time support from Government and Armed Forces of both countries. It is the best symbol of joint efforts made by national defence researchers from both sides.
"I firmly believe the induction of Karakoram Eagle will be a positive impact on regional stability, peace and prosperity as well as, on the close bond between two military forces and two countries. ZDK-03 Project will be remembered and recorded in the history of China - Pakistan friendship, and it will be a new symbol of the all round strategic partnership of the two countries”.
In the last 20 years, the countries are involved in the joint venture of several projects to enhance military and weaponry systems, which includes JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft, K-8 Karakorum advance training aircraft, space technology, AWACS, Al-Khalid tank and light frigates. Pakistan's move to source AEW&C aircraft from both China and the West is indicative of its strategy to refrain from being overly reliant on any one ally. The USA imposed military sanctions against Pakistan from 1990 to 2005 in response to its testing nuclear weapons.