Naval Air: China Goes Twin-Engine MPA

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May 21, 2021: The Chinese Coast Guard has apparently acquired more MA60 twin-engine MPAs (Maritime Patrol Aircraft). The MA60 is an updated Chinese version of the Russian Cold War era An-24. The MA60 entered service in 2000 and is a second-generation Chinese version of the An-24, a rugged design that was developed in the late 1950s. The first Chinese version of the An-24 was the Y-7, which entered service in 1984 and only about a hundred were built because it was basically a clone of the An-24. The MA60 was a major upgrade using lighter materials, better engines and modern electronics. An MPA version of the MA60 was revealed in 2002 but there were few customers, domestic or foreign. That slowly changed as lighter, cheaper and more powerful radars (maritime and air search) became available and many customers saw the MA60 MPA a more affordable MPA than the traditional four-engine models. The increased number of Chinese Coast Guard MA60 MPAs are needed for patrolling the South China Sea and more intense surveillance of Chinese coastal waters.

The MA60 is a 21-ton, twin turboprop aircraft with a cruise speed of 430 kilometers an hour and endurance of 3.5 hours. This can be extended with additional internal fuel tanks. So far about 250 MA60s have been built or are on order. The MA60 is not certified to fly in Western nations because the target market is Chinese airlines and those in Asia and Africa, where AN-24s were always popular. The MA60 is lighter and more fuel-efficient than the AN-26 and has similar passenger and cargo carrying characteristics.

The Chinese Navy uses the four-engine turboprop Y-8Q as its long range-MPA/ASW (anti-submarine warfare) aircraft. It is based on the Russian Cold War era An-12. The Y-8Q is China’s answer to the American P-3C maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft. Both aircraft are similar in shape and equipment. While equipped in a similar fashion it is still unclear how close the Y-8Q is to the P-3C in capability. The first flight of a fully equipped Y-8Q/Gaoxin-6 took place in 2012, and apparently the design was being rushed into service.

China has been building the Y-8 since the early 1980s. The basic fifty-four-ton Y-8 can, like the similar American C-130H, can carry twenty tons. China only built about 150 Y-8s since the 1980s and sold some to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Sudan. Meanwhile, more new uses are being found for the Y-8. One was 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 more frequently 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 1,280 were built. The seventy-ton C-130 remains in production and over 2,400 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.

The Y-8Q 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 ASW work.

The similar American P-3 is based on the Electra civilian airliner that first flew in 1954. Only 170 Electras were built but there nearly four times as many P-3s. A few Electras and over 200 P-3s are still in service.

 


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