Electronic Weapons: China Exports Its First AWACS


November 25, 2010: Pakistani officials have inspected the first of four Chinese ZDK-03 AWACS (Air Warning And Control System) aircraft. The aircraft was recently completed, and will enter service in a few months. These aircraft were ordered two years ago, for nearly $300 million each. Pakistan is also buying similar aircraft from Sweden.

China has been developing its own AWACS for a decade, ever since the U.S. forced Israel to back off selling China the Phalcon AWACS (which used some American technology). China then bought some AWACS from Russia, while hustling to develop their own.

The Chinese Air Force was not happy with its four IL-76 AWACS (A-50s from Russia, converted to use Chinese KJ2000 radar systems) and smaller systems carried in the Chinese made Y-8 aircraft. Meanwhile, the Chinese have been outfitting a Boeing 737-800 airliner as an AWACS aircraft. These worked much better, but are more expensive to build.

The KJ2000 entered service three years ago. The export version, for Pakistan, is the ZDK-03. China has had to develop its own phased array radar for it. The Y-8 based KJ2000 carries a flight crew of five and a mission (AWACS) crew of about a dozen. The aircraft can stay airborne for about seven hours per sortie. The KJ2000 radar has a range of about 300 kilometers, and the computer systems are supposed to be able to handle 5-10 fighters at a time, and keep track of several dozen enemy targets.

The 54 ton propeller driven Y8 (which is based on the Russian An-12) and 157 ton Il-76 jet are apparently considered less reliable, and more expensive to maintain, than the twin engine, 79 ton, Boeing 737-800. Chinese airlines (some of them controlled by the Chinese Air Force) have been using the 737-800 since 1999 (a year after this model entered service).

The Chinese claim that their phased array AWACS is similar to, and superior in some respects, to the Phalcon radar they tried to buy from the Israelis. The Chinese were to pay about the same price for each of the four Phalcon systems they sought to get from Israel, that they are charging Pakistan.





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