Images Surface of What Could Be China’s New Rumored KJ-700 AEW&C Aircraft

China KJ-700
The rumored KJ-700 at an unidentified airport. (Image credit: X/Telegram/Weibo)

The new plane has a different nose section, a dome under the chin, a larger bulge on top of the radar disc and a larger side array on the rear side fuselage.

Pictures on social media seem to confirm the existence of the rumored Chinese KJ-700 AEW&C (Airborne Early Warning and Control) aircraft. Leading Chinese military aviation researcher Andreas Rupprecht posted an image on X on Jun. 17, 2024, identifying it as the KJ-500H, although he also added the aircraft didn’t look like a regular one.

Rupprecht later shared another split image comparing the photo with one of a KJ-500H already in service. The new plane has a different nose section, a dome under the chin, a larger bulge on top of the radar disc and a larger side array on the rear side fuselage.

In the further post to help shed more light on the first one, he attached a screenshot from another PLA observer, who said the mystery aircraft is the“brand-new KJ-700.” Rupprecht added that the aircraft “looks like an MLU (Mid-Life Upgrade) to transform the baseline KJ-500H AEW to a multi-role ISR type, others suggest this to be the rumored KJ-700”.

Other handles subsequently began sharing the image, identifying it as the KJ-700. Speaking to The Aviationist, Rupprecht said: “Officially nothing is confirmed but it is very likely real.” However, the possible new KJ-700 has already been photographed with two different paint schemes.

The first is the standard factory yellow primer paint scheme, while the other bears the gray livery commonly seen on many Chinese military aircraft. The latter also shows the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) insignia on the rear fuselage, below the vertical stabilizer. It is therefore unclear if there are two different prototypes, or if it could be the same aircraft following a paint job.

Capabilities

It would be pertinent to note that signs of the KJ-700 possibly being developed were seen last year. On Dec. 17, 2023 Rupprecht posted a satellite image of a land-based system carrying radar discs belonging to the KJ-300, KJ-700 and KJ-500. The ground tests implied China was developing its AEW&C fleet.

While no information is available on the new plane’s performance and capabilities, some informed guesses could be drawn. These are based on the general techno-tactical direction and nature of the ongoing war in Europe and China’s strategic confrontation with the United States in the Indo-Pacific.

As The Aviationist noted in a previous report pertaining to the Russian AEW&C planes, the A-100 and the A-50U, modern AEW&C has evolved beyond just detecting enemy planes and alerting and coordinating with friendly fighters. In fact, they are also expected to classify enemy radar emissions with basic EW/ELINT (Electronic Warfare/Electronic Intelligence) capabilities, track LO (Low Observable) fast maneuvering cruise missiles, incorporate inputs from satellites, detect stealth aircraft, coordinate with ground-based AD (Air Defenses) and trade information with friendly assets over data links.

These aircraft need modern microelectronics, processors, electronic circuits and new generation of softwares and algorithms for greater computing power. Given China’s general advancement in electronics and computer hardware manufacturing, it is conceivable the PLAAF will install these in its AWACS planes. The side-looking array, for an instance, could be a larger and powerful ESM (Electronic Support Measures) antenna.

Some posts speculate that the radar is a dual band capable AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array). Military dual band systems usually operate in the ‘S’ and ‘X’ bands.

Moreover, AEW&C aircraft might also be envisioned to perform secondary ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) missions with EO (Electro-Optical) systems. In China’s case, the primarily maritime theater of operations requires detecting surface vessels as well. It would be natural to look at platforms that provide a unified picture with various radar and optical surveillance inputs.

China’s AEW Aircraft Fleet

Rupprecht had previously given a broad overview of the diverse inventory of AEW aircraft in service with the PLA. One is the KJ-2000, the largest AEW&C platform, which is an indigenous variant of the Russian A-50 Mainstay by the Xi’an Aircraft Corporation (XAC) with a Type 88 radar installed. Reports also suggest Chinese planners are pursuing the KJ-3000 project, which involves a more modern radar with powerful electronics and processors mounted on the indigenously developed Y-20A transport strategic transport aircraft.

Another operational AEW platform is the Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation (SAC) Y-8J, based on the Y-8 turboprop transport and used by PLA naval aviation. Developed under Project 515 and first spotted near Shanghai in 2000, it features a British Skymaster surveillance radar housed in a prominent bulbous and partially drooped nose radome.

The Y-8W/KJ-200 is China’s second smallest tactical AEW&C type, after the Y-8J. The KJ-200 is based on the Category III airframe of the Y-8, which has a redesigned fuselage with a solid nose and a new tail section with the loading ramp removed.

The KJ-500, meanwhile, is based on the Y-9 airframe and is used by both the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and PLA Naval Aviation. The latest addition to the fleet is the KJ-600, a twin-turboprop carrier-borne AEW&C plane meant to operate from the Fujian aircraft carrier.

The carrier, with its EMALS (Electromagnetic Launch System), can launch and recover heavier aircraft like fixed-wingAEW&C. The Shandong and the Liaoning carriers however, which are in STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) configuration with a ski-jump, only operate rotary-wing AEW&C platforms.

About Parth Satam
Parth Satam's career spans a decade and a half between two dailies and two defense publications. He believes war, as a human activity, has causes and results that go far beyond which missile and jet flies the fastest. He therefore loves analyzing military affairs at their intersection with foreign policy, economics, technology, society and history. The body of his work spans the entire breadth from defense aerospace, tactics, military doctrine and theory, personnel issues, West Asian, Eurasian affairs, the energy sector and Space.