Recent updates on developing the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) KJ-600 carrier-based airborne early-warning (AEW) aircraft indicate intensive trials underway for this critical component of the new domestically built Type 003 aircraft carrier Fujian.
Developed by the Xi’an Aircraft Company, the KJ-600, resembling the U.S. Navy’s E-2 Hawkeye in its twin turboprop design, commenced flight trials in fall 2020. Boasting a crew capacity of four to six, it features a large radar atop its fuselage.
As of the present, the development has led to the creation of at least four, possibly even six, prototypes of the KJ-600s.
AEW&C planes, like the KJ-600, possess the remarkable capability to detect and track other aircraft at extreme ranges. This feature significantly enhances a carrier’s suitability and augments the effectiveness of its combat aircraft, extending their vision to much farther distances. It enables the early detection of incoming raids or missiles, allowing the carrier’s air wing to swiftly spring into action.
Upon KJ-600 deployment, China will become the third navy globally to feature fixed-wing AEW planes on its carriers. Currently, the U.S. Navy and the French Navy employ the E-2 Hawkeye. While countries like Britain and India rely on helicopters for similar purposes, these aerial assets typically possess shorter ranges and smaller radars, offering valuable but more limited capabilities in comparison.
Renowned analysts emphasize the significance of carrier-borne AEW&C for the Chinese Navy, asserting its pivotal role in enhancing carrier airwing capabilities, situational awareness, and network-centric warfare within naval operations. The Diplomat’s Rick Joe highlights their unmatched capability in bolstering offensive and defensive measures within carrier groups.
Analyst H. I. Sutton underscores the substantial impact the KJ-600 will have on the PLA Navy, emphasizing its potential to elevate aerial and maritime situational awareness. Sutton lauds China’s aerospace and military industry for developing a modern and capable AEW&C system for various applications in air, naval, and ground domains.