Chinese military issue websites indicate the Kongjing 500 (KJ-500) airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft has started to enter service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
While images of the KJ-500 in the PLAAF paint scheme first appeared in late 2014, the first image of one with an official serial number (30471), confirming its service entry, did not appear until 18 March.
First seen in early 2013, the KJ-500 is based on the Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation (SAC) Y-9 four-turboprop transport combined with a fixed phased-array radar developed by the Nanjing Research Institute of Electronic Technology (NRIET, or 14th Institute).
Chinese internet sources suggest that while the KJ-500 is smaller in size, electronic advances enable its radar to be as capable as NRIET’s fixed array for the KJ-2000 AEW&C system that is fitted to an Ilyushin Il-76 platform. In January 2013 Chinese television reported this radar could track 60 to 100 targets simultaneously out to 470 km.
The KJ-500 radar’s three arrays are apparently the same size and contained in a saucer-shaped dome with an apparent satellite communications antenna in the middle. Other imagery indicates SAC considered but rejected a teardrop-shaped dome that would have allowed for larger side-looking arrays. The KJ-500 also features two passive electronic intelligence arrays.
The KJ-500 apparently will succeed production of the KJ-200 AEW&C system, which uses a linear phased-array radar that is strikingly similar to the Saab Erieye radar but that allows only for a 240° field of view.
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