China converts 737s into military surveillance aircraft first

The Chinese Military Aviation blog last week posted a new photo showing a Boeing 737-300 as a military surveillance aircraft in the Chinese air force fleet.

Two questions: How did the People’s Liberation Army Air Force get a 737 surveillance aircraft three years before the US military, which has just started flying prototypes of the 737-based P-8A? And, not least, who is in trouble?

Richard Fisher, senior fellow for Asian Military Affairs at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, answered both questions for me this morning.

Fisher, it turns out, broke the story of the PLAAF 737s at the 2004 Zhuhai air show, as he browsed a promotional video playing at the Xian Aircraft exhibit booth.

“I noticed what looked like – Good God, is that a 737?” Fisher recalls.

He snapped a photo showing the 737 parked next to H-6 bombers on the flightline outside Xian’s factory. The airframe bore the familiar marks of surveillance aircraft, he says.

By the time Fisher returned home, images of two 737s operating as surveillance aircraft in the PLAAF fleet had appeared across the Internet. Modifying US-made airliners into military surveillance aircraft is illegal without a presidential-level waiver, which seems unlikely in China’s case.

Despite the photographic evidence, the US government apparently never sanctioned Xian or Chinese airlines, both of which remain a huge part of Boeing’s supply chain and order backlog, respectively, for civilian aircraft.

“Somehow our bureaucracy dropped the ball either for what they consider legitimate reasons, or,” says Fisher, “for reasons we’re not privy to, such as private lobbying from unnamed corporate forces who would not want sanctions placed on China which would have an impact on the sale of Boeing commercial aircraft.”


Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.

, , ,

31 Responses to China converts 737s into military surveillance aircraft first

  1. Tom 17 May, 2010 at 8:10 pm #

    I might be wrong, but if these are 737-300 aircraft, they have been out of production for over a decade. So, more than likely, these aircraft were former comercial aircraft. As such, I don’t think our government could do anything to the Chinese. Once the aircraft leaves US soil, it pretty much can be modified to do anything the owner wants, without our permission. Also, since they don’t have to follow FAA certification processes or USAF/USN requirements, of course they could get something flying faster than the P-8A. Their planes are not held to the same standard as ours.

  2. Stephen Trimble 17 May, 2010 at 8:19 pm #

    You’re correct about the 737-300s.

  3. JP Santiago 18 May, 2010 at 4:07 am #

    We’ve known about these two 737-300s for sometime. The 737s were purchased from Garuda Indonesia in 2000, and aren’t even surveillance aircraft- they serve in the airborne command post role. The two aircraft were registered as B-4052 (ex PK-GWI, MSN 24701/LN 1957) and B-4053 (ex PK-GWJ, MSN 24702/LN 1994) and were converted by Xian Aircraft Co. with a dorsal-mounted teardrop fairing ahead of the wings (presumably a SATCOM antenna) and two smaller ventral teardrop fairings for and aft of the wings that likely serve the specialized communications suite. The PLAAF 737s are operated by the 34th Air Division based in Beijing.

  4. sokala 18 May, 2010 at 4:12 am #

    You won’t believe how freaking hard it is to get the P-8A into the air for testing. It takes no less than 65 signatures in NAVAIR to just get the test procedure approved. Heaven help you if someone finds a typo as simple as a misplaced period on the day of the test – everything comes to stop and it takes days to fix so the test can go on. In China they would probably shoot the person who created a 65 person long signature routing. Ironically, I bet that order doesn’t take 65 people.

  5. aeroxavier 18 May, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    only the chinese flag was chinese

  6. Tim D-T 18 May, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    I agree with JP Santiago – just because it has some nice comm gear doesn’t make it a “surveillance aircraft”. I don’t see any belly pod, side blisters, etc. for something interesting like a radar. Might even just be specialized transport for the command elite, with the necessary communications connections.

  7. Stephen Trimble 18 May, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    Ok, fair points. The Chinese Military Aviation blog calls it a missile tracking aircraft, and it carries data links and telemetry equipment. So no sensors involved. And those kinds of equipment can be converted easily into a command and control aircraft.

  8. airplanejim 18 May, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    Stephen I normally respect your work but this article is really overboard. The US has no say over used 737-300′s and what can be done with them. The fact that the Chicoms can build/modify something faster than the US military should be no surprise to you. Having worked in miliary procurement it wasn’t news to me. Navair is one of the most bureaucratic organization in the government. And Fisher’s comment about Boeing is an unsubstantiated cheap shot that doesn’t warrant repeating.

