Surveillance Aircraft II

Ka-31 Helix

It was first rumored in early 2010 that PLAN acquired at least one Ka-31 AEW helicopter for evaluation. A total of 9 were reportedly to have been ordered and the first 2 were delivered by late 2010 . All 9 were delivered by mid-2011 (S/N 9284, 9294, 9304, 9314, 9324, 9334, 9344, 9354, 9364). The helicopters could be stationed onboard the aircraft carrier Liaoning. It could also be stationed onboard the Luyang I/II and Sovremenny class DDGs to provide AEW coverage for the current combat fleets. Based on Ka-27 ASW helicopter, Ka-31 features an E-801M solid-state early warning radar which can detect a fighter size target up to 150km away, and a surface ship up to 200km away. The radar is capable of tracking up to 40 targets simultaneously. When deployed the radar antenna is extended vertically downwards and starts rotating at 6 turns/min. When not in use the antenna is retracted horizontally upwards and stored under the helicopter's belly. Some specifications: crew 2 (pilot & navigator), length 12.5m, height 5.6m, width 3.8m, max TO weight 12,200kg, operating altitude 3,500m, cruising speed 100km/h, range 600km, mission endurance 2.5h. Ka-31 is thought to be a low-cost stop-gap measure until a fixed-wing AWACS enters the service. It was rumored that an indigenous datalink was installed but this has not been confirmed.
- Last Updated 4/24/14

Z-18J Bat

A PLAN Z-18J AEW helicopter just landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier Liaoning. The helicopter features a retractable radar antenna located behind a completely redesigned rear door. The radar is thought to be a long-range multi-mode AESA developed by the 38th Institute. Once the helicopter is in the air, the door opens and the rotating antenna is lowered vertically and can provide 360° coverage. The antenna is then retracted into the fuselage after the usage. The helicopter also has a redesigned nose similar to AC-313. A FLIR turret is mounted underneath the nose for night and poor weather operations. Additional antennas for MAWS and RWR are mounted on the nose and rear fuselage as well. A Z-18J prototype was first spotted near CHAIC in 2009. It has been developed to support the shipborne J-15 fighter onboard aircraft carriers such as Liaoning. As the result its rotor blades and tail boom can be folded to save parking space. However due to the limited payload and internal space of Z-18, its performance cannot match that of a fix-wing shipborne AWACS aircraft with a full C3I capability such as American E-2C. Therefore it is a stop-gap measure until a fix-wing AWACS aircraft based on Y-7 (see below) enters the service. The design of Z-18J appears similar to French AS-532 Horizon battlefield surveillance helicopter.
- Last Updated 2/24/14

ZDK-03/Y-8P Karakoram Eagle

ZDK-03 (Y-8P) is an export AWACS system being developed for the Pakistani Air Force. This project was initiated in the early 2000. A Y-8 AWACS testbed (S/N T0518/Y-8CE) based on Y-8 Category II Platform was first discovered at CFTE in early 2006. Unlike KJ-200, this variant carries a traditional rotodome above its fuselage, with a mechanically rotating antenna inside. The PESA radar is thought to scan electronically in elevation but mechanically in azimuth. Therefore the Y-8 AWACS was speculated to be developed for the export market only as it appears less advanced than KJ-200 which features a fixed AESA radar. However this design does provide a true 360° coverage and carry a cheaper price tag. The AEW radar may have been the product of the 38th Institute/CETC, but no details are available. The aircraft also features a solid nose and tail with MAWS sensors on both sides, as well as small vertical stabilizers attached to its tailplanes. Another two MAWS sensors are attached to the tailcone as well. Additional fairings are seen at the wingtips and the tail housing ESM antennas. The Y-8 AWACS prototype flew to Pakistan and was evaluated by Pakistani AF in 2006. After some negotiations a much improved design was developed based on PAF's specifications. The variant is now named ZDK-03/Y-8P (ZDK means CETC) and is based on the new Y-8 Category III Platform featuring WJ-6C turboprops with 6-blade high efficiency propellers. It was reported in early 2009 that a total of 4 were ordered by PAF in a $278m contract. The first ZDK-03 prototype rolled out in November 2010 at SAC. Since then it has been undergoing test at CFTE (S/N 733). ZDK-03 is expected to serve as the airborne command & control center for the JF-17 fighter fleet currently in service with PAF. However it does not have the secure NATO datalink installed to effectively command western fighter aircraft such as American F-16. Therefore ZDK-03 operates together with Saab-2000 in a "high-low" combination in order to coordinate various Chinese and western made combat aircraft effectively. The first ZDK-03 (S/N 11-001) was delivered to PAF in December 2011. The 2nd (S/N 11-002) was delivered some time later. The third ZDK-03 (12-003) was delivered in 2013.
- Last Updated 12/12/14

