The PLA Naval Air Force (PLANAF) has deployed two KJ-500 AEW&C aircraft to Hainan Island in southern China, to provide C4ISR support for Chinese naval and air operations in the disputed South China Sea.
A DefenseNews.com report on Friday 12 May revealed exclusive satellite imagery obtained from DigitalGlobal showing two Shaanxi KJ-500 turboprop airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft on the ground at Jialaishi Air Base in the northern part of Hainan Island. The satellite image also shows a Shaanxi KJ-200 AEW&C and a Y-8X maritime patrol aircraft stationed nearby in the same air base.
The report suggested that the deployment is part of rotational deployment of special role aircraft detachments to the island, and the detachments were drawn from two PLANAF special-mission aircraft regiments based in northern China.
Developed by Shaanxi Aircraft Industry Corporation, the KJ-500 is China’s newest AEW&C system. The aircraft first entered service in 2014—15, with 6 examples delivered so far. The aircraft was based on the airframe of the Shaanxi Y-9, a medium-sized four-engine turboprop transport aircraft developed from the Y-8, a Chinese copy of the Russian An-12 ‘Cub’.
Before the KJ-200, China had already introduced three AEW&C aircraft designs, including the KJ-2000 and KJ-200 for the PLA, and the ZDK-03 for the export market. The KJ-500 features a radar system similar to that of the KJ-2000, with three electronically steered phased-array (ESA) radar modules placed in a triangular configuration inside the fixed round radome to provide a 360-degree coverage.
Out of the six KJ-500s that have been delivered, two are believed to be in service with the PLANAF, with the rest serving with the PLAAF. The KJ500’s deployment to Hainan will greatly enhance the PLA’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and battlespace management capabilities in the South China Sea region.