China's growing naval prominence, particularly in the contested South China Sea, is embodied in an equally-growing carrier fleet. Aboard these vessels is a collection of aircraft designed to provide the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) with a power-projection capability, particularly as future enemies may include the island nation of Taiwan. Beyond its onboard fighter/strike arm (which consists mainly of Soviet/Russian-inspired designs), the PLAN has begun to operate a new carrierbased Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft in the Xian "KJ-600" series.
Following a mockup showcased in August of 2018, a prototype form was revealed in August 2020 by way of satellite imagery. A first-flight is thought to have been made that same month.
The KJ-600 is believed to have been realized through the extensive testing of a Xian Y-7 (Antonov An-24) twin-turboprop regional airliner equipped as a technology demonstrator and flown under the "JZY-01" designation. From this was then developed the framework to make the KJ-600 possible.
The new aircraft's design certainly lacks imagination, appearing to be a physical copy of the veteran Grumman (Northrop Grumman) E-2 "Hawkeye" navy aircraft that still serves aboard American carriers. This is not the first time the nation has followed American design ingenuity - the Sikorsky UH-60 "Black Hawk" multi-mission helicopters and HUMVEE utility vehicles are prime examples. As in the E-2, the KJ-600 features carries its radome (most likely an Active, Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) radar type) above the fuselage over midships (supported by thick struts), showcases twisting/folding wings for improved carrier storage, has a four-plane vertical tail unit, reinforced undercarriage, and arrestor hook. Its twin-engine arrangement is underslung at each high-mounted wing mainplane. The side-by-side seating cockpit is positioned aft of a blunt, rounded nosecone.
The KJ-600's overwater, over-battlefield function can therefore be assumed to be the same as the Grumman Hawkeye. The crew is thought to number between four and six specialists while power is from 2 x Zhuzhou WoJiang-6C turboprop engines developing 5,103 horsepower each and driving six-bladed propeller units. Performance includes a maximum speed of 430 miles-per-hour, a range (ferry) out to 1,700 miles, and a service ceiling of about 50,000 feet.
Beyond its AEW capability, the KJ-600 would have an inherent Carrier Onboard Delivery (CoD) ability to better serve Chinese carriers at-sea.
While not in formal service with the PLAN just yet, it can be expected that the type is debuted in the coming years when as many as four total carriers may be in operation. Currently, Liaoning and Shandong serve the PLAN with a pair of Type 003-class units still to come (under construction as of this writing).
(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.
✓Maritime / Navy
Land-based or shipborne capability for operating over-water in various maritime-related roles while supported by allied naval surface elements.
General transport functionality to move supplies/cargo or personnel (including wounded and VIP) over range.
59.5 ft (18.15 m)
82.0 ft (25.00 m)
18.9 ft (5.75 m)
55,997 lb (25,400 kg)
67,241 lb (30,500 kg)
+11,244 lb (+5,100 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Xian KJ-600 production variant)
2 x Zhuzhou WoJiang-6C turboprop engines developing 5,105 horsepower each driving six-bladed propeller units.
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