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China may test Y-7 variant as carrier-based AEW aircraft

(People's Daily Online)

09:45, January 24, 2013

China is unlikely to use the KJ-2000 or KJ-200 as airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft on its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, due to weight, size, and other factors. The Liaoning needs a type of medium-sized AEW aircraft that do not occupy much space, military expert Du Wenlong said in an interview with China Central Television on Jan. 19.

Another military expert Li Li said that an AEW variant of the Xian Y-7 is probably being tested for use as AEW aircraft on the Liaoning, but it still faces problems concerning wing folding and hangar capacity.

Du said that the existing KJ-2000 or KJ-200 is not the suitable AEW aircraft for the Liaoning. Carrier-based AEW aircraft must features light weight and small size, while the two models of AEW aircraft are too heavy. The KJ-2000 weighs more than 100 tons. The KJ-200 weighs dozens of tons, and has a relatively big size. Carrier-based AEW aircraft should have a small size, and occupy small space because every inch of space on an aircraft carrier is extremely valuable. The Liaoning needs a type of medium-sized AEW aircraft which can combat in coordination with the J-15 or the next-generation carrier-based aircraft, so as to form a sound maritime attacking and defense system.

Will the Y-7 variant be used as AEW aircraft on the Liaoning? Li explained that the Y-7 weighs over 20 tons, and meets the first criterion for carrier-based AEW aircraft. However, some other basic factors also deserve attention. The variant must have folding wings to become carrier-based AEW aircraft, but it is difficult to convert the Y-7's conventional wings into folding wings. Furthermore, the variant must be small enough to fit into the Liaoning's hangar, but the Y-7 has a higher height than most other domestic fighter planes. China is probably doing related tests, and can try to solve problems concerning the catapult. If these problems are solved, the size of AEW aircraft will not be a bother anymore.

Du said that the Liaoning is carrying out training to use helicopters as AEW aircraft for the moment, and it is hard to say whether it will continue like this. It is acceptable if China uses AEW helicopters on the Liaoning to combat in coordination with other carrier-based fighter planes, but carrier-based AEW aircraft had better be fixed-wing, so the scope, height, and accuracy of surveillance will meet the military's requirements.

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