18 September 2012

Engine Woes Could Ground China’s Stealth Armada

David Axe, Engine Woes Could Ground China’s Stealth Armada,” Danger Room, Wired, 18 September 2012.

China’s newest stealth fighter prototype is made in the People’s Republic and could pose a challenge to U.S. air power. But it’s got an Achilles’ heel: Its engines are Russian imports.

Without reliable, homemade motors, China’s planned stealth armada will continue relying on Russian-made engines that aren’t always adequate — and in any event can be withheld by a wary Moscow.

“China’s inability to domestically mass-produce modern high-performance jet engines at a consistently high-quality standard is an enduring Achilles’ heel of the Chinese military aerospace sector,” wrote Andrew Erickson, a Naval War College analyst. Erickson chalked up the engine gap to a lack of standardization, cooperation and quality control in Chinese industry. …

China is reportedly spending $1.5 billion developing the homegrown WS-15 engine — a rough analogue to the F119 fitted to U.S. F-22 stealth fighters — to power future versions of the J-20, at least. China will probably take a similar approach with the J-21…. The new fighter could make do with inadequate Russian engines until a more powerful motor can be invented in China.

But don’t hold your breath. Last year Erickson estimated it would be another five to 10 years before China’s inefficient aerospace firms could “consistently mass-produce top-notch turbofan engines” like the F119.

For the full text of the article cited here, 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) 39 (26 June 2011).

For further Chinese aeroengine analysis, see:

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “Is China About to Get Its Military Jet Engine Program Off the Ground?” China Real Time Report (中国事实报), Wall Street Journal, 14 May 2012.

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “A Chinese ‘Heart’ for Large Civilian and Military Aircraft: Strategic and commercial implications of China’s campaign to develop high-bypass turbofan jet engines,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国) 47 (19 September 2011).

For J-31/J-21/F60 analysis, see Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, “Double Vision: Making Sense of China’s Second ‘Stealth’ Fighter Prototype,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 18 September 2012.

For J-20 analysis, see Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “China’s New Project 718/J-20 Fighter: Development outlook and strategic implications,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国) 18 (17 January 2011).

For J-15 research, see:

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “China’s J-15 No Game Changer,” The Diplomat, 23 June 2011.

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “Flying Shark” Gaining Altitude: How might new J-15 strike fighter improve China’s maritime air warfare ability?,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 38 (7 June 2011).

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “The ‘Flying Shark’ Prepares to Roam the Seas: Strategic pros and cons of China’s aircraft carrier program,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 35 (18 May 2011).