30 June 2011

China SignPost™ (洞察中国) #39 Featured in Dave Majumdar, Defense News: “China Nears Jet Engine Breakthrough: Report”

Dave Majumdar, China Nears Jet Engine Breakthrough: Report,” Defense News, 30 June 2011.

In a paper released earlier this week, analysts at China Signpost argue that the Chinese are on the verge of making a breakthrough in jet engine technology, traditionally one of that nation’s weak points in developing modern fighters.

“We estimate that based on current knowledge and assuming no major setbacks or loss of mission focus, China will need 2-3 years before it achieves comprehensive capabilities commensurate with the aggregate inputs in the jet engine sector,” wrote authors Andrew Erickson, an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College, and Gabe Collins, a commodity and security specialist focused on China and Russia.

China Signpost is a newly created, U.S.-based online think tank that specializes in China.

Collins said via email that the Chinese are close to matching the performance of the F-15C’s Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-100 engine.

“They are really close on the PW-100-level engine technology,” Collins said. “But the devil is in the details, and until the Chinese aerospace industry masters milspec quality control processes, it will be very hard to produce enough consistently good engines to truly reduce China’s dependence on the Russians for high-performance tactical aircraft jet engines.”

The major weak points of the Chinese aircraft engine industry are in building turbine blades and standardizing processes, Collins said.

“Standardization and integration may be the one area in which the costs of China’s ad hoc, eclectic approach to strategic technology development truly manifest themselves,” he said.

It will take the Chinese five to 10 years to develop an engine that could power a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet comparable to the U.S. militarys F-22 Raptor or F-35 Lightning II, Collins said.

“The existence of the WS-15 program suggests that attaining the capability to manufacture an indigenous F119-class engine [which powers the F-22] to power the J-20 is a high priority,” he said. …

For details, see Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “Jet Engine Development in China: Indigenous high-performance turbofans are a final step toward fully independent fighter production,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 39 (26 June 2011).