The United States has decided to err on the side of caution by deploying its Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye carrier-capable tactical airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft to Japan to counter the nascent threat posed by China's low observable fighter jets scheduled to enter widespread service by the next decade.
The new A/N-APY-9 radar on the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is capable of detecting fighter-sized stealth jets typically optimized against high frequencies like Ka, Ku, X, C, and parts of the S-bands..
This means the E-2D can detect all enemy fifth-generation fighters such the Russian Sukhoi PAK FA; the Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang FC-31.
The U.S. Navy said its E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes will deploy to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in February. The Advanced Hawkeyes to be based in Japan previously operated from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) in support strikes on the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Deployment of the Advanced Hawkeyes is part of "a plan to put the most advanced and capable units forward in order to support the United States' commitment to the defense of Japan and the security and stability of the region," said the navy.
The E-2D's A/N-APY radar system has the power to "see smaller targets -- and more of them -- at a greater range, particularly in coastal regions and over land," said its maker, Lockheed Martin.
A 2014 report in the US Naval Institute News says the A/N-APY-equipped Hawkeyes might be the U.S. Navy's "secret weapon" against Chinese and Russian stealth jets and cruise missiles.
China was to have commissioned its first J-20s into active service with the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) in late December 2016.
Although billed by China as the equivalent of the Northrop Grumman F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the J-20 is nowhere near the F-35 in all-aspect stealth and capabilities. Some western experts argue the J-20 is only a "low observable" aircraft lacking in all-aspect stealth, the hallmark of a true stealth fighter.
Nevertheless, the J-20 in PLAAF frontline service will present a tremendous challenge for the Indian Air Force (IAF) whose indigenous stealth fighter program has yet to get off the ground.