Eugene K. Chow
The National Interest•October 2, 2019
Key point: Good domestic-produced jet engines are major step forward for China’s defense industries.
Chinese engineering has become so advanced that German jet engines could soon get a major boost from China.
Officials in China have begun talks to sell sophisticated aerospace technology and manufacturing equipment to Germany for the production of high-performance jet engines.
As China moves to rapidly build its commercial and military aviation industry, the nation has made significant engineering breakthroughs, most notably in turbine blades, which convert the heat from fuel combustion into thrust. Turbine blades are one of the most critical components of an airplane, determining a jet engine’s safety, power and endurance.
Engineers in China have developed new processes that can make lighter and stronger blades using a hollow structure as well as single-crystal alloys that can withstand high temperatures and a special coating to facilitate cooling. These advances mean Chinese-made turbine blades are able to withstand temperatures several hundred degrees Celsius higher than the melting point of metallic alloys.
These advances are at the center of a possible sale to Germany along with manufacturing equipment that uses lasers to drill ultra-fine holes in turbine blades to keep blades cool by increasing air flow.
“Our machine has outperformed [Germany’s] on some benchmarks,” an anonymous source involved in the negotiations told the South China Morning Post. “The Germans have seen and grown interested in our technology.”
Discussions for the sale are still in the early stages, but even the possibility of an agreement with Germany, which created the world’s first production-ready jet engine and has long been revered for its design and manufacturing prowess, is a major victory for China as it seeks to shift its reputation away from cheaply made knockoffs to high-end innovation.
Aerospace is one of the key sectors of the “Made In China 2025” initiative, which calls for massive government investment to create thriving self-sufficient domestic industries. But long before the initiative was announced, China has been hard at work developing domestically-produced military aircraft.
In 2011, China stunned the world with the J-20, the nation’s first stealth fighter meant to rival America’s F-22 Raptor. With the J-20, China became only the second nation after the United States with a tactical stealth jet in service.
Just three years later, China unveiled the J-31 stealth multirole fighter jet, which looks remarkably like the American-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Analysts believe the Chinese built the J-31 using stolen F-35 blueprints.
China’s fifth-generation fighters currently rely on Russian engines, but recent breakthroughs have given the nation the ability to manufacture their own. In September, images revealed China had built a stealth engine for the J-20 equipped with serrated afterburner nozzles and interior flaps to help minimize its radar signature.
As China turns its attention to commercial airliners, it is only a matter of time before it begins to produce jet engines for commercial use.
In China’s rapid rise, it has previously turned to German aerospace companies to gain intellectual property and industrial know-how. In 2013, China acquired Germany’s Thielert Aircraft Engines after it filed for bankruptcy. The agreement included Thielert’s technology as well as their manufacturing facilities and equipment.
More recently, China has set its sights on purchasing Cotesa, an innovative German aerospace manufacturer that supplies parts for Airbus and Boeing. But the deal is currently on hold pending a review by the German government under new rules that grant the state more authority to block foreign takeovers.
The rules were passed in the midst of growing concerns of Chinese companies acquiring German and other EU companies operating in sensitive industries like aerospace, robotics and computer chips.
China’s plan to supply Germany with jet engine turbine blade technology is likely to face similar hurdles as Germany partners with Pratt & Whitney, General Electric and other American engine manufacturers. Even if German authorities approve the deal, the sale could still be blocked by the U.S. government which considers jet engine manufacturers as strategic domestic companies.
Regardless of whether this deal succeeds or not, it is apparent that China is quickly becoming an elite player in the Jet Age.
Eugene K. Chow writes on foreign policy and military affairs. His work has been published in Foreign Policy, The Week and The Diplomat. This first appeared in January 2018.
Source: National Interest via Yahoo “China’s Air Force Has One Flaw It Could Never Fix (Until Now)”
Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.
China is making fast progress in developing world-class aircraft engine. SCMP quotes a Chinese scientist as says in its report “China in talks for sale of jet engine technology to Germany” on January 14, “We are willing to share with industrial partners in Germany our latest hardware and technology. Industrial representatives from the two sides have finished the first round of contact.”
