Xian developed two prototype KJ-600 AEW aircraft for PLA Navy

A computer-generated image of the KJ-600 AEW platform, which continues in development. (Chinese Internet)

The KJ-600, a carrier-based airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft developed by Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation, successfully completed a new flight test, according to the Chinese state media Global Times. Entry into service is expected between 2022 and 2025.

Sea trials of the KJ-600 are reportedly scheduled for 2021. The AEW aircraft will most likely operate from the Type 003, a new model of aircraft carrier being constructed at Jiangnan shipyard near Shanghai. 

Xian Aircraft Industrial Corporation (XAC) continues development of the KJ-600 AEW platform and is busy producing Y-20 airlifters.

Pictures of the KJ-600 AEW prototype captured in flight began circulating on 29 October. This grey-coloured KJ-600 was flying from Xian-Yanliang Air Base, and was one of two prototypes known to currently exist.

A mock-up of the KJ-600, a Chinese copycat of Northrop Grumman’s E-2D Hawkeye, was first appeared in internet last year. State-owned China Central Television (CCTV) showed images of the aircraft, which is being developed to for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), flying over the central Chinese city of Xian.

The layout is remarkably similar to the U.S. Navy’s E-2 Hawkeye family of aircraft. They are both twin turboprop aircraft with high-mounted long straight wings that can fold for carrier storage. They have a relatively small fuselage just large enough for a crew of 4 to 6. The radar is carried in a large rotodome atop the fuselage.

Announced in 2018, the KJ-600 emerged from the failure of the Xian JZY-1, another larger carrier-capable AEW platform project based on the Soviet-designed Antonov An-24. After only two years of development, the KJ-600 carried out its maiden flight in August 2020. 

Not much is known about the aircraft, which bears a striking resemblance to the Hawkeye. It is powered by the WJ-6 turboprop engine, the Chinese version of the Ivchenko AI-20, and should be fitted with an AESA-type (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar.

There is also a question mark as to whether the KJ-600 will not be able to operate from China’s first two carriers, because they use a ski-jump instead of a catapult, so aircraft have to launch using only their own power.

Bigger than its predecessors, China’s new type 003 aircraft carrier could sport a flat deck and a catapult launch system (CATOBAR), allowing for heavier aircraft to be operated. In comparison, the Shandong and the Liaoning currently sailing for China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) are equipped with a ski-jump (Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery) system.

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