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Air Warfare

Chinese military jet engine production plans exposed

24th January 2020 - 10:45 GMT | by Gordon Arthur in Christchurch


Intriguing details about the production of Chinese aircraft jet engines for the next six years were exposed by a subsidiary of the Central Iron & Steel Research Institute (CISRI) in Hebei in a stock exchange filing last month. If the information is authentic, it casts significant light on Chinese plans for military aircraft production.

Given that this data from Hebei Cisri Dekai Technology Co Ltd, a subsidiary of CISRI, appeared in official stock exchange filings, it seems genuine. However, this also represents a serious breach of operational security from the notoriously secretive People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

CISRI describes itself thus: ‘For the last 60 years, CISRI is serving as an important R&D base and a leading provider of advanced materials and products in China. CISRI owns a broad spectrum of technical know-how and advanced products in various industrial fields such as functional materials, powder metallurgy materials, refractory metals, high temperature alloys and structural materials.’

Turning to the data unveiled, no more than five WS15 jet engines, which power the J-20 stealth fighter, will be produced annually from 2020-26. The data also listed a lower-end conservative production rate of three engines per annum if the target of five cannot be attained.

This will mean the J-20 will have to continue relying on WS10C engines in the near term, although by 2026 there could be up to 30 new engines available to power a trial batch of WS15-powered J-20s.

Initial J-20s used Russian Saturn AL-31F engines, but from the second batch onwards the Chinese fighter is using the indigenous WS10C. Possibly two batches of WS10C-powered J-20s could therefore be in service by the time the WS15 comes onstream.

In the filing document, the same production figures of five units yearly applied to WS19 engines, which are presumably destined for the FC-31 fighter.

Moving to larger aircraft, the WS18 engine is an indigenous powerplant for the H-6K bomber and Y-20 transport aircraft. Significantly, the filing revealed that R&D had run into serious difficulties, and progress is partially suspended while the company develops new materials and alloys for it. 

As a result, production is estimated at just five units per annum in 2020 and 2021, ten units each year in 2022-24 and 20 units each in 2025-26.

Clearly, these figures are insufficient to fit planned production of H-6K and Y-20 aircraft, so the PLA will remain reliant on D-30KP-2 low-bypass engines from Russia for the foreseeable future. Russia is known to have sold a total of 463 D-30 engines to China thus far.

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