A replica KJ-600 airborne early warning aircraft has been photographed sitting on a replica aircraft carrier deck, prompting Chinese military observers to link it to China's next generation of carriers using an electromagnetic catapult system.
The KJ-600 replica plus a replica J-15 carrier-based fighter jet were parked on a concrete carrier deck in a photo taken in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, Science and Technology Daily reported on Wednesday.
Chinese military fans speculated that the first KJ-600 will soon make its maiden flight.
The carrier-based fixed wing plane will likely be equipped with cutting-edge technologies including a phased radar array, Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times.
The carriers Liaoning and Type 001A rely on airborne early warning helicopters and an integrated radar system to detect enemies, the Beijing-based newspaper reported.
But these systems with their weaker warning capability risk exposing the carrier's position, the report said.
"Phased radar carried by an airborne early warning helicopter is limited in size," Song said. "The early warning distance, time and accuracy is thus limited."
An aircraft like the KJ-600 has a larger radar, flies higher than a helicopter and sees farther and more clearly.
An airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft can be deployed as a command center in the sky, gathering information and coordinating vessels into a stronger strike force, Song noted.
The KJ-600 will most likely fly with China's new carriers using electromagnetic catapults, Chinese military expert Lan Shunzheng told the Science and Technology Daily.
A fixed wing aircraft is too heavy for the ski jump takeoff on the Liaoning and Type 001A, Lan reportedly said.
The electromagnetic catapult is a valuable addition to a modern carrier as it can launch heavier aircraft like the KJ-600, Song said.
Using the new catapult, more jets can take off in a shorter time and boost the carrier's combat capabilities, he noted.