China has deployed its latest airborne early warning and control aircraft to an airbase within the disputed South China Sea islands, Defense News reported on Friday citing satellite imagery.
The March 24 photo captured by US-based DigitalGlobe showed that several Shaanxi KJ-500 and KJ-200 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) planes are at the Jialaishi Air Base in China’s Hainan islands, alongside a possible Y-8J or Y-8X maritime patrol airplane. This is the first instance that the cutting-edge KJ-500 would be stationed in the area.
The new KJ-500 is expected to replace the KJ-200, which is currently serving the Chinese military. It features a distinctive radar antenna over the fuselage and is equipped with a “dorsal radar dish mounting a phased array radar with three fixed arrays angled at 120 degrees relative to each other for all-around coverage.”
So far, only six KJ-500 aircraft are known to be operating under the Chinese military. Of which, four are with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force and the other two with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
The aircraft sent to Hainan come from two Air Force regiments and are tasked to carry out special missions. The detachments are usually made up of a combination of KJ-200 AEW&C with Y-8Js and Y-8Xs, and they tend to operate from Lingshui on the southeastern tip of Hainan.
But Lingshui is currently undergoing large-scale construction to improve its aircraft parking and dispersal facilities, which could have resulted to the detachment being temporarily located for the first time at Jialaishi.
Jialaishi is one of the three major bases of PLAN, which are usually home to three regiments of Shenyang J-11B Flanker fighters and a single regiment of Xi’an JH-7 fighter-bombers.