The People's Republic of China has acquired its first two modern AWACS (airborne warning and control system) aircraft and put them into service after more than 10 years of effort and blocked attempts.
The deal was signed with Russia in 2001 and had called for the first two aircraft to be delivered by the end of that year. Actual delivery of the planes comes over three years late.
The aircraft are based on the Russian Beriev A-50 Mainstay airframe that uses a Chinese-developed phased-array radar, housed in a static dome to provide 360 degree coverage. The Chinese radar system is believed to be equivalent to Russia's, with the capability to direct a dozen interceptor aircraft toward as many as 100 targets out to a range of 250 miles. Air-to-air refueling capability means the airplane can stay on station for as long as the crew can function.
Russia also recently announced its willingness to sell Beijing the Tu-22M3 Backfire bomber, which China would use to replace its aged Tu-16 Badger bombers. This deal reportedly would also include the Granit anti-ship cruise missile.
China had been trying to obtain AWACS aircraft since the 1990s. In 2000 Israel, which had been in serious talks with the People's Liberation Army Air Force to supply this technology, backed out under pressure from the US. Beijing had selected IAI to supply a Boeing 707-mounted Phalcon airborne radar system under a contract valued at some $250 million. Subsequently, Russia offered China a variant of the Beriev A-50 Mainstay, which also reportedly provides electronic-surveillance measures and can "hack" into enemy computer defenses.
Two more Chinese A-50 AWACS aircraft will be put in service in the near future.