06 December 2012

“The Long Pole in the Tent”: China’s Military Jet Engines

Andrew S. Erickson and Gabriel B. Collins, “The ‘Long Pole in the Tent’: China’s Military Jet Engines,” The Diplomat, 7 December 2012.

Much has been made of Beijing’s growing military might. Developing and producing high-performance jet engines could be the toughest — but most rewarding — advance.

The PLA Navy surprised many foreign observers yet again when an indigenously-produced J-15 fighter became the first known fixed wing aircraft to take off from and land on the aircraft carrier Liaoning since its refitting and commissioning. Yet a critical question remains unanswered: how rapidly and to what extent will the J-15 and other Chinese military aircraft be powered by indigenous engines?

As in so many other areas, China’s overall development and production of military aircraft is advancing rapidly. Yet, as with a tent, it is the “long pole” that is essential to function and undergirds performance. In the case of aircraft, the most critical and difficult-to-produce component—the “long pole”—is the engine. Given the wide array of market-tested alternatives, nobody will buy a unit in which this central component is flawed. Hence, China’s currently significant efforts to make progress there, the outcome and impact of which remains uncertain. … … …

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).

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).