JC-8F Finback

A rare glimpse of JC-8F (JZ-8F/J-8FR) reconnaissance aircraft is shown here. Based on J-8F, this variant had been rumored for some time but was not confirmed until 2007. Unlike the earlier J-8R carrying an external camera pod, this dedicated recon aircraft features an internal camera compartment replacing the original twin 23mm gun compartment underneath the cockpit. However it still retains the capability of carrying PL-8 & PL-12 AAMs. Its range can be further extended via in-flight refueling. The fairing covering the cameras was seen having multiple windows of different sizes, suggesting the camera compartment has a modular design which can carry different types of cameras in different channels and angles. The optical camera may be based on KA-112A carried by J-8R and is expected to be more powerful and versatile. An IIR camera or synthetic aperture radar (SAR) may be installed so that the aircraft can fly missions at night or under poor weather conditions. Additional dorsal datalink antenna was installed in front of the vertical tailfin. JC-8F was initially powered by two WP-14A turbojets with increased thrust. However they appear to have been replaced later by WP-13BII engines due to reliability problems. JC-8F has entered limited service with PLAAF and PLAN since 2006 (S/N 20x7x, 31x7x, 70x4x, 83x5x), replacing the old J-8R. The aircraft was still in limited production in late 2012. One image suggested that JC-8F can also carry various ELINT, SIGINT and SAR pods externally (e.g. KZ900).  
- Last Updated 7/17/14

Tu-154M/D Careless

A number of Tu-154M/Ds (Type I/II) have been converted into ELINT aircraft. Their mission is to search, detect, locate and analyze radio signals of its neighboring countries and regions, even through they were initially disguised under the cover of the civilian China United Airline registration. While Type I was believed to carry a BM/KZ800 ELINT system, Type II features a canoe shaped fairing under the fuselage which was speculated to house an experimental synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to provide high-resolution ground mapping images, a capability similar to American E-8 J-STARS. Besides the SAR radar, the aircraft still retains some of the EW and ELINT equipment, as indicated by the semi-spherical fairings and other small antennas under the rear fuselage. So far there are at least 4 of these modified Tu-154M/Ds (B-4015, B-4024, B-4029 & B-4138). Type I first entered the service with PLAAF in 1995. Type II passed the flight test in 1996. Subsequently all Type Is were converted to Type IIs. The latest image (November 2013) from JASDF indicated that the aircraft has been conducting several ELINT missions in East China Sea near Japan.
- Last Updated 11/20/13


The next generation medium-sized AWACS prototype (KJ-500/High New 9?) is under development at SAC. Based on the Y-9 platform and some hardware of KJ-200, the original "balance beam" radar antenna was replaced by a fixed rotodome containing three AESA antennas arranged in a triangular configuration, a design similar to that of KJ-2000 in order to provide a full 360° coverage. The radar is still the product of the 38th Institute. Rotodomes of different shapes were evaluated onboard a Y-8CE radar testbed, and a circular dish shape was selected as the final configuration. It also has large nose and tail radomes which could house additional radar antennas to cover both forward and rear hemispheres. Similar to High New 8, it features two large rectangular bar shaped fairings housing ESM (?) antennas on both sides of the rear fuselage. Also similar to KJ-200, two ventral tailfins were installed to enhance stability during the flight. At least two KJ-500 prototypes (#737) were constructed by late 2013. KJ-500 is speculated to be in the same class of KJ-2000 in terms of AEW capability and is expected to replace KJ-200.
- Last Updated 12/15/14