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China assessing improved KJ-200 special mission aircraft

China's new KJ-200B special mission aircraft has several new or improved systems, compared with the earlier generation of KJ-200 AEW&C aircraft. (Janes/Akhil Kadidal)

A new version of the Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation (SAIC) KJ-200 ‘Moth' airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft is undertaking flight trials for potential induction by the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA).

In January 2023, images on Chinese social media showed the aircraft in low-observable, light grey operational colours.

Janes reported that the prototype was first seen in satellite imagery of the China Flight Test Establishment (CFTE) at Xian-Yanliang Airbase in December 2017. At the time, the aircraft had a yellow primer paint scheme that is commonly seen on aircraft undertaking trials. An image that appeared on Chinese social media in February 2022 suggested that the aircraft (which has been designated as KJ-200B), was being prepared for delivery last year. The most recent image shows the aircraft in flight. However, in the low-resolution photograph, the aircraft does not appear to have the emblem of the PLA.

Earlier variants of the KJ-200 have been in service with the PLA since 2007 as AEW&C aircraft. However, Janes assesses that the emergence of the SAIC KJ-500 and Xi'an Aircraft Industry Corporation (XAC)KJ-2000 Mainring platforms has diminished the value of the KJ-200 in this role.

The US Air Force's China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI) has published data that suggests that the aircraft is equipped with ‘traditional' line-of-sight radio communications. According to Janes data, the KJ-200's primary active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar operates in the E-band frequency. The system has a coverage of 240°. In contrast, the KJ-500's 3.2 GHz AESA radar has 360° coverage.

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