The carriers Liaoning and Type 001A rely on airborne early warning helicopters and an integrated radar system to detect enemies. But these systems with their weaker warning capability risk exposing the carrier's position, the report said. Phased radar carried by an airborne early warning helicopter is limited in size. The early warning distance, time and accuracy is thus limited. An aircraft like the KJ-600 has a larger radar, flies higher than a helicopter and sees farther and more clearly.
An airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft can be deployed as a command center in the sky, gathering information and coordinating vessels into a stronger strike force, Song noted. The KJ-600 will most likely fly with China's new carriers using electromagnetic catapults, Chinese military expert Lan Shunzheng told the Science and Technology Daily. A fixed wing aircraft is too heavy for the ski jump takeoff on the Liaoning and Type 001A, Lan reportedly said. The electromagnetic catapult is a valuable addition to a modern carrier as it can launch heavier aircraft like the KJ-600, Song said. Using the new catapult, more jets can take off in a shorter time and boost the carrier's combat capabilities.
China announced it was developing a sixth AEW&C plane, the KJ-600. Pentagon experts believe that the KJ-600 appearance is a clear signal that China is preparing a huge aircraft carrier combat formation, fighting away from its coast. The People's Liberation Army Naval Aircraft Carrier Battle Group is designed for offshore operations and therefore requires a more comprehensive AWACS. It is believed that the 603 Institute/XAC developed the first generation of shipborne AWACS in a size and configuration very similar to American E-2D.
China had been working on building its own AEW&C jet since the 1960s with relatively little success, according to War is Boring. China has worked on five different types of models. "An air force with one of these planes can see far more — and at much longer ranges — than an enemy without one. But by any measure, five different types of AEW&Cs is a lot," War is Boring notes. The US Navy has one version, the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye, which is still in service today after being introduced in 1964; the US Air Force has one version, the Boeing E- 3 Sentry.
Popular Science reported in July 2017 that China had developed the KJ-600, a carrier-based early warning and control plane that can help fill a critical gap against the US Navy. Built by the Xian Aircraft Corporation, the KJ-600 weighs 25-30 tons and is powered by twin-engine FWJ-6C turboprop engines. The KJ- 600 is based on the experience gained from the earlier JZY-01 technology demonstrator. Due to its heavy weight and limited engine power, KJ-600 is designed to take off from the aircraft carrier using a catapult only.
The plane resembles Northrop Grumman's E-2 Hawkeye: a prop-driven, allweather, carrier-capable early warning aircraft in service since the 1960s. The KJ-600 would be fitted an advanced active electronically scanned array, or AESA, radar which could enable it to spot stealth aircraft such as US F-22s and F-35s.
"AESA can detect stealth fighters at a very long range," military expert Li Jie told the South China Morning Post 24 January 2018. The announcement coincides with increasing deployments of F-35s and F-22s in areas close to China, such as Japan and South Korea. Both US allies have purchased F-35A jets from Lockheed Martin and may be considering procuring the F- 35B for at-sea aviation operations. Li said the KJ-600 would likely be used on China's third aircraft carrier under construction in Shanghai and be compatible with its advanced electromagnetic launch system (EMALS). EMALS can launch jets more quickly and effectively than the ski-jump ramps used on China's first two aircraft carriers.
Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said in January 2018 that the aircraft can detect Lockheed Martin's stealthy, fifth-generation F-35 and F-22 aircraft. The KJ-600 is reportedly tailored to carrier-based operations. Unconfirmed reports have floated since 2016 that Chinese radars are capable of tracking the F-22, when the People's Liberation Army claimed that it sent warships and helicopters to an area in the East China Sea after detecting the Raptor. Defense expert Dave Majumdar wrote at the time for the National Interest that "it's very possible that China can track the Raptor. Stealth is not a cloak of invisibility, after all. Stealthy technology simply delays detection and tracking."
Maritime security expert Collin Koh of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore said that China's KJ-600 may prove the veracity of beliefs about China's ambitions to build a blue-water navy capable of operating far from Chinese shores. "If China's carrier group is designed more to operate closer to home waters, it would rely on shore-based early warning support. With [early warning planes], it implies that the People's Liberation Army-Navy carrier battle group is designed for distant sea operation," Koh told SCMP.
It is reported that KJ-600 may have 5-6 crew members, including captain and co-pilot and flight crew operating radar and combat control systems. Given the current capabilities of combat data communications in China and future plans, the KJ-600 may guide multiple batches of aircraft in interception and air combat and consolidate data from multiple platforms to aid long-range missile aiming. The article said that the Chinese JY-26 ground-based radar has been improved in signal processing capabilities, KJ-600 with similar technology, will be able to detect some aspects and range of stealth aircraft. The KJ-600 also enhances the capabilities of ground systems if connected to the Internet.
The carrier-based fixed-wing early warning aircraft are necessary for the aircraft carrier's formation to independently carry out high-intensity air operations in the distant sea. At present, the early warning helicopters used by Liaoning Ship have problems of short life, low flight altitude and near detection range. Therefore, it is difficult to meet the requirements of high strength and independent combat formation. Developing fixed wing early warning aircraft
is certainly the development trend of the Chinese Navy.
If China's Navy early warning aircraft can achieve the equivalent of E-2D in the future, it will not only greatly enhance the capability of the aircraft carrier formation to remotely detect, alert, guide and counter-steal the aircraft, but also theoretically guide the formation of the aircraft carrier's frigate equipment Anti-aircraft missiles and anti-ship missiles for ultra-horizon attacks, which greatly enhance the capacity of aircraft carrier formation against saturation
A replica KJ-600 airborne early warning aircraft was photographed sitting on a replica aircraft carrier deck, prompting Chinese military observers to link it to China's next generation of carriers using an electromagnetic catapult system.
The KJ-600 replica plus a replica J-15 carrier-based fighter jet were parked on a concrete carrier deck in a photo taken in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, Science and Technology Daily reported on 01 August 2018. Chinese military fans speculated that the first KJ-600 will soon make its maiden flight. The carrier based fixed wing plane will likely be equipped with cutting-edge technologies including a phased radar array, Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times.