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China anti-submarine Y-8Q Y-8GX6
Y-8Q in Color. www.top81.cn


The Y-8Q joins the mile-high sub-hunting club.

The Chinese Naval Air Force gets its first operational Y-8Q heavy submarine hunting aircraft, after several years of flight testing. Painted in the standard PLANAF grey as opposed to the bright yellow primer seen on the pair of prototypes, the Y-8Q will likely show up all around East Asian waters after the Chinese flight crews learn how to fully exploit the limits of their new technology.
China is making serious efforts to correct its longstanding deficiency in aerial Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), introducing the Shaanxi Y-8Q (also designated as the Y-8GX6) aircraft painted in the blue-gray People's Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) colors into operation. Previously, two Y-8Q prototypes had been flying for the past several years as part of a rigorous testing and training regimen. Until this month, China's only long-range aerial ASW capability came from three Harbin SH-5 seaplanes, which are nearly thirty years old.
The Y-8Q is designed to overcome Chinese ASW deficiencies that would cripple Chinese naval and civilian maritime activity in war. Some of its technology, at least on the surface, compares favorably to the U.S. P-3C Orion and P-8 Poseidon, and the Japanese P-1. The Y-8Q's most distinctive feature is its seven-meter-long Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) boom, which detects the magnetic signature of enemy submarines' metal hulls as the Y-8Q flies over them. Since MAD performance correlates to size, and it's seven-meter MAD boom is arguably the largest of its kind among airplanes, the PLAN would have a fine weapon for hunting otherwise stealthy submarines.

China anti-submarine Y-8Q Y-8GX6
Y-8Q MAD. escobar via Sinodefense Forum

The Y-8Q's MAD boom on its tail is possibly the largest one mounted on an aircraft. The MAD is located on a boom in order to minimize electromagnetic interference from the Y-8Q itself, as the MAD detects any magnetic signatures from the metallic hulls of submarines lurking beneath the waves.
The Y-8Q also has an electro-optical turret forward of its bomb bay, which has day, night and infrared cameras to hunt the heat signatures and wakes of small watercraft, unmanned vehicles, and submarines (especially snorkels and periscopes). Right under cockpit is a large radome that, in addition to detecting submarine periscopes and wakes, can provide targeting data via satellite link to Chinese aircraft and warships when the Y-8Q finds enemy warships. The Y-8Q can also drop a hundred sonobuoys to provide real time sonar coverage of seawater expanses.

China anti-submarine Y-8Q Y-8GX6
Y-8Q Packing. escobar via Sinodefense Forum

This photo gives us a good view of the Y-8Q's sensors, including the electro-optical turret (the white sphere forward of the bomb bays, similar in size and function to the one found on the Reaper drone), and the gray radome under the cockpit.

China anti-submarine sonobuoys SQ-5
SQ-5 Sonobuoys. Chinese Military Aviation

The Y-8Q can carry at least a hundred sonobuoys to provide blanket sensor coverage over a patch of ocean the size of Rhode Island. Other Chinese ASW platforms, like the Z-18 helicopter, also carry these sonobuoys.
The exact weapons capacity of the plane's internal bomb bay is not yet public, but one estimate is that the Y-8Q can carry probably over 10 tons. (By comparison, the Y-8 transport carries 20 tons of cargo.) Likely weapons loadouts include torpedoes like the Yu-7, sea mines and anti-ship missiles. The Y-8Q's large size and sensors could also allow it to be a command center for underwater unmanned vehicles (UUVs) like the Haiyan glider that would guard sectors of the ocean floor while the Y-8Q flies off elsewhere.

China Haiyan UUV glider
Haiyan UUV. China News

The Haiyan UUV is an underwater glider, which can dive under 1,500m below the ocean surface, for up to 30 days. These 70kg drones (or future militarized versions) could be deployed enmass by Y-8Qs to provide a quick but long-term sensor solution, in areas like the Taiwan Straits, against enemy submarines during war time.
Since the Y-8Q is extending Anti-Access/Area Denial operations underwater, it is almost a given that China is going to invest in future ASW methods. In the future, the Y-8Q may be equipped with more exotic technologies like LIDAR (which uses laser beams to penetrate water to detect objects), hard kill anti-torpedo systems, acoustic signals intelligence and radiation detection (identify radiation from nuclear reactors) that Chinese scientists are already beginning to research.

China anti-submarine ballistic missile
ASW Attack Missile. Navy Recognition

This long range anti-submarine rocket is a proposal by Poly Technologies, a Chinese industrial conglomerate, that was first unveiled in September 2014 at a South African arms show. The ASW rocket uses a heavy WS series artillery rocket to fire a light torpedo (possibly a 500kg Yu-7) over 100 km away at enemy submarines that have been detected by a sensor network. A Y-8Q could act as a command center for Chinese UUVs and long range anti-submarine rockets to effectively deny large areas of water to enemy submarines without placing Chinese submarines or warships in danger.
The Y-8Q will become a significant part of China's emerging ASW operations. Its 5,000km range, wide sensor and weapon range and massive payload will exponentially increase Chinese security against enemy submarines off its coasts and into the East and South China Seas. When combined with other ASW assets, such as underwater drones, missile launched torpedoes and sonar towing Type 056 corvettes and Type 54A Frigatte, it could make current and planned regional investment into submarines by China's neighbors more of a risky proposition.

China anti-submarine Y-8Q Y-8GX6
It's Also Great with Kids!. Andreas Rupprecht, from cgyx.com

The first Y-8Q, "731", also pulled duty as a babysitter for these Chinese toddlers during art class. While it would be highly unusual in either China or the USA to allow civilians such close access to a sensitive military prototype, its rather unlikely that these preschoolers would expose defense secrets with Crayon and paper.

By Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer.  Popular Science


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