In early July 2015 the Chinese government gave a lot of media coverage to the Y-8GX6 (also known as the Gaoxin-6), a new ASW (anti-submarine warfare)/maritime patrol aircraft that had just entered service. This comes after more than a decade of development and five years of flight testing. Gaoxin-6 is similar to the American P-3C maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft. Both aircraft are similar in shape and equipment. The first flight of a fully equipped Gaoxin-6 took place in 2012, and apparently there was a major effort to get this aircraft into service as soon as possible. Current plans appear to include production of at least fifty Gaoxin-6 aircraft.
China is playing catchup here, as the U.S. has been using these anti-submarine aircraft for sixty years. While Chinese massive espionage efforts of the last two decades may have obtained details of most American anti-submarine aircraft equipment, there’s no way to steal decades of experience. Another problem China will have is that when their anti-sub aircraft are actually put to use tracking American and other (especially Japanese and South Korean) submarines this will take place in international waters where the Gaoxin-6 can be followed and monitored by American intelligence collection aircraft and ships.
The Gaoxin-6 is a four engine turboprop aircraft that weighs sixty-one tons, has a thirty-eight meter (124.7 foot) wingspan, and a cruising speed of 660 kilometers an hour. Average endurance is eight hours per sortie. Crew size is usually ten and the Gaoxin can carry anti-ship missiles as well as anti-submarines weapons (depth charges and torpedoes). The Gaoxin can also provide information on surface ship targets to other aircraft and ships armed with anti-ship missiles.
The similar American P-3 is based on the Electra civilian airliner that first flew in 1954, although only one-hundred and seventy were built, plus six-hundred P-3s. About forty Electras and over two-hundred P-3s are still in service. There are about two-hundred P-3s and smaller anti-submarine aircraft in the western Pacific, and all are operated by nations that don’t get along well with China. Until the Gaoxin-6 shows up in large numbers, China will be at a major disadvantage in this department. Chinese subs will remain under constant surveillance by anti-submarine aircraft while China is largely restricted to using comparatively slow warships with equipment for finding and attacking subs. China has even fewer helicopters equipped to anti-submarine work.
The sixty-one ton P-3 has a thirty-two point two-five meter (one-hundred foot) wingspan and can stay in the air about ten hours per sortie. Cruise speed is 590 kilometers an hour. The P-3C is being replaced by the P-8A, which is based on the twin-engine Boeing 737 jet transport. Both the P-3C and the Gaoxin-6 carry radars and other sensors as well as a few tons of sonobuoys, depth charges, and torpedoes.