  9. Brice Barrett 18 May, 2010 at 10:33 pm #

    Actually, I think this is particularly newsworthy given the Obama administration’s push for Export Control reform. While the government may have no enforcement claim under ITAR or EAR, reform doesn’t happen in a vaccum. The politics of a bird built in the Puget Sound running any kind of mission for the PLAAF could definitely inform the process.

  10. Stephen Trimble 20 May, 2010 at 7:30 pm #

    He Joe,

    It’s not a news article, and I think the discussion balances Fisher’s point of view nicely.

  11. kswap 31 May, 2010 at 7:53 am #

    gee, that explains why local Air force has to go up and see for themselves from time to time when there’s an inbound flight from China, and next year they are going to increase the air traffic up to 500 flights a week(between China), I guess everybody’s going to burn a lot of fuels, yep, this has been happening for the last 2 years. Maybe I am just a speculator with much suspensions, but the sorties are just as frequent as 30 years ago, which was a totally different time.

  12. Rasheeda Abdul 10 June, 2010 at 2:45 am #

    Nice design job! GA è anche la mia più grande guadagno. Tuttavia, non è un altro. grazie! molto utile sito!

  13. december 2013 rtg casino no deposit codes 11 August, 2013 at 5:25 am #

    I love it when folks get together and share ideas. Great blog, stick with it!

  14. nd rtg casino codes 12 August, 2013 at 3:32 am #

    It’s not my first time to visit this web site, i am visiting this website dailly and obtain nice facts from here everyday.

  15. twi lite horse trailers for sale in new york 1 September, 2013 at 3:48 am #

    Since the admin of this site is working, no question very rapidly it will be well-known, due to its quality contents.

  16. Jaunita 5 September, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you
    will be a great author. I will ensure that I bookmark your blog and will come back down the road.

    I want to encourage you to definitely continue your great posts, have a nice afternoon!

  17. link building list 2013 8 September, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter
    and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell
    to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell

  18. link building services company 9 September, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    Outstanding story there. What happened after?

  19. Rusty 20 September, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    A fascinating discussion is worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you should publish more about
    this subject matter, it may not be a taboo
    subject but usually folks don’t speak about these topics.
    To the next! Kind regards!!

  20. 25 September, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of any widgets I could add to my blog
    that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates. I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this
    for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with
    something like this. Please let me know if you run into anything.
    I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your
    new updates.

  21. Marisa 25 September, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    I love what you guys tend to be up too. This kind of clever work and exposure!
    Keep up the fantastic works guys I’ve included you guys to my

  22. Malorie 26 September, 2013 at 2:33 am #

    It’s going to be ending of mine day, but before end I am reading this fantastic post to improve my

  23. netent casino bonuses 28 September, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    Wow, this post is pleasant, my younger sister is analyzing such things, so I
    am going to tell her.

  24. netent casino slot 29 September, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    Unquestionably believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason seemed to be on
    the net the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely
    get irked while people think about worries that they plainly don’t know about.
    You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without
    having side effect , people could take a signal. Will
    probably be back to get more. Thanks

  25. Netenterprise Hawaii 2 October, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    There is certainly a great deal to learn about this subject.
    I really like all of the points you have made.

  26. Minda 4 October, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyhow, just wanted to say great blog!

  27. no deposit bonus casino codes blogs 5 October, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    Wow! In the end I got a web site from where I be capable of really take useful facts
    concerning my study and knowledge.

  28. Free No Deposit Casino Bonuses Usa Players 6 October, 2013 at 6:52 am #

    There is definately a lot to find out about this issue. I love all the points you made.

  29. casino no deposit bonus blog 7 October, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    magnificent publish, very informative. I wonder why the opposite
    experts of this sector do not understand this.
    You must continue your writing. I am sure, you have a great readers’ base already!

  30. prism no deposit bonus codes march 2013 9 October, 2013 at 12:01 am #

    Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It really useful & it helped me out a lot.
    I hope to give something back and help others like you
    aided me.

  31. slots of vegas no deposit bonus code 2013 10 October, 2013 at 7:15 am #

    What’s up to all, the contents existing at this site are really awesome
    for people experience, well, keep up the nice work fellows.

Leave a Reply