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China’s New Eyes in the Skies

by Greg on August 11, 2010

The well known, and controversial, Carlo Kopp from the Air Power Australia outfit has a new piece in The Diplomat looking at China’s first indigenous KJ-2000 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, which he says marks an important milestone in the PLA Air Force’s long march to a high-tech force.

The deployment of the first four of the AWACS aircraft fill an important gap in China’s air defenses, Kopp says. The KJ-2000 follows a number of abortive attempts to build an airborne command and control aircraft. The KJ-2000 AWACS uses an active phased array radar that is directly modeled on Israel’s A-50I and Elta Phalcon radar.

Kopp, who has a reputation as an alarmist who slants his coverage of issues to favor certain platforms (the F-22 Raptor), claims the Chinese aircraft employs radar technology that is two generations ahead of that on the U.S. Air Force’s E-3C AWACS. I’m not sure I buy that. I’d really like to hear from some of the knowledgeable folks out there who might have any insight on the KJ-2000.

There is no question China is building out a very capable reconnaissance strike battle network integrating air-defenses, surveillance satellites and long-range guided missiles. As my friend Jim Thomas at CSBA says, the U.S. may be entering a “post-power projection era.”

Yet, another way of looking at it is if China builds a tightly integrated air-defense network highly dependant on command and control from either ground or aircraft, then it may be setting up single-point vulnerabilities that would feature high on any targeting list. As Navy Under Secretary Bob Work said last week at his CSIS speech, future operations will aim to achieve “battle network superiority”; taking out the enemy’s networked command and control is a starting point.

– Greg Grant

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