China put its new carrier-based early warning aircraft through its paces again on Wednesday, a military source said, after images of the plane were shared online.
“The [test] flight took place early on Wednesday morning in Xian,” said the People’s Liberation Army insider. “It was another regular test before the plane enters service.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media, the source confirmed that the photographs shared on social media were of the KJ-600, China’s first domestically developed early warning plane, which is in its final stages of development.
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The images showed an aircraft, with its distinctive radar system atop its fuselage and four vertical tail fins, in flight.
The KJ-600 made its maiden flight in August, two years after Chinese state media confirmed such an aircraft was in development.
Designed to operate from an aircraft carrier, the plane’s large active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar makes it capable of spotting stealth aircraft such as the United States’ F-22s and F-35s.
Jon Grevatt, an Asia-Pacific analyst at defence industry publisher Janes, said the new AESA radar would give the KJ-600 a greater range for detecting and tracking targets.
“It will provide China with enhanced situational awareness, and much better understanding of what the incoming threats might be,” he said.
“It’s like a force multiplier for the aircraft carriers, because they not only have the ability to launch offensive attacks using the fighter aircraft, but also get a better understanding of what is happening around them,” Grevatt said.
Hong Kong-based military expert Song Zhongping, said the introduction of the KJ-600 would be a boon for the PLA.
“Chinese aircraft carriers currently have to rely on helicopters and their own radar systems to gather intelligence,” he said. “But with the KJ-600, their detection and tracking range will be boosted significantly.”
With the KJ-600 China is set to become only the third country in the world – after the United States and France, which operate the American E-2 Hawkeye – to have a carrier-based fixed-wing early warning aircraft.
Other countries like Britain and India use helicopters to perform the role, but these have a much shorter range.
Forbes said in an article in September that the development of the KJ-600 “shows the importance the Chinese Navy places on the added capability over the helicopter based alternative”.
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