China is expanding the special-mission versions of the Shaanxi Y-9 transport aircraft. Photographs of a KJ-500 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft with in-flight refueling (IFR) probe added, and of new electronic warfare versions, have appeared on the Chinese internet.
The KJ-500 was photographed departing Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation’s airfield in Hanzhong, Shaanxi, China. This is the first appearance of this aircraft with an IFR probe. It is not known if this aircraft is one of the eight new airframes that were photographed by satellite earlier this year. Currently, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) operates at least four KJ-500s, along with four KJ-2000 AEW aircraft based on the Il-76 airframe.
The KJ-500 has a three-sided active electronically scanned array radar, with a smaller power output than the AEW radar on the KJ-2000. The ability to conduct air-to-air refueling will enable the KJ-500 to perform longer sorties with other PLAAF composite forces. It will also provide persistent AEW overwatch for the Chinese Navy’s carrier fleet, which currently lacks a capable AEW platform.
The new electronic warfare versions of the Y-9 are unofficially known as the Gao Xin (GX)-11 and GX-12. The GX-11 that was photographed showed two large, side-facing arrays on both sides of the fuselage, one near the ramp door and another aft of the cockpit. Another satellite image showed the GX-12 with the rear array installed only on the starboard side but with other antennae installed around the aircraft.
Chinese military aviation analyst Andreas Rupprechet told AIN that the GX-11 variant could be designed to suppress enemy radar and communications, whereas the GX-12 could be an ELINT platform.