In addition the scientist said that the export of state-of-the-art machinery to Germany – traditionally known for its high-quality products – would improve the international image of China’s manufacturing industry.
Due to the fast technological progress, SCMP says, “state media boasted last year that its (China’s WS-15 turbofan developed for J-20) performance matched that of the Pratt & Whitney F119, the world’s most advanced jet engine in military service, which was developed in the United States for the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth fighter.”
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s report, full text of which can be found at http://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2127796/china-talks-sale-jet-engine-technology-germany.
On September 12, I reblogged Popular Science’s September-9 article “China’s J-20 stealth fighter may be getting a new engine”. According to the article, there was a new J-20 prototype no. 2021 installed with a new WS-10X engine better stealth with 14-15 ton vector thrust that enables J-20 to conduct supersonic supercruise without using fuel-thirsty afterburners.
The article speculates that China’s J-20 will mainly use homegrown engines because China is able to produce and use rhenium-nickel superalloy, but there has been no other sources to confirm that. At that time, I guess that China got Ukraine help in developing such superalloy.
In my post “Ukraine Helps China Make Rhenium Superalloy for High Tech Warplanes” on September 22, I quoted Global Times’ article “Experts clarify rumor of changes in aircraft engine cooperation: Cooperation achievements in display” on September 20 as saying, “From the manufacturing point of view, China is relatively weak in the technology of making and casting of single crystal alloys, powder metallurgy, etc. In Russian-Ukraine system, those technologies have already been applied for more than one or several decades. They have played a great boosting role in improving China’s aircraft engines.”
However, CCTV’s report on October 24 makes known that China’s Space Travel Superalloy Technology Co., Ltd. of Chengdu extracts and purifies rhenium. The Engineering Physics Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has succeeded in using rhenium superalloy to make various parts of aircraft engines, especially the single crystal turbine blades. Xu Gang, a laboratory chief of the research institute says that all the parts have been designed and produced by the institute on its own.
Zhu Junqiang, head of the research institute, showed CCTV reporter an engine for UAV and commercial airliner. He told the reporter that the engine was undergoing 150 hours of test. When it has passed the test, it will be installed on an aircraft to undergo flight tests.
J-20 is now using China’s homegrown WS-10X engines better than those imported from Russia and will use WS-15 when it has been successfully developed.
China’s C919 airliner uses imported engine now but according to Zhu China is developing its homegrown engine for C919.
The report also discloses that China is using rhenium superalloy for its satellites, rockets and spaceships.
Source: CCTV “Chinese enterprises break US monopoly in successfully making core parts of aircraft engines” (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the report in Chinese)
Popular Science’s September-9 article “China’s J-20 stealth fighter may be getting a new engine” that I reblogged on September 12 says that there is recently a new J-20 prototype no. 2021 installed with a new WS-10X engine better stealth with 14-15 ton vector thrust that enables J-20 to conduct supersonic supercruise without using fuel-thirsty afterburners.
According to the article, China is able to make such good aircraft engines as it has made breakthrough in rhenium-nickel superalloy technology. The article says, “Previously, the development of Chinese engines like the WS-10 were delayed as they suffered from quality control issues regarding single crystal turbine blades. China’s mastery of the rhenium superalloy (and by the private sector, no less) won’t just help China build current fighter engines, but also quickly research more capable, higher tech models.”
Why is China able to make such breakthrough so quickly? Global Times says in its article “Experts clarify rumor of changes in aircraft engine cooperation: Cooperation achievements in display” on September 20, “From the manufacturing point of view, China is relatively weak in the technology of making and casting of single crystal alloys, powder metallurgy, etc. In Russian-Ukraine system, those technologies have already been applied for more than one or several decades. They have played a great boosting role in improving China’s aircraft engines.”
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Popular Science and Global Times’ articles, full text of which can respectively been found at http://www.popsci.com/china-stealth-fighter-new-engine and http://mil.huanqiu.com/observation/2017-09/11264854_3.html. The latter is in Chinese.
SCMP published a report titled “Chinese firm’s stake in Ukraine military aircraft engine maker ‘frozen’” on September 16 but retrieved it the next day.
