Photographs have recently appeared on Chinese Internet sites showing a Xian Y-7 transport aircraft that has been heavily modified to serve as a testbed for a carrier-borne airborne early warning and control (AEW) aircraft. These recent photos follow one that appeared in May 2011, which provided the first grainy visual evidence of development of a “Chinese Hawkeye” by Xian.
China has already developed two types of AEW aircraft for land-based use, the KJ-2000 based on the Il-76 and the KJ-200 based on the Shaanxi Y-8. The Kamov Ka-31 helicopter was acquired for shipboard use, while the Changhe Z-8 (Super Frelon) was also modified to Z-8Y standard with a retractable AEW radar antenna. Both helicopters are seen as interim solutions for the Navy’s first carrier, which has a ski-jump deck configuration that cannot support operations of large fixed-wing AEW aircraft. In early 2005, however, a model of such an aircraft was shown at the 603 Institute at Xian, the design resembling that of the Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye and Yakovlev Yak-44.
The latest photos to emerge show an AEW aircraft designated the JZY-01, on test with the China Flight Test Establishment at Xian-Yanliang. It is based on a Y-7 forward fuselage, but is fitted with new wings with greater span and mounting 5,100-shp Zhuzhou WJ-6C turboprops (driving six-blade JL-4 propellers) from the Shaanxi Y-9 transport aircraft program rather than the lower-powered WJ-5Es normally used by the Y-7. The JZY-01 mounts a rotodome on its back and features a new rear fuselage with four-fin tail surfaces. A rudder is fitted to each of the four fins, unlike on the Hawkeye, which has only three fins so equipped. It does not appear from the photos that the JZY-01’s wings can fold, and the aircraft does not seem to have mission equipment or arrester gear fitted.
Meanwhile, China’s first carrier, the former Varyag (‘16’, possibly named Liaoning), has just undertaken its ninth sea trial, and there are reports that a Shenyang J-15 fighter has undertaken some deck approaches, although there are as yet no reports of any landings or launches. Photos purporting to show a J-15 on the carrier’s deck are almost certainly of a mock-up used for deck handling trials. Two more carriers of indigenous design are believed to be under construction.