The Chinese J-20 fighter flew with a domestic engine

The maker of the J-20, China’s most advanced fighter jet, revealed that it recently broke records in terms of aircraft delivery due to high demand, with experts saying on Sunday that the J-20 has entered a mass production phase after it solved the last missing piece of the puzzle, the domestically developed WS-10 engine.

Since the start of the fourth quarter, Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Group Co Ltd under the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China has been facing challenging research and development, production and delivery missions, as multiple users were waiting to receive delivery of many aircraft, the company said in a statement released over the weekend on its social media account.

In this period, the company completed several key test flight missions, and indexes related to aircraft delivery have broken record highs, the statement said.

Out of nine photos attached to the statement, seven depict test flights of the J-20, one shows a test flight of the J-10, and one shows the work of staff members.

This could be an indication that the production of the J-20 is being ramped up, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, reported the Global Times.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force displayed J-20s equipped with domestically developed engines at Airshow China 2021.

The switch to domestically made WS-10 engines from imported ones has made mass production possible, Fu said, noting that other systems on the J-20, including the avionics system, radar system and weapons systems, were already domestically developed.

Now that there is no limitation caused by the import of engines, and the homemade WS-10 engine has been tested on other aircraft like the J-10, J-11 and J-16, the J-20 is in a position to start mass production, Fu said.

WS-10 Engine

China first flew the twin-engine aircraft in 2011. It was initially powered by the WS-10B, a variant of the WS-10 engine, as a stop-gap measure. The aircraft then entered production in late 2015, fitted with the Russian Saturn AL-31F engine. 

In January, South China Morning Post reported that the country would start replacing the aircraft’s Russian engine with the WS-10C engine. The outlet also revealed that though the government has decided to use the indigenous engine, it remains a temporary choice for the aircraft.

WS-15 Unsatisfactory Performance

Referring to the engine initially planned to replace the Russian variant, the paper quoted a military source as saying, “The use of WS-10C to replace Russian engines was caused by the failure of WS-15 to pass its final evaluation in 2019.”

“The air force is not happy with the final results [of WS-15], demanding that engine technicians modify it until it meets all standards,” the source said, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He added that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF) long-term goal is to have an engine “matching the F119 engine used by the American F-22 Raptor.”

Russian Pressure to Purchase Su-35 

Despite the domestically made engine being termed only as good as the Russian one, the PLAAF is in a hurry to replace the Russian engine. According to the insider, this is because of Moscow’s insistence that Beijing buy its Su-35 fighter aircraft despite Chinese reluctance.

“It’s impossible for China to rely on the Russian engine because Russia asked China to purchase more Su-35 fighter jets in exchange for the AL-31F engine deals,” he said.

“The key problem is – except for its longer combat range advantage – the radar, navigation system and other electronic components on the Su-35s are inferior to Chinese aircraft like the J-16 strike fighter.”

Pandemic Hampers Process 

In developing the WS-15 engine, the source told the paper that the pandemic hampered the modification process last year.

The outlet wrote that even the WS-10C engine would not be fitted into the latest J-20B aircraft, which entered mass production in June last year because testing is expected to take at least another year.

The WS-10C is a modified version of the WS-10 engine used in the country’s fourth-generation J-10s and J-11s.

Notwithstanding the hurdles in the development of the WS-15, Chinese military aviation expert Andreas Rupprecht told Flight Global that the indigenous WS-10C is a “major breakthrough” as it will reduce Chinese dependence on Russian engines.

According to the Global Times new, the production capacity of the J-20 at a press conference at Airshow China in late September, Wang Haitao, deputy designer of the aircraft, said that China’s aviation industry can satisfy any level of demand from the PLA Air Force.

It is good to see the industry is busy, because this means the J-20 has started entering service in large numbers, Fu said.

“In a short time, we will be able to see J-20s operated by all eastern, southern, western, northern and central theater commands, and become the main force to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial airspace security,” Fu predicted.

For the next step, the J-20 will continue to evolve, for example, by switching to use domestic engines, Fu said

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