The report says “The Ukrainian security services allege that the purchase of the company’s stock by groups controlled by Beijing Skyrizon Aviation was an attempt to take its assets out of the country, leading to its liquidation, the news agency Interfax-Ukraine reported.
“A court in Kiev froze shares for a 41 per cent stake in the firm owned by offshore companies controlled by Beijing Skyrizon last week, according to the article.”
However, lots of aircraft engines are displayed as achievements of cooperation between Motor Sich and Beijing Skyrizon Aviation and the two companies signed quite a few major cooperation projects in Beijing Airshow that opened on September 19.
What then is the truth of the cooperation between the two companies?
To learn the truth, Global Times has made an investigation and interviewed relevant people and found that the allegation about changes in the cooperation was groundless. It published a report titled “Experts clarify rumor of changes in aircraft engine cooperation: Cooperation achievements in display” that quotes Motor Sich CEO Boguslavyev as saying, “Our goal is to firmly perform the agreements with Skyrizon and we have already made major achievements. All leaders and all staff and workers in Motor Sich are very proud that we come to China to cooperate with Skyrizon.”
What China wants is Motor Sich’s technology. It does not matter whether China can obtain a controlling shareholding in Motor Sich as long as it can get its technology.
The allegation that China wants to move Motor Sich’s assets to China is absurd. As Motor Sich has not been sufficiently profitable, it has not upgraded its equipment for quite a long time. China is now able to produce more advanced equipment than what Motor Sich has. Why should China incur the costs to purchase and move equipment less advanced than what China has? The takeover of shareholding aims at obtaining technology alone instead of taking over less advanced equipment.
Moreover, the cooperation between the two enterprises is mutual beneficial. It not only enables China to obtain technology but also provide much needed funds for Motor Sich to replace its outdated equipment with advanced Chinese ones. In fact the cooperation also enables Motor Sich to obtain Chinese technology, for example, the technology of 3D printing for production of large structural parts.
In its report yesterday, the Voice of America showed its happiness that the US has succeeded in preventing China from taking over a major aircraft engine producer in the world. The US often fails to consider other countries’ interests. It does not care that if China does not invest in Motor Sich, Motor Sich may bankrupt leaving more than 20,000 staff and workers unemployed. Besides, it cares about control only but does not seek win-win cooperation that benefits both parties.
In the South China Sea, it only wants the Philippines to help it contain China but fails to protect Philippines’ interests. As a result, it loses the Philippines to China.
The situation of Motor Sich-Skyrizon cooperation is different, US selfishness only prevents the takeover but the win-win cooperation remains. As a result, it is a win-win-win conclusion. China and Ukraine are winners of cooperation, the US is also a winner, winner in preventing an equity takeover, which makes it happy mentally though brings it no actual benefit.
However, that is the limit of US ability. Global Times says China and France jointly developed helicopter engine is also shown in the airshow. France is US ally, but the US cannot stop such cooperation as it benefits both the Chinese and French parties. Such win-win cooperation makes China popular while US will be increasingly unpopular if it keeps on blocking such mutual beneficial cooperation.
No wonder China is making progress and obtaining technology so fast while the US becomes increasingly stagnant.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Global Times, Voice America and SCMP’s reports. Full text of SCMP’s report can be found at http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2111493/chinese-firms-stake-ukraine-military-aircraft-engine
Global Times and Voice of America’s reports are both in Chinese and given summary translation by this blogger. Full text in Chinese can respectively be found at http://mil.huanqiu.com/observation/2017-09/11264854_3.html and https://www.voachinese.com/a/news-ukraine-froze-the-stake-china-bought-in-aircraft-engine-20170929/4036877.html.
According to Cao Chunxiao, a research fellow of the Chinese Academy of Sciences specialized in aircraft engines and materials, China is developing Changjiang-1000 engine for its C919 large airliners that are now using LEAP-1C engines imported from abroad.
An aircraft engine has to use as much Titanium alloy as possible to reduce its weight. Cao says according to initial calculation, Titanium alloy accounts for 23% Changjiang-1000.
