April 16, 2009: The Chinese 30th ECM (Electronic Countermeasures) Regiment, based near Shanghai, recently received a Y-8 transport, equipped to jam civilian and military communications. The Y-8 is similar to the U.S. C-130, and is used for maritime patrol, electronic warfare and AWACS. China only built about 80 Y-8s over the last 30 years, and sold some to Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Sudan. There is some effort to shift the ECM and AWACs work to Boeing 737s.
China has been developing its own AWACS for nine years, ever since the U.S. forced Israel to back off selling China the Phalcon AWACS (which used some American technology). China then bought some AWACS from Russia, while hustling to develop their own. The Chinese Air Force was not happy with its four IL-76 AWACS (A-50s from Russia, converted to use Chinese KJ2000 radar systems) and smaller systems carried in the Chinese made Y-8 aircraft. As a result, the Chinese have been outfitting a Boeing 737-800 airliner as an AWACS aircraft. There may be as many as three of the 737 AWACS. These work much better than the Y-8 or Il-76 versions.
The KJ2000 entered service two years ago. China has had to develop its own phased array radar for it. The Y-8 based KJ2000 carries a flight crew of five and a mission (AWACS) crew of about a dozen. The aircraft can stay airborne for about seven hours per sortie. The KJ2000 radar has a range of about 300 kilometers, and the computer systems are supposed to be able to handle 5-10 fighters at a time, and keep track of several dozen enemy targets.
The 60 ton propeller driven Y8 (which is based on the Russian An-12) and 157 ton Il-76 jet are considered less reliable, and more expensive to maintain, than the twin engine, 79 ton, Boeing 737-800. Chinese airlines (some of them controlled by the Chinese Air Force) have been using the 737-800 since 1999 (a year after this model entered service).
The 30th ECM Regiment has over a dozen electronic warfare aircraft, mostly for collecting transmissions by the electronic equipment of other countries. The U.S., Taiwan and Japan are favorite subjects. The regiment can't gather as much information as it would like, given the unreliability of the Y-8, and other Chinese made aircraft used.