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China Could Make 5th Gen Engines By 2021

by John Reed on June 29, 2011

China Defense Blog posted this interesting report on the future of Chinese figther engine production — something PLA officials publicly acknowledge is the major “bottleneck” in the development of China’s 21st Century fighters.

Basically, the report by China Sign Post says that China will be able to mass produce high-quality, “top-notch” fighter engines capable of powering a modern tacair fleet in five to ten years. That coincides nicely with the amount of time it will likely take to start mass producing its first wave of stealth fighters like the J-20.

Still, all of this is hampered by a decentralized engine manufacturing sector and even if Chinese fighter engine tech gets to the point where the U.S. engine sector was in the early 1990s, its engines will support its rise as a REGIONAL military power, not a superpower, according to the report.

But who knows, China may advance much quicker than that or it may hit some serious snags, as the reports authors point out:

This is one of the greatest aerospace engineering challenges, however, one that only a small handful of corporations worldwide have truly mastered. This should not be surprising: an engine is effectively an aircraft’s cardiovascular system; it can be transplanted but not easily modified. Unlike a human system, it can be designed and developed independently, but faces temperature, pressure, and G-force challenges that only the most advanced materials, properly machined and operated as an efficient system, can handle. While China has made progress in recent years with materials and fabrication, it appears to remain limited with respect to components and systems design, integration, and management—the keys to optimizing engine performance in practice—and to making logistical and operational plans at the force level based on reliable estimates thereof.  
Based on available open source evidence, Chinese progress in this critical area remains uneven and the whole remains “less than the some of the parts.” Given the overall capabilities inherent in China’s defense industrial base and the resources likely being applied to this problem, we expect that China will make significant strides, but barring major setbacks or loss of mission focus, it will take ~2–3 years before it achieves comprehensive capabilities commensurate with the aggregate inputs in this sector and ~5–10 years before it is able to consistently mass produce top-notch turbofan engines for a 5th generation-type fighter. When it does, however, the results will have profound strategic significance, as China will have entered an exclusive club of top producers in this area and eliminated one of the few remaining areas in which it relies on Russia technologically.


Some of the most interesting points raised by the analysis is the fact that Russia may be unable or unwilling to provide China with large numbers of quality jet engines due to the fact that the Kremlin is going to be undertaking a major military modernization of its own for which it will need high-performance fighter motors. Not only does this mean China will need its own engines to power its jets but also any that it intends to sell on the international market, according to the report.

Click through the jump to read the report and get it’s take on the status of China’s jet engine manufacturing ability.

China SignPost 39 China Tactical Aircraft Jet Engine Deep Dive 20110626

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