China claims low RCS detection capabilities for new AEW platform
Reports have emerged that the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) new Xian Aircraft Corporation KJ-600 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft could be capable of detecting combat aircraft with a low Radar Cross Section (RCS) such as the US Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-22A RAPTOR fighter, Lockheed Martin F-35A/B/C LIGHTING fighters or Northrop Grumman B-2A SPIRIT strategic bombers. The KJ-600 is being developed to provide the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) with an aircraft carrier-capable AEW platform in a similar guise to the Northrop Grumman E-2 HAWKEYE family of AEW planes.
Little is known regarding the capabilities of the radar which equips the KJ-600, although it is thought to have an active electronically scanned array architecture. Local Chinese military analysts have been quoted in the media as saying that the radar could be capable of detecting targets with a low RCS. Although this is impossible to confirm, such claims may inadvertently reveal that the radar operates across an Ultra High Frequency (UHF: 300 megahertz to three gigahertz) waveband. Traditionally, such low comparatively low radar bands have retained some capability to detect such targets. While such radars might not retain sufficient resolution to provide a pinpoint location of the aircraft with the commensurate level of accuracy required to perform engagements with radar-guided surface-to-air or air-to-air missiles, such radars might be capable of isolating the section of the sky where a low RCS target might be flying.
A further clue as to the possible performance of the radar comes from the design of the KJ-600. A number of aviation commentators have discerned that the KJ-600 retains a strong physical similarity to its American E-2 series family counterpart. For example, the E-2D variant is outfitted with Lockheed Martin’s AN/APY-9 AEW radar which transmits in UHF. The performance of this radar against targets with a low RCS understandably remains largely unknown. However, the possibility that the radar equipping the KJ-600 might transmit across similarly low frequencies may have contributed to claims that the aircraft’s radar has detection capabilities vis-à-vis lox RCS targets.