Electronic Weapons: Chinese AWACS Mutate and Proliferate


September 1, 2011: China is apparently using its new KJ-200 AWACS in the navy, as well as with the air force. The KJ-200 entered service in the Chinese Air Force four years ago, and export versions sell for about $145 million each. China has had to develop its own phased array radar for it. In addition to the 54 ton propeller driven Y-8 (which is based on the Russian An-12 and U.S. C-130) AWACS, there are versions using the, 21 ton Y-7, and 157 ton Il-76 jet. But all these AWACS versions 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).

Six years ago, the Chinese Air Force realized it was not happy with its first four IL-76 AWACS (A-50s from Russia, converted to use Chinese KJ-2000 radar systems). This led to a smaller system carried in the Chinese made Y-8 aircraft (as the KJ-200). Eventually, as an experiment, the Chinese began outfitting a Boeing 737-800 airliner as an AWACS aircraft. There was apparently never more than one of the 737 AWACS. Even though these work much better than other versions, the U.S. bans the militarization of civil aircraft in Chinese service. Rather than risk more American embargos, the Chinese have held off proceeding with the 737 version.

China has also equipped its 21 ton, twin engine, Y-7 transport with a phased array radar similar to that used on the larger KJ-200 AWACS. The Y-7 is a Chinese copy of the Russian An-24. The Y-7 AWACS would be similar to the U.S. 23 ton E-2 that operates off carriers. The Y-7 was thought to be a version that could operate off China's coming fleet of aircraft carriers. But the Y-7 is also cheaper, and better suited for equipping more air force units with AWACS capability.

The Y-8 turboprop transport based KJ-200 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 KJ-200 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.





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