China's early warning aircraft steps out of secrecy

China's early warning aircraft steps out of secrecy

A winner of China's top science award has ended years of secrecy on a key type of surveillance aircraft mastered by China, exposing details of the domestic research and manufacture of "airborne early warning and control" systems.

Wang Xiaomo, 74, regarded as the father of AEWC in China, said the country had developed a complete AEWC aircraft series with its own technology, the People's Daily reported yesterday.

"We're confident of producing more advanced early warning planes with smaller sizes, lower costs, multiple functions and constantly updated models," the paper quoted Wang as saying.

Wang, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, won China's top science award earlier this month for his contribution to the construction of the country's air defense network over the past 30 years.

China began the development of its first AEWC aircraft, Kongjing-1, in the 1960s, but the project was suspended due to problems including ground clutter affecting radar performance.

The research resumed in the early 1990s in the wake of the worldwide transformation of militaries from labor-intensive to technology-intensive forces capable of joint operations in modern warfare.

After the Gulf War ended in 1991, China began to seek cooperation with other countries to build up the core technology of manufacturing AEWC aircraft. Wang was appointed chief designer on the China side.

However, partners suddenly stopped cooperating after interference from the United States, Wang said. Soon afterward, Wang, along with dozens of other military scientists, submitted a letter to the central government, asking to be allowed to continue the research. "The termination of the cooperation delayed China's use of the early warning plane, but accelerated our independent research and development," he said.

Hard toil followed for Wang and his team in the heat of the Gobi desert.

"The manufacture of the AEWC aircraft was a huge and complicated feat of engineering; any small mistake could have led to failure. Without joint efforts by thousands of researchers, we couldn't have done it," Wang said.

Military parade

China's AEWC aircraft made its first public appearance in 2009 when the long-range Kongjing-2000 and two other smaller Kongjing-200 aircraft were showcased at a military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the new China.

The Kongjing-2000 is China's first generation of military AEWC systems developed with its own technology. The plane was first deployed in around 2004 after decades of trade embargoes by Western countries and attempts to acquire a Russian-made equivalent.

Able to process comprehensive information and long-range detection through its high-tech radar, the Kongjing-2000 can track dozens of aerial targets and guide the army's fighters to intercept enemy aircraft far beyond their own detection range.