With a fleet of nearly 20 aircraft, the KJ-500 is considered one of the weapons that help the Chinese Air Force maintain air superiority

China’s defense industry is finally able to produce modern phased array radar systems. On the Shaanxi Y-9 transport airframe, China has built and delivered to its air force medium-range early warning aircraft KJ-500 with a roof-mounted disc-shaped radar antenna. With a fleet of nearly 20 aircraft, the KJ-500 is considered one of the weapons that help the Chinese Air Force maintain air superiority.

The KJ-500 is classified as a third-generation airborne early warning and control aircraft developed by the Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation in the late 2000s. Requirements for the KJ-500 including good detection ability, good identification ability, and quick responsiveness. The KJ-500 was also required to the core force of the informatized combat system, its equipped technology has four major characteristics which are networking, multi-functionality, high-integration and light weight.

Shaanxi KJ-500
Shaanxi KJ-500

Based on the Y-9, the KJ-500 is powered by four turboprop engines, with a maximum take-off weight of up to 77 tons – which is larger than the US C-130 transport aircraft. The KJ-500’s top speed is about 550 km/h and has a range of about 5,700 km depending on operating conditions. The KJ-500 is said to have joined the PLA Air Force in 2015 and has demonstrated extremely effective performance since then.

The aircraft carries a fixed dorsal radome containing three AESA radar arrays for 360 degree coverage. That dome also features a satellite communications antenna, as well as two passive electronic intelligence arrays. KJ-500 can carry out surveillance operations over both ground and sea-based targets. Air-based radar allows for better detection, and has enhanced abilities of distinguishing between friendly and hostile aircraft. The plane’s high altitude also makes it harder for enemies to spot.

The KJ-500 is considered to be the most effective weapon China has produced itself, capable of dealing with enemy stealth aircraft. Even international military experts said that, although the current early warning capability of the US is the best in the world, China is completely capable of catching up with the US in this field in the future. The continuous operation time of the KJ-500 is up to 12 hours, ensuring that even a small number of KJ-500s can cover important areas of China’s airspace 24 hours a day.

China once announced, the maximum detection range of KJ-500 is up to 470 km. However, with stealth aircraft, this range will be reduced, but it is not clear by how much. The biggest weakness of the current KJ-500 is that it has a small number. The PLA Air Force currently has less than 20 aircraft, and this is clearly not enough for Beijing. In the future, along with the strengthening of the air force, China will certainly produce more KJ-500s to meet the needs of the country’s growing Air Force.


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