Chinese People’s Liberation Army has unveiled the latest iteration of KJ-500 airborne early warning and control system (AWACS) plane with a probe to allow aerial refueling.
The aircraft, with an aerial refuelling probe above the nose, was spotted in the background in a photograph published by China Military Online of the PLA. It was painted in yellow instead of naval gray, indicating that the aircraft is undergoing tests.
“The KJ-500 is equipped with early warning radar systems superior to those of the US. But it is based on the Y-9 medium-sized tactical transport aircraft, which has a limited operational radius and endurance compared to large, strategic transport aircraft. Aerial refueling can make up for this shortcoming,” Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told the Global Times on Monday.
In addition to the aerial refueling probe, the plane should have other upgrades that have not yet been revealed, Fu said.
The latest iteration of the aircraft can cover hundreds of kilometers, and command and control other friendly aircraft in the region. “It will become a capability amplifier that will enhance China’s monitoring over aerial and maritime targets in the South China Sea,” Fu remarked.
He said that the plane is expected to be in test service, as PLA troops likely have started training, and experimenting with its new capabilities.
Media reported last week that China's first aircraft carrier-based, fixed-wing early warning aircraft, reportedly called the KJ-600, successfully made its maiden flight in late August.