Over the last three years China has been testing the Y-8GX6 (also known as the Gaoxin-6), its answer to the American P-3C maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft. Both aircraft are similar in shape and equipment. Until the Y-8GX6 can be seen in action, it's difficult to say how close the two aircraft are in capability. The first flight of a fully equipped Gaoxin-6 took place in 2012, and apparently the design is being rushed into service.
China is playing catchup here, as the U.S. has been using these anti-submarine aircraft for sixty years. While Chinese espionage efforts may have obtained details of most American anti-submarine aircraft equipment, there’s no way to steal decades of experience. Another problem China will have is that when their anti-sub aircraft are actually put to use tracking American and other (especially Japanese and South Korean) submarines this will take place in international waters where the Gaoxin-6 can be followed and monitored by American intelligence collection aircraft and ships.
The Chinese Gaoxin-6 is a four engine turboprop aircraft that weighs sixty-one tons, has a thirty-eight meter (124.7 foot) wingspan, and a cruising speed of six-hundred and sixty kilometers an hour. The Y-8 is based on the Russian An-12 and U.S. C-130. There is also a larger version, the seventy-seven ton Y-9, which is believed to be a Chinese attempt to build an aircraft with similar characteristics to the American C-130J, and this version may also be used for the Gaoxin-6.
The similar American P-3 is based on the Electra civilian airliner that first flew in 1954, although only one-hundred and seventy were built, plus six-hundred P-3s. About forty Electras and over two-hundred P-3s are still in service. There are about two-hundred P-3s and smaller anti-submarine aircraft in the western Pacific, and all are operated by nations that don’t get along well with China. Until the Gaoxin-6 shows up in large numbers, China will be at a major disadvantage in this department. Chinese subs were under constant surveillance by their anti-submarine aircraft while China was restricted to the comparatively slow warships with equipment for finding and attacking subs. China has even fewer helicopters equipped to anti-submarine work.
The sixty-one ton P-3 has a thirty-two point two-five meter (one-hundred foot) wingspan and can stay in the air about ten hours per sortie. Cruise speed is five-hundred and ninety kilometers an hour. The P-3C is being replaced by the P-8A, which is based on the twin-engine Boeing 737 jet transport. Like the P-3C, the Gaoxin-6 carries radars and other sensors, as well as a few tons of sonobuoys, depth charges, and torpedoes.
The Y-8/9 is based on an old Russian aircraft design, the An-12. This Chinese copy of the An-12 never caught on big as a transport but has been showing up as a radar (AWACS) maritime patrol/anti-submarine and electronic warfare aircraft.
China has been building the Y-8 since the early 1980s. The fifty-four ton propeller driven Y-8 can, like the similar American C-130H, carry twenty tons. China only built about one-hundred and thirty Y-8s over the last thirty years and sold some to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Sudan. Meanwhile, more new uses are being found for the Y-8. One was recently converted to a medical evacuation aircraft, able to carry thirty-nine casualties on stretchers and fifteen able to sit, plus medical personnel.
Many of the older An-12s are still flying. But Russia has grounded all its An-12s several times in recent years because of old-age related reliability problems. The Russian answer to the American C-130, the sixty-one ton An-12 entered service in 1959 (two years after the C-130), but production ceased in 1973 (after on-thousand-two-hundred and eighty were built). The seventy ton C-130 remains in production and over two-thousand-three-hundred have been built.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Y-8s are well maintained and constantly updated with new equipment. China is apparently increasing production and finding even more uses for this sixty year old design, as well as producing an upgraded model, the Y-9.