China’s future Airwing aircraft carrier: new stealth fighter and AWACS spotted in flight

Several photos taken by local aircraft spotters surfaced today showing two key planes of China’s future aircraft carrier in flight: the People’s Liberation Army’s new twin-engine stealth fighter (PLANAF) (sometimes referred to as J- 35) and the KJ -600 early warning and control aircraft (AEW & C). These two aircraft should take off from the future Chinese aircraft carrier Type 003.

PLAN now has two of the STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) aircraft carriers in service. These use a springboard to launch the plane. This has its limitations: aircraft require a high thrust-to-weight ratio and their operational payload can be limited. China is currently building a third aircraft carrier near Shanghai: the Type-003 will be massive. It’s approximately comparable to the Ford class of the US Navy. It will be a CATOBAR design (takeoff assisted by catapult but recovery stopped). Thanks to its three EMALS (electromagnetic aircraft launching system) catapults, it will be able to launch the new aircraft spotted in flight today.

J-35 / J-XY Stealth Hunter

The aircraft appears to feature folding wings (to reduce bulk when stored on board the aircraft carrier) and a catapult launch bar (above the front wheel) for CATOBAR operations.

The official designation of China’s new twin-engine stealth fighter is not yet known. Most open sources call it “J-35” or “J-XY), some even call it a variant of the FC-31. A full-size model of the stealth aircraft first appeared in June this year in a land test facility: a full-scale model of a real Chinese navy aircraft carrier, located in Wuhan. Naval News” regular contributor HI Sutton covered the development at the time at length, highlighting the similarities between the aircraft and the FC-31.

The airframe meets new stealth aircraft design standards. Carefully aligned angles, a mix of sharp chines and mixed surfaces, and jagged edges to the panels. As it has developed since its first flight in 2013. Three prototypes have flown, the last in 2020 being considered closer to a production aircraft.
An internal weapon bay extends across the bottom of the fuselage much like the F-22. This can carry the medium-range air-to-air missile PL-15. Like the F-35, additional weapons can be transported to paypoints under the wings. These will increase the radar cross section of the aircraft so that they are not normally seen.

HI Sutton

KJ-600 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW & C)

Also spotted in flight (when, it is not known but the photos were released today) is the KJ-600. It is the Chinese analogue of the US Navy’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, and it is remarkably similar. The mock-up appeared on the concrete carrier deck in 2017. The prototype first flew in August or September 2020. Although the real thing is not the same as the mock-up, it is very close to it.

Not much is known about its sensor suite, but Henri kenhmann from the Eastpendulum blog, a very reliable source on the Chinese military, previously shared the following with us:

“As for the type of radar selected for the platform, rumors point to an active electronically scanned radar (AESA) mounted on a rotating disc. This would favor the “width” of the radar (and therefore the number of modules installed) the power and the range, to the detriment of the refresh rate if it were a fixed three-sided configuration (as is the case with the KJ-2000 and the ground AWACS KJ-500). A quick calculation shows that in the “back to back” configuration, the “width” of each radar face is approximately 15% greater than in the configuration with three fixed faces, but all this remains to be confirmed.

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