Sunday, October 18, 2009

Development of Chinese KJ-2000 AWACS

By Johnathan Weng

Chinese Air Force KJ-2000 AWACS just played a main role in the air parade in PRC’s 60th Anniversary day. China government also announces that it become the 4th country which can design and manufacture Airborne Warning and Control System behind U.S., Russia and Israel.

But before the October.1 2009, the development history of Chinese KJ-2000 AWACS is still uncover from the classified files. Fortunately, one Chinese state-run magazine newly published in this month makes an interview with one Chinese leading electronic expert to tell a story of KJ-2000.

Mr. Wang Xiaomo, the interviewee who has been engaging in the research and design of radar and made great contributions to the development of the Chinese military electronic industry. Here is the brief content of the interview.

Reporter: China began the KJ-1 (Air Warning-1) Project at the end of 1960s, why it was canceled. And when did China re-initiate the AWACS project later?

Wang: The KJ-1 Project was terminated because China could not solve the problem of Ground Clutter when airborne radar power-on. The failure of KJ-1 project tells that China must make technological breakthrough in “Ultra-Pure Spectrum Transmitter”, “High Performance Signal Processor” and “ultra-low sidelobe antenna” before develop AWACS. In 1970s, China has made great achievements in radar technologies and the boost of computer also brings a reality of producing high-performance digital processor.

Besides, several conflicts occurred since 1980s have display the supreme position of early warning aircraft. Under the background of international situation, China decided to develop or acquire AWACS since early 1990s.

Reporter: It must be an unusual and hard road.

Wang: Yes. Although preparations has been made for years, whether China has the ability to develop early warning aircraft is still argued in academic circle. In 1992, several Chinese Scientists and engineers provide a report to government for explaining China’s ability and determination in early warning aircraft development. The government at that time also organized one oversea visiting delegation (I am one member of it) to three countries: U.K., Russia and Israel.

The delegation later brought one sum-up: purchase from other countries for realizing operational ability as soon as possible. The delegation at that time believed that Israel early warning aircraft had excellent performance but was immature for advanced ARRAY radar technology. Meanwhile the Russia’s can not satisfy our demands. The delegation wanted to purchase UK’s “Nimrod”, but this project was canceled later.

Finally China determined to develop airborne early warning system by domestic power and simultaneously import related technologies from Israel.

In 1992, China and Israel made a primitive agreement to co-develop an airborne Early Warning system for PLA Air Force. After 4 years, both sides signed a official contract, which defined a cooperative AWACS design basing on IL-76 platform. Israel provided a modified Phalcon system mounting antennas either on the aircraft fuselage and nose dome. But we thought that this configure could only provide 360°coverage. Then Chinese side provided another plan to install an expanded over-fuselage stationary radar dome. This is the largest radar dome in the world. For this, China built the largest Autoclave in Asia for producing composite material radar dome.

Reporter: How about the later cooperation between China and Israel?

Wang: In 1999, the improvement of IL-76 has been finished in Russia and the plane was transferred to Israel for electronic installation. Under the pressure from United States, however, the contract was canceled. Israel finally paid us the penalty for breach of contract. The quit of Israel postpone the operational timeline of AEW&C aircrafts but speeded up the domestic development.

Reporter: What do we get from the cooperation with Israel?

Wang: 1. From Israel, China learned the T/R module and composite material radar dome production process specifications to control the quality.

2. Israel helped China to design radar structure basing on data bus network.

Reporter: When Israel canceled the project, did China have other choice?

Wang: Russia advised to jointly develop A-50 and even wanted to “lend” 4 A-50s to PLA Air Force before the joint development. Actually, Russian never believes China can produce indigenous AWE&C system.

When the “4.1″ mid-air collision between a United States Navy EP-3E and a PLA Navy J-8II interceptor fighter jet, China felt it had been in a hard international security situation. In normal condition, China would own AWE&C system in 10 years. And the military department could not wait for such a long time. So “AWE&C Made in China” did not acquire much supports.

But the top leader in Chinese government supports us. In 2002, the land testing sample aircraft was finished. In 2003, the prototype successfully finished its trial flight. In the last month of 2007, KJ-2000 entered service in PLA Air Force.

We spent only 5 years to manufacture China’s own AEW&C system.

Report: Did we meet other difficulties during the R & D?

Wang: 1: Electromagnetic compatibility design; 2: Software compatibility; 3: Battlefield Data Fusion via Datalink; 4: Scanning performance in mountain area; 5: We have no choices but IL-76 platform at that time. Russia don’t want sell China IL-76 after the birth of KJ-2000. But China develops some special AEW&C system, such as KJ-200, based on Y-8 aircraft.

Reporter: Please make an outlook of Chinese future AEW&C system

Wang: China has owned a complete and full family of AEW&C system. In future, AEW&C system made by Chinese will be very competitive in lower price. KJ-2000 costs billions of RMB and some new systems will only spend thousands or even millions of RMB.

Being a large country, China in future will need more AEW&C systems. We can develop lots of variants or upgraded version from present systems.

Besides, our next object is Conformal Array Airborne Phased Radar, however, which exceeds today data processing technologies. We believe that China’s Radar technology is on the same level with foreign countries. Who make breakthrough in new concept radar or other detection methods, who will leading the world.

Background: a brief introduction of WANG XIAOMO

Mr. Wang Xiaomo, a radar expert, was born in 1938. He graduated from Beijing Industry Institute (now named Beijing Institute of Technology, BIT) in 1961. He is now the executive vice president of China Academy of Electronics and Information Technology, as well as a tutor of Ph.D. students at BIT and a member of China Engineering Academy.

In the past thirty years, Mr. Wang Xiaomo has been engaging in the research and design of radar. He has made great contributions to the development of the Chinese military electronic industry. He designed many new types of radar by using the state of the art technologies. He has high attainments in the aspect of Three-dimension Radar and Low-attitude Radar, he is the founder of these types of radar in China. The JY-8 and JY-9 radar, designed and developed under his leadership, filled the gaps in the fields of radar technique in China. These radars not only broke through the traditional mode of design, put forward the development and manufacturing of radar into a new era, but also shortened the distance to the advanced world technology.


Great insights, thx for that!

finally pakistan can putchase these

awacs at better price, also help

in co production

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I love this. The entire interview could have been summed up thus
"Chinks could have an AWACs by now if someone had sold them one."

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