Chinese aviation expert Wang Yanan told Global Times reporter in an interview on September 10 that Titanium alloy facilitates reduction of engine’s weight but it is very difficult to make and forge large titanium alloy parts. If Changjiang-1000 can use 23% of Titanium alloy, China has mastered quite much technology in making large Titanium parts.
According to the report, C919 now uses LEAP-1C engines imported from abroad. Changjiang-1000 is now being certified in Shanghai and will begin ground and flying tests in 2018. As ground and flying tests usually take one or two years, China may stop using imported engines for its C919 airliners soon.
Source: mil.huanqiu.com “Chinese Academy of Sciences research fellow reveals progress in developing homegrown engines for C919 large airliners to replace imported engines (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the report in Chinese)
In its report “FIRST AIRCRAFT ENGINE ASSEMBLED IN CHINA USING MOTOR SICH TECHNOLOGY COULD BE SHOWN BY LATE 2017 – KUBIV” on May 23, open4business.com.ua says Ukraine and China will set up a joint venture between its PJSC Motor Sich (Zaporizhia) and China’s Beijing Skyrizon Aviation Industry Investment Co. Ltd. to use Ukrainian technology to produce aircraft engines.
China can make advanced fighter jets but cannot equip them with advanced Chinese or imported aircraft engines. It has an urgent need to import engine technology but no one is willing to provide until Ukraine is willing to provide now.
Ukraine on the other hand needs funds to improve its aircraft engine technology. The report says that China will provide US$250 million for PJSC Motor Sich’s modernization.
Mil.huanqiu.com says in its report “Ukrainian first prime minister visit a mystic place: Perhaps very good for Chinese aircraft engine industry” on May 23 that after attending the One Belt One Road summit, Ukrainian First Vice Prime Minister Stepan Kubiv visited a Chinese private aircraft engine producer in Chongqing, China and reached agreement with China for the establishment of an aircraft engine joint venture to provide China with Ukrainian aircraft engine technology.
Ukraine has helped China build aircraft carriers and world largest air-cushioned landing crafts, but refused to provide China with its aircraft engine technology in spite of China’s repeated requests. The establishment of the aircraft engine joint venture means the further strengthening of the strategic relations between Ukraine and China so that Ukraine is now willing to provide China with the best of its military technology.
China has allocated 100 billion yuan (USD160 billion) for development of advanced aircraft engines to meet its urgent need for advanced aircraft engines to equip its stealth fighters J-20 and J-31. The joint venture will greatly facilitate China’s achievement of that goal.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on open4business.com.ua and mil.huanqiu.com’s reports. Mil.huanqiu.com’s report is in Chinese and a summary translation of it is given in the post. Full text of it in Chinese can be viewed at http://mil.huanqiu.com/observation/2017-05/10717781.html while that of open4business.com.ua’s report is reblogged below:
FIRST AIRCRAFT ENGINE ASSEMBLED IN CHINA USING MOTOR SICH TECHNOLOGY COULD BE SHOWN BY LATE 2017 – KUBIV
23 May , 2017
KYIV. May 23 (Interfax-Ukraine) – The first aircraft engine assembled in China under Ukrainian technologies within the framework of strategic partnership between PJSC Motor Sich (Zaporizhia) and China’s Beijing Skyrizon Aviation Industry Investment Co. Ltd. could be demonstrated by late 2017, Ukraine’s First Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Economic Development and Trade Stepan Kubiv has said.
During a briefing held in Kyiv and dedicated to the results of a recent visit of the Ukrainian delegation to China to participate in a high-level dialogue within the framework of the “One Belt. One Road” forum, the deputy premier highlighted the agreements achieved on Ukrainian-Chinese cooperation in the aircraft engine industry, saying the creation of aircraft engines production in Chongqing under Ukrainian technologies is “one of the priorities of the government.”
“Skyrizon and Motor Sich will create a joint venture for production of aircraft engines using Ukrainian technologies in China’s Chongqing. We want in 2017 to show the first engine that will be assembled at this plant,” Kubiv said.
He also welcomed the plans of the Chinese side envisaged by the cooperation program to invest $250 million in the modernization of Motor Sich, noting that