Warplanes: China Develops An EA-6


June 23, 2009: China has developed an electronic warfare aircraft, similar to the U.S. EA-6B. This is apparently one reason for resuming production of the JF-7 fighter bomber, which was made possible by progress in manufacturing engines to power it. The JH-7 entered service a decade ago, although only about a hundred were built. Additional production was delayed because the aircraft was designed to use a British engine (the Spey 202), which was not supposed to be going to China after the 1989 embargo. But Rolls Royce, the manufacturer quietly continued exporting some engines, and technical assistance. China thought it could reverse-engineer this engine, but ran into more problems than they expected.

While China continues to have problems with manufacturing jet engines to Western standards, they now claim that their WS-9 engine is equal, in performance and reliability, to 1980s era Western engine technology, like the French M53-P2 (which is a somewhat simpler design compared to the contemporary U.S. F110 used in the F-16 and F-15.) The M53-P2 is used in the French 17 ton Mirage 2000, a contemporary of the 19 ton U.S. F-16.

The Chinese also appear to be developing an electronic warfare aircraft, similar to the U.S. EA-6B and EA-18G. For the last two years, JF-7s, carrying electronic warfare pods, have been spotted. No anti-radiation missiles have been seen, but that does not mean that JF-7s cannot, or have not already, been modified to carry, and tested using, such weapons.

The JH-7 is a 27 ton, twin engine aircraft, with a 40 foot wingspan. It is underpowered, and only has a five ton bomb load. But using new Chinese made smart bombs and air-to-ground missiles, the JH-7 becomes more useful. The JH-7 is used mainly by the Chinese navy. The aircraft has an operational radius of about 900 kilometers, enabling it to contribute to an attack on Taiwan, or a blockade of the islands ports. The JH7A could carry four KD-88 missiles. China wants to build another 150 JH-7s, as an improved version (JH-7A) with more powerful engines and better electronics.

The Chinese JH-7 electronic warfare aircraft would be similar to two U.S. models in service. Last year, the U.S. Navy received its first operational (as opposed to developmental) EA-18G ("Growler") electronic warfare aircraft. The current electronic warfare aircraft, the 27 ton EA-6Bs, are not expected to last much beyond 2015 (they entered service in 1971). They are being replaced by the 29 ton EA-18G. The older EA-6B carries a crew of four, while the highly automated EA-18G will have only two people on board. The F-18E costs $94 million each, but the more elaborately equipped  EA-18G goes for $105 million. The EA-18G carries up to five electronic warfare pods, plus two AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and two anti-radiation (HARM) missiles. It may be the last manned aircraft to handle the EW job. UAVs are becoming more capable, and will eventually take over this dangerous task.

 The navy will receive 52 EA-18Gs over the next four years, and another 30 after that (at the rate of about five a year). The U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps are planning on developing an electronic warfare version of the new F-35, or using a UAV.





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