The military space sector of the People's Republic of China in recent years prefers to remain silent about its important technological achievements, even during major international exhibitions, where any innovations are usually presented with great fanfare. At the recent Paris Air Show, the China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC) did not announce any News about its most advanced 5th generation stealth fighter Chengdu J-20, limiting itself to showing its miniature model among many others at the company's booth in the showroom.
But shortly after the end of the Paris air show, a video emerged showing the J-20 making its first public flight, powered by a pair of new domestically built Woshan-15 (WS-15) engines built in Xi'an. This represents a major breakthrough, especially as the highly publicized new “adaptive engine” for the US F-35, which the Pentagon has invested about $4 billion in development, was so far from being ready that it is now only being discussed in relation to the end of the 2020s.
Bringing the WS-15 to a successful operational state is an important milestone for the Chinese aerospace industry. That the PLA now has an engine that delivers the range and payload performance the J-20 was designed for from the start makes the fighter more dangerous for the US and partner nations in the Pacific who could potentially face it in combat. The new engines provide a significant performance boost over the previous J-20 models, the Russian AL-31FN and the upgraded WS-10 variants built by Shenyang Liming Aircraft Engine Company.
- indicates the American military publication Breaking Defense.
According to military analysts, the development of its own designs of advanced jet engines for military aircraft for three decades was the most important factor that allowed China's aircraft industry to be considered "lagging behind" the world leaders. All these years, AVIC's military aviation programs have been forced to rely almost exclusively on jet engines manufactured and imported from Russia.
The J-20, like the previous generation J-10 fighter, developed by Chinese aircraft designers from Chengdu, was originally equipped with Russian engines. Having purchased the AL-31FN manufactured by the Saturn plant, the Chinese in the early 2010s realized that their future WS-15 would not be ready for the first serial batches of aircraft, and requested from Moscow a large number of reactive engines of the Al-41F series (“deep modernization” of the Al-31F power plant is currently used at the Su-35C, as well as in the first series of SU -57 of the 5th generation).
Moscow refused the Chinese, saying that the only way to get access to the design of the engine and Technology is to purchase an export model of the Su-35S. The negotiation process dragged on for years, and at the end of 2015, a deal to supply the PLA with 24 Su-35S aircraft worth over $2 billion was finalized. Under the same contract, “spare” engines were also supplied to China, the exact number of which was not reported. From statements made by Saturn representatives at the time, it followed that the Chinese had purchased "about eight spare engines for each aircraft."
But at the same time, China has invested a lot of effort and resources to promote its own production of aircraft engines to the forefront. As early as August 2016, it was announced that the various jet engine divisions within AVIC would be merged into a new independent entity, the AeroEngine Corporation of China (AECC), with a registered capital of $7,5 billion and a staff of 96 people. The development and release of WS-000 was just one of several ambitious projects.
Models of Chinese-made engines, which were equipped with various serial batches of J-20, gradually increased the aircraft's performance. The original WS-10 engine had a thrust of 7,5 tons, the improved thrust variant (WS-10B) is rated close to 9,0, and the WS-10C is rated at 9,5 or better—already considered sufficient for the J-20's super cruise capability. The thrust of the WS-15 Emei engine is believed to exceed 10 tons
- reports the Hong Kong edition of the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
However, the Chinese competitor of the Russian "Product 30" has not yet reached the stage of mass production, and Western experts have fair doubts about its reliability and a number of other parameters.
The WS-15 engines seen in photos so far do not appear to have the thrust vector control module that the J-20's performance requires. But, if you do not curtail the export to China of one of the most advanced 5- and 7-axis machines in the world, these and all other shortcomings will disappear over time.
Breaking Defense notes.