Chinese surveillance plane test flight hints at advanced aircraft carrier design

26-Feb-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 7:31 AM Print This Post

There are stronger signs that China’s next aircraft carrier will be fitted with an advanced type of aircraft launch system, with official confirmation of a test flight of a carrier-based early warning plane.

State broadcaster CCTV confirmed in a report on the weekend that the KJ-600, the country’s first domestically developed fixed-wing early warning aircraft, had a test flight in Xian, Shaanxi province, in late January.

The KJ-600 is designed to operate from an aircraft carrier but its weight and turboprop engines make it less powerful than a jet, requiring help from a catapult for take-off.

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China has two aircraft carriers on the water, the Liaoning and the Shandong, but both have ski jump decks for take-off.

A third aircraft carrier is under construction at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai. There has been no official confirmation about the design, but open-source satellite images over the shipyard indicate the vessel will be much bigger than its predecessors.

The KJ-600 is being developed at the same as the new carrier, and a catapult system would signal a big advance in China’s aircraft launch technology.

All US aircraft carriers which are the most sophisticated in the world are nuclear powered and have catapult systems.

Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military expert, said the KJ-600 added to speculation that the next aircraft carrier would be conventionally powered, but equipped with an electromagnetic catapult.

“The research and development of military equipment is supposed to be synchronised. It is hard to imagine that one type of equipment will be ready and waiting idle [before the other is operational],” Song said.

He added that before the carrier was up and running, the KJ-600 would be tested on a land-based catapult.

Sources have also told the South China Morning Post that construction of a fourth carrier will start later this year.

The KJ-600 is a medium-sized early warning aircraft with two engines similar to the US’ E-2 Hawkeye series.

It was first seen taking to the sky in August and its large active electronically scanned array radar makes it capable of spotting stealth aircraft such as the US’ F-22s and F-35s.

At the moment the Chinese carriers only have helicopters configured for surveillance.

A fixed-wing aircraft, such as the KJ-600, would have a much larger payload for better devices, have a longer range and could greatly expand the power of a carrier strike group.

“Even the US’ E-2 Hawkeye can only operate on large aircraft carriers that use catapults to assist take-offs, because the flight deck of a carrier is too short for such aircraft to take off with only the assistance of a ski jump ramp,” CCTV quoted Chinese military commentator Song Xinzhi as saying.


Category: China

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