China was one of the many Soviet-aligned national powers to take on stocks of the famous Ilyushin IL-76 four-engined heavy hauler during the Cold War years. With decades of experience in operating the airframe, it was the IL-76 that became the basis for the all-modern Shaanxi KJ-2000 (NATO codename of "Mainring"), an Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWAC) platform for the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). To date, only a handful of the type have been produced though these are outfitted with wholly Chinese systems and electronics making for a largely local solution - thusly relying less and less on foreign participation.
AWAC aircraft provide air powers the "eyes in the skies" required when at war against air, land and sea targets. Additionally, these are roving platforms, completely mobile, over a fluid battlefield environment and further linked to accompanying forces to provide real-time battlefield analysis. Such aircraft can operate in offensive- and defensive-minded roles as required and direct intercepting or strike aircraft to targets.
The KJ-2000 was born in 2000 after a deal with Russia for the Ilyushin A-50I (Israeli radar) fell through due to U.S. pressure on Israel. This forced the hand of Chinese leaders to locate a viable AWAC solution from within which is where engineers began work on the IL-76 airframe to take on a fuselage-mounted radar assembly and to be outfitted with a bevy of onboard electronics, sensors and control stations. The resulting aircraft appears as nothing more than the IL-76 with a radome mounted atop a solid support. The aircraft retains the general Il-76 form and function complete with its quad-engine layout, high-mounted wings and T-style tail unit. It is assumed that performance specifications of the aircraft follow that of the existing IL-76. The radar system is a locally-designed initiative by NRIET.
The initial prototype achieved first flight sometime in 2003 and the stable has slowly grown to number perhaps as many as five or six such airframes since. Observers have also identified a version of the KJ with a fixed radar, presumably with heightened capabilities. This model has been given the designation of KJ-3000 to signify the change.
With the arrival of the KJ-2000, Chinese air power is significantly broadened. Of course this will be more important with larger stocks of AWAC aircraft on hand to keep pace with Western rivals though the move does widen the gap with China against its smaller regional neighbors. It also serves to further break preexisting reliance on technology usually imported from suppliers elsewhere in the world.
The first Chinese AWAC squadron was formed in 2004 with aircraft received the following year. These aircraft will, no doubt, be used to monitor the ongoing situation over the South China Sea and all of its related disputes with Japan, Russia and others.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Special-Mission: Airborne Early Warning (AEW)
Specially-equipped platform providing over-battlefield Command and Control (C2) capability for allied aerial elements.
✓Special-Mission: Electronic Warfare (EW)
Equipped to actively deny adversaries the ElectroMagnetic (EM) spectrum and protect said spectrum for allied forces.
152.9 ft (46.60 m)
165.7 ft (50.50 m)
48.2 ft (14.70 m)
203,928 lb (92,500 kg)
418,878 lb (190,000 kg)
+214,951 lb (+97,500 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Shaanxi KJ-2000 (Mainring) production variant)
4 x turbofan engines developing 14,500lb of thrust each.
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