Yun-8J Skymaster Maritime Surveillance Aircraft
China purchased 6~8 Skymaster airborne surveillance radar systems from British electronics manufacturer Racal (now Thales) in the 1990s. These radar systems are fitted on the Shaanxi Y-8J turboprop aircraft for maritime surveillance and early warning missions. The PLA Navy is currently operating at least two Y-8J, which are deployed at Dachang naval air base near Shanghai.
The Racal Skymaster is the first modern airborne surveillance radar system purchased by the PLA. Building on its relation with the PLA through the 1980s sale of its Cymberline artillery radar, Racal sold 6~8 sets of its Skymaster radar systems to China for about US$66 million in the 1990s. First revealed in August 1996, this purchase came after a lengthy evaluation of contending airborne radar by the PLA. The smaller size of this radar and its attendant equipment make it very easy to be integrated onto China's Shaanxi Y-8 turboprop aircraft.
Although the Skymaster radar was sold under civilian name to assist China’s coastal anti-smuggling missions, by 2001 Internet-source image was appearing of the resulting Y-8J maritime surveillance aircraft operated by the PLA Navy to locate enemy targets for its Luda and Luhu class destroyers in naval exercises. At the aircraft’s normal cruising altitude, the Y-8J can have a 200-mile range, giving it a potential footprint 400 miles wide. The aircraft could also assist surface ships to locate enemy targets beyond the shipborne radar horizon, and vector offensive and defensive aircraft in combat.
So far only two Y-8J/Skymaster planes (serial number 9281 and 9301) have been spotted in active service. They are stationed at Dachang naval air base near Shanghai to support the operations of the PLA Navy East Sea Fleet. They are reported to have been chasing the U.S. Navy's aircraft carrier combat groups in the East China Sea.
The Y-8J is based on the Shaanxi Y-8C turboprop transport aircraft, which itself is a copy of the Soviet/Russian An-12 Cub. The aircraft has high-mounted wings with four turboprop engines mounted under the wings' leading edges. The original glassed-in nose on the Y-8 is replaced by a large radome to accommodate the radar antenna on the Y-8J. The tail cargo door and loading ramp are removed on the Y-8J. Like the Y-8C, the Y-8J is also fitted with a pressured cabin for its flight and mission crews.
The aircraft is powered by four Zhuzhou Wojiang-6 turboprop engines mounted on the wings, each rated at 4,250shp. The aircraft carries 22,910kg fuel in its internal tanks, with no external fuel tank available.
The Skymaster radar is an improved variant of the Racal Searchwater radar, which is fitted to the RAF Nimrod MR.2 and Sea King AEW.2 for AEW roles. The radar system is designed to detect air and surface targets in the sea, and vector friendly aircraft and ships. Accommodated in the aircraft’s nose radome, the I-band pulse Doppler radar has a detection range of 85km (look-down mode) or 110km (look-up mode). With its 360 degree coverage, the system is capable of detecting objects as small as submarine periscope within its range.
The radar system has two control stations, with one for detection and the other for interceptor guiding. The control stations are equipped with digital data processing, 40mm colour displays, and touch-screen controls. The system is capable of detecting enemy targets, identification of friend or foe (IFF), and coordinating intercepting routes.
The system utilises the Thorn EMI 32-bit microprocessor and distributed processing structure. Radar, inertial (INS) navigation, and other avionics are connected by the MIL1553B databus. The whole system is powered by an 8kW generator.
Flight crew: 3~4
Empty weight: 35,488kg
Normal take-off weight: 54,000kg
Maximum take-off weight: 61,000kg
Cruising speed: 550km/h
Maximum speed: 662km/h
Service ceiling: 10,400m
Max climb rate: 10m/s (sea level)
Range: Ferry range 5,620km
Flight endurance: 10.5 hours
Runway: Take-off 1,270m; landing 1,050m
Last update: 3 September 2007