US influence doesn’t allow China to have its own fighter

The article was published in FlugRevue. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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BERLIN, (BM) – China’s aviation industry has a problem: it has two stealth fighters of its own, developed in-house, but the associated engine is still lacking. With the purchase of the Ukrainian company Motor Sitsch, the Chinese wanted to change that. But the deal failed.

It was almost exactly ten years ago that China shocked the West with a success story: In mid-January 2011, the Chengdu J-20 rose into the Middle Kingdom sky. The maiden flight of the first stealth fighter aircraft developed in China was a success. In October 2012, the Shenyang FC-31 was even followed by a second stealth fighter from China. Since then, there have been many myths about it, and it is supposed to serve as the basis for a carrier-supported fighter jet of the future. But at least the J-20 has long been ready for series production. According to Chinese press reports, around 90 copies are now in service.

Long arm of US doesn't allow China to have its own fighter
Photo credit: FlugRevue

China’s engine – a huge blow?

However, this success has one flaw: Russian engines power almost all J-20s built to date. According to the available sources, there is only a prototype with the Chinese WS-10B drive. On the other hand, all production jets are each equipped with two AL-31FN from NPO Saturn – with the same type of engine that powers the older Chengdu J-10. The development of its tailor-made engine, the WS-15, has lagged behind the aircraft itself for years. We recently heard that the WS-15 had to struggle with a severe loss of thrust as soon as it reached a critical operating temperature. According to reports, this loss should be around 25 percent. The WS-15 is also very prone to failure and not very reliable.

Ways out of addiction

China fears that it will not be able to solve the problem on its own adequately. Beijing can expect only a little help from the Russians – according to reports, Russia will sell further AL-31s, especially in modernized versions, if China purchases additional Sukhoi Su-35s in return. One does not want to give the Chinese technical development aid for free. China, therefore, extended its feelers to Ukraine. The traditional engine manufacturer Motor Sitsch is located there but has been in serious trouble since the Crimean crisis in 2014 because Russia’s conflict broke away by far the company’s most important market.

Motor Sitsch ‘to give back to the people’

Several Chinese investors, including Beijing Skyrizon Aviation, wanted to buy Motor Sitsch and use the Ukrainians’ technical know-how for their engine development. China Motor Sitsch had been keeping an eye on the development of its helicopters for years. Now the Ukrainian government has put a stop to the deal: Instead of ending up in Chinese hands, Motor Sitsch is nationalized. The company will be “returned to the Ukrainian people,” said Aleksey Danilov, head of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, last week. “Ukraine is in a state of war and cannot afford to leave the company on which Ukraine’s defense capability depends,” said Danilov.

A shadow from the USA

As it’s said, Ukrainians did not decide on their interest alone, but above all, due to pressure from Washington. Skyrizon has been on the Defense Ministry’s blacklist since mid-January, and other Chinese companies that the US government believes are relevant to China’s defense industry. The US, like Russia, fears that the sale of Motor Sitsch could give China’s engine development efforts a boost. “This problem is being watched very closely by all the major allied nations,” the magazine Breaking Defense quoted a Western intelligence source as saying. It is “not in our interest” if China can close “this rather significant gap” in its arms industry.

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