China’s Navy Deploys its Only Two Most Modern AEW&C Planes to Hainan for Spy Missions over South China Sea
The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has apparently begun preparations for the permanent deployment of its newest airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft -- the Shaanxi HJ-500 -- to Hainan Island for patrols over the South China Sea.
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Hainan is also the location of Yulin Naval Base, headquarters of PLAN's South Sea Fleet. China's only operational aircraft carrier, CNS Liaoning (CV-16), is assigned to the South Sea Fleet. The former commanding officer of the South Sea Fleet, Admiral Shen Jinlong, is now PLAN Commander.
The HJ-500 is the naval version of the KJ-500, which is operated exclusively by the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). PLAN was known to operate two HJ-500s in 2015 and that number has probably remained the same since Shaanxi Aircraft Company, which builds the turboprop aircraft, built only six more KJ-500s until this January.
Satellite photos made public by commercial satellite imagery company DigitalGlobe shows what appears to be PLAN's only two HJ-500s with their distinctive rotodomes at Jialaishi Air Base in the northern part of Hainan.
Jialaishi is one of seven air bases belonging to the People's Liberation Army Naval Air Force (PLANAF), the air force of the PLAN. Three of these PLAN air bases are on Hainan.
This is the first time the HJ-500 has been deployed to Hainan. These aircraft now operate as part of two special-mission aircraft regiments of the PLAN based in northern China.
Their move to Jiailaishi probably means they'll be permanently based on Hainan to conduct missions over the South China Sea and nearby waters, and to support long-range patrols to the Western Pacific.
Two other Y-8 aircraft (an older KJ-200 AEW&C, and a Y-8J or Y-8X maritime patrol aircraft) can be seen parked alongside the HJ-500s.
The three PLANAF air bases on Hainan house three regiments of Shenyang J-11B air superiority fighters and a single regiment of Xi'an JH-7 fighter-bombers. These fighters have intercepted a number of U.S. military flights operating in international airspace close to Hainan.