China's first carrier-based early warning plane continues flight tests: report
Published: Feb 22, 2021 05:57 PM

A future aircraft carrier function demonstration model is on display at the newly renovated and expanded Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution in Beijing on Sunday. Photo: Liu Xuanzun/GT

China's first domestically developed fixed-wing early warning aircraft capable of taking off and landing on aircraft carriers recently conducted another successful flight test, state media revealed for the first time on Sunday, and Chinese military experts said they expect the plane to operate on large aircraft carriers equipped with catapults.

The KJ-600 carrier-based early warning aircraft made a successful test flight in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, on January 27, the China Central Television (CCTV) reported.

Local residents on the ground were able to take pictures of the KJ-600 during its flight, CCTV reported.

It is a medium-sized early warning aircraft with two engines similar to the US' E-2 Hawkeye series, said Song Xinzhi, a Chinese military expert, in the CCTV program.

When asked by a CCTV anchor if the KJ-600 can operate on China's current aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, Song denied the possibility, saying that the two carriers use ski-jump ramps to assist takeoffs by aircraft, but this requires very powerful engines to provide enough thrust, and the KJ-600 has not been equipped with these engines.

Even the US' E-2 Hawkeye can only operate on large aircraft carriers that use catapults to assist takeoffs, 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, Song explained.

This means the KJ-600 is designed to also operate on a large aircraft carrier equipped with catapults, Song predicted.

Chinese and foreign media have speculated for years that China's third aircraft carrier, which is under construction in Shanghai, will feature electromagnetic catapults.

It remains theoretically possible for a fixed-wing early warning aircraft to take off and land on an aircraft carrier without catapults, but this would likely force the aircraft to use less fuel to reduce weight, giving it less range and endurance, a military expert who asked to remain anonymous told the Global Times on Monday. "The question is, is it worth it?"

Also, when China's catapult-equipped carriers operate together with ski-jump ramp-equipped carriers, there will be no need for the latter ones to use the KJ-600, the expert said.

Previous reports indicate that the KJ-600 made its maiden flight in August 2020.

Wang Ya'nan, chief editor of Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times at the time that China's aircraft carriers currently rely on early warning helicopters for early warning missions, but fixed-wing early warning planes can cover much longer distances and are more effective.