KJ200 AWACS Aircraft - Chinese PLAAF
An AEW&C program has been labelled the KJ-200 or 'Y-8 Balanced Beam' system. Installed on a late model Y-8F-600 airframe with Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150B turboprops and Honeywell avionics, the KJ-200 has been observed in the Nanjing area flying with a dorsal structure resembling the Ericsson Erieye AESA system, as well as ventral radomes.
With a similar payload/volume to the C-130A, a Y-8 with an Erieye clone AEW&C system would be equivalent in performance and endurance to the C-130/Erieye proposals marketed during the late 1990s.
Imagery shows that the KJ-200 antenna assembly is much like the Swedish Ericsson PS-890, including the ram air cooling system for the transmit-receive modules. Like the Erieye, the KJ-200 cannot provide coverage over the nose, but due to large aperture size will have excellent broadside power-aperture ratings and angular resolution.
Given the similar size and platforms used for the two smaller AEW&C systems, it is a reasonable assessment that the rotodome system was developed as a risk hedge in the event that the KJ-200 AESA was too difficult to develop.
Press reports from Pakistan and India indicate that China recently signed a deal with Pakistan to supply an unspecified number of 'AEW&C aircraft'. Given reports that Pakistan was to acquire the SAAB/Ericsson Erieye system, it is not entirely clear what Pakistan intends, or which of the three Chinese systems was sought. India's acquisition of the A-50I would be a strong incentive for Pakistan to acquire the KJ-2000 to match capability.
It remains to be seen, longer term, which of the three PLA AEW&C systems become operational, and which of these will proliferate in the global export market. Regional clients who do not want the political strings attached to US or EU products, or the cost of a Russian or Israeli product, may well find a Chinese AEW&C offering attractive.
A Y-8 "Catagory III Platform" (High New 5) was taxiing on the runway at SAC, carrying a phased array radar. The aircraft first flew on January 14, 2005. This so-called "Balanced Beam Testbed" bears some resemblance to the Swedish Saab 340 AWACS aircraft with its electronically scanning phased array radar inside a large rectangular fairing above the fuselage. The radar is likely to be the product of the 38th Institute.
The first Y-8 "Balance Beam Testbed" prototype (High New 1) took off on November 8, 2001 at SAC, after converted from a Y-8F-200 transport aircraft. The production version (formally named as KJ-200) is based on the new Y-8 "Catagory III Platform" which has a redesigned fuselage with a solid nose and a new tail section with the loading ramp removed.
Two radomes are located at the nose tip and tailcone which may house additional antennas to provide full 360° coverage. More fairings can be seen at the wingtips and top of the tailfin as well. It also has an integrated wing fuel tank and 4 high-efficiency JL-4 6-blade propellers giving the aircraft a longer range and less noise. A C3I center is housed in a pressurized carbin as well. Both KJ-200 and KJ-2000 have demonstrated China's determination to acquire indigenous AWACS capability after the earlier A-50I setback. They are expected to coordinate J-7G, J-8F, J-10A, J-11A, JH-7A and H-6H/M via datalinks in the possible air compaigns against Taiwan. Two KJ-200 prototypes may have flown. However the latest news suggested one crashed on June 3, 2006 (mechanical failure?), which put the project temporarily on hold.