The KJ-500 is a modification of the base Y-9 four-engined turboprop-powered transport (detailed elsewhere on this site) manufactured by the Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation of China for the Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) role. The type serves the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) as a short-to-medium-ranged "eye-in-the-sky" and is a further evolution of previous iterations of such aircraft types developed to undertake the same over-battlefield role - though bringing with it more advanced search, tracking and processing capabilities.
About seventeen platforms are currently available to the PLAAF (2018). The type was first publicly unveiled in September of 2015.
The Y-9 serves as the framework for the aircraft. This design itself is a relatively new product emerging from Chinese aero-industry and is rooted in the earlier Y-8X. Development on the type began in 2001 to produce a medium hauler for military service and advanced to become its own design as the 25-ton-capable Y-9 complete with 4 x Zhuzhou WoJiang 6C (FWJ-6C) turboprop engines of 5,100 horsepower each (two per wing) driving advanced six-bladed propeller units. Crewed by up to four personnel, this aircraft has the inherent capability to haul up to 106 passengers, 132 airborne troopers or nine complete palettes of cargo at speeds nearing 400 miles per hour up to a ceiling of 34,000 feet and out to ranges of 4,200 nautical miles. These qualities translate well to the AEW&C patrol role and the design, as a whole, represents a major Chinese success in the field of self-sufficiency concerning its in-house military hardware.
The KJ-500 airframe is modified for the role through various additions including dedicated crew command consoles, antenna arrays, radar and - most notably - the circular "plate" array seated over the dorsal spine of the aircraft (aft of midships). The plate is a radome sitting atop a two-strutted support structure and is fixed in place - offering 360-degree coverage about the aircraft's airspace. Other bulges and protrusions are also noted, no doubt housing sensors and the like. The wing mainplanes maintain a shoulder-mounting which provide for excellent ground clearance as well as low-speed control and strong Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) capabilities. The flight deck is seated over the short, downward-sloping nosecone with excellent vision out over the aircraft's frontal quadrant. The tail unit is raised (due to its transport roots) and sports ventral strakes as well as a single vertical tail fin with smaller, outboard vertical fins being added at each end of the horizontal planes. A multi-wheeled tricycle undercarriage, wholly-retractable, is used for ground-running.
Coupled with other current Chinese Air Force capabilities, the KJ-500 series platform certainly adds a much-needed modern potent tracking solution for the service. The onboard systems are completely networked into the Chinese Battle Management System (BMS) and reportedly offers good identification, multi-function, and responsiveness qualities.