2006 June 3, China government unusually declared that a “military transport plane” crashed in east China’s Anhui province. 24 hours later, Chinese President Hu Jintao expressed deep condolences over the death of 40 people in the crash. From some Chinese sources, it can be discovered that the so-called “transport plane” was probably an AEW (Airborne Early Warning) plane based on Y-8 transport plane airframe. Now, China has been developing a great electronic warfare plane family from Y-8. The crash accident just shows the tip of the iceberg.
Y-8 AEW with Array-Phased Antenna (KJ-200 or Gaoxin-5)
The bad luck one in the crash tragedy is Y-8 AEW with Array-Phased Antenna and here was defined as Y-8 AEW 1. Shanxi Aircraft Industry (SAI) provided two Y-8 AEW 1 planes with different airframes. One is yellow color painting airframe (detailed description below), the other is Y-8F-200 (blue-white painting). According to resources, The Array phased antenna on the yellow one has three parts: convex dome under the nose, cube dome installed above the top fuselage and cone-shaped dome on the tail. Besides, a thin cylinder antenna is seen on the nose tip for electronic data gathering and a satellite antenna on the vertical tip for communication. Comparing with original Y-8F-200, the yellow Y-8 AEW’s propeller turns to be JL-4 6-blade which is going to be used in Y-9 transport aircraft. The Y-8F-200 AEW is different in nose shape, propeller blade number, and cargo ramp/door with its brother.
Y-8 AEW with Rotational Antenna
Y-8 AEW with Rotational Antenna here is named as Y-8 AEW 2. Y-8 AEW 2 appeared in May 2006. The Y-8 AEW 2 radar looks like having a rotational antenna, like A-50 and E-3, bigger than E-2’s. The aircraft nose was shorter and improved from usual glass-fared nose, seems like Y-8F400 or Y-8-X, however, the engine are not changed. A canoe shaped dome like E-8’s array-phased antenna and is located between the front and rear landing gears. The tips of horizontal tail were separately added small vertical tails, which obviously for the flight stability after the installation of new radar antenna.
Y-8 for electronic counter-measures (ECM) (Gaoxin-1)
Y-8 for electronic counter-measures (ECM) uses a traditional Y-8C airframe. Between the nose gear and main gear, a large canoe shaped structure can be found. This structure is similar to the domes installed on Y-8 AEW 2 and former PLA’s Tu-154M/D electronic intelligence aircraft (the one registered number B-4138). The B-4138 Tu-154M/D was equipped a SAR under the canoe dome. However, the devices in Y-8 AEW 2 and Y-8 ECM are still unknown. Besides those outside characters, you can found several blade antennas on the position of cargo door.
Y-8 with electronic intelligence (ELINT) system (Gaoxin-2)
A columned antenna dome , which is larger than normal Y-8C, is under ELINT Y-8’s nose, which looks like a copyist of EP-3E’s OE -319 “Big Eye” surveillance radar. It is said that the project of ELINT Y-8 has a surreptitious relation with the EB-3’s forced landing on Lingshui Airport, Hainan Province. It is interesting that a closely similar antenna with yellow color Y-8 AEW 1 is also seen on ELINT Y-8’s nose. And their function perhaps same to gathering information. On the root of vertical tail, there is satellite communication antenna. Just atop on cockpit, there is another antenna dome which is perhaps a datalink device. In order to keep a better condition for the crew and devices, the cargo door was sealed. Now there are 2 ELINT Y-8 (No. 9352 and 9361) in PLA Navy Northern Fleet.
Y-8 with C3I (Communications, Command, Control and Intelligence) system (Gaoxin-3)
The C3I Y-8 has a great improved Y-8C airframe and the varieties include: a thinner and longer fuselage, sealed cargo door, a large satellite antenna on the back, some blade antenna for electronic intelligence reconnaissance. The C3I Y-8 probably completed its trial flight test in July or October 2004 and now is still in testing in CFTE.
Y-8 with Battlefield Surveillance System (Gaoxin-4)
This type of Y-8 is disclosed with Y-8 AEW 1 at same time just because of an unintentionally revealed video of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s Visiting on Shanxi Aircraft Industry. Jane’s has reported Shanxi Aircraft Industry is developing a Y-8 outfitted with two large electronic array on both sides just behind the cockpit. Jane’s reported that the arrays have possible functions such as ECM, battle signal surveillance and SAR missions. The tip of vertical tail has similar cylinder antenna dome with Y-8 AEW 1. Jane’s said this Y-8 use new empennage and Y-8F600 nose structure. Actually, the new fuselage is a new platform for special purposes. April 15, 2005, Shanxi Aircraft Industry declared a new significant project called as “The Third Type Platform” had been finished. SAI said that the new platform “provide high performance airframe to produce special purposing aircraft and leads a brighter future of Y-8 family.” Now it can be judged that newest Y-8 AEW-1 and Y-8 with Battle Surveillance System use this new platform.
Y-8 for marine guarding (Y-8J)
Y-8J’s project code name was “515” and it is a beginning of PLA navy to have a primary Early Warning ability. Y-8J’s most remarkable character is its big nose, where purchased British electronics manufacturer Racal’s Skymaster Radar is installed. Skymaster Radar provides air and naval surveillance in 360 degrees in azimuth. The radar also let PLA Navy have capability to detect small target and operate anti-submarine watch. Some resources even said that it can provide middle-term guidance for anti-ship missiles. PLA imported about 8 Skymaster Radars and the number of Y-8J is limited. Besides, the performance of Skymaster now can not match today’s demand. Most of Y-8Js are in PLA Northern Fleet naval aviation Independence First Regiment (Laiyang Airport, Yantai, Shandong Province).
Y-8X Marine Patrol plane
Y-8X was the oldest electronic reconnaissance and search airplane in Y-8 family. From the type name, Y-8X is easily confounded with Y-8-X, SAI’s new transportation aircraft project in 2002. In 1984, first Y-8X entered service in PLA Naval Aviation. Y-8X inherit main frame of prototype Y-8 and was equipped with new electronic devices. Y-8X have a purchased AN/APS-504 search radar below the nose and the radar dome later become a typical feature of most Y-8 electronic variants. In the rear part of middle fuselage, 2 photo reconnaissance pods were on both sides. On the cargo door, there are infrared camera, infrared submarine searching instrument and sonobuoy launcher. Near the tail of Y-8X, a vertical photographing pod was installed. And the tail gun was modified to a chamber for sonar operator. From March to June in 1986, A Y-8X flow 5 sorties to South China Sea and got significant information. Now there are 4 Y-8X (No. 9261, 9271, 9281 and 9291) in PLA Naval Aviation Forces.
079 Y-8 Radar Testing Platform
079 Y-8 Radar and Electronic Devices Testing Platform was developed by CFTE in the middle of 1990s and was successfully finished its trial flight test in August 1999. The 079 Y-8 uses Y-8C’s body and expands the nose space for radar system. At beginning, 079 Y-8 had a cylinder dome on its nose, which made it be twin with Y-8J. In 2004, some new photos perhaps taken in manchuria showed that 079 Y-8 change the nose to a cone-shape dome for the China’s J-11B’s Type 1473 fire control radar testing. One of these photos also displayed the 079 Y-8 had one 6-blade FWJ-6C Turbine propeller, which will be used in Y-8F600 and Y-9.