China discards Russian best engine from its Chengdu fighter

BEIJING ($1=7.17 Chinese Yuans) — China is making rapid progress in its national power plant development. There are still Chengdu fighters that are powered by foreign units. The single-engine Chengdu J-10 Vigorous Dragon is such. It uses the Russian Saturn AL-31 engine. This is probably the most popular Russian engine. It powers the Su-27, Su-30, Su-35, and Su-57 fighter jets, as well as the Sukhoi S-70B Okhotnik-B unmanned attack drone.

China Has Begun to Promote Its Own 4++ Generation Fighter for Export J-10C
Photo credit: Reddit

The Saturn AL-31 will no longer power the Chengdu J-10 Vigorous Dragon. China has developed its own WS-10B powerplant. This gave Beijing the reason to issue an order to eject the Russian engines from the Chinese fighter. Most interestingly, the WS-10B is likely to prove superior to its Russian competitor as China retires the AL-31 well before the end of its service life.

Even better news for the Chinese military is that as the WS-10B begins to be installed in the J-10, the J-11B twin-engine fighters will also receive a Chinese engine. Sources in China even claim that in January 2023, their installation in the J-11B will begin. From a tactical point of view, the installation of the new power plant in the J-11B is important, since this fighter during military operations overlaps the J-10, as its version but with a longer range.

The J-10 and J-11 are the beginning of a new era in Chinese military aircraft manufacturing. The two were consecutively presented in the distant 2005 and 2008. Today, despite the availability of more modern and capable fighters, such as the J-12 or even the Pakistani Jf-17, the J-10 and J-11 remain an integral part of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force inventory.

Pakistan showed J-10C with WS-10B thrust-vectoring engine and IR AAMs
Photo credit: Global Defense Corp

During the Cold War, China produced quite good turbojet engines for single-engine fighters. This changed after the end of the cold war when Russia and the USA sharply raised the quality of their production. But in recent years, with the development of the WS-10B, China has clearly entered a new era. This engine has been under development and testing for at least the last ten years. Over the years, it was first integrated as a test unit in the two Chinese fighter jets – J-10 and J-11. Even to be more specific the J-11 was the first fighter to receive the WS-10B years ago.

But the WS-10B served to develop the WS-10C, which powered the J-20 fifth-generation fighter and provided supercruise. Interestingly, in the beginning, the J-20 was also powered by the AL-31. Does this mean that even then the WS-10B was better than the Russian fighter? Most likely, but simply China needed more time to test its units under the WS-10 series.

The phasing out of Russian engines from the J-10 with the new Chinese WS-10B power plant will most likely cover all operational fighters. China has produced over 540 J-10 fighter jets, 25 of which have been sold to Pakistan.

Despite the scant information coming out of China, some sources claim that the new WS-10B engine requires less maintenance. They also give the fighter excellent performance and greater reliability than its Russian competitor. Phasing out the AL-31 from J-10 units will help standardize the fleet of J-10s, J-11s, newer J-16s, and J-15s based on the aircraft’s WS-10B variants.

Pakistan showed J-10C with WS-10B thrust-vectoring engine and IR AAMs
Photo credit:

Some sources in China claim that the J-10 fleet will undergo another engine-related modification. Rumor has it that by the end of the J-10’s life cycle, at some point the WS-10B will be uninstalled and replaced by the engine currently under development, the WS-15. This engine will also power the J-20 stealth fighter in the future. It is claimed to be the most powerful engine ever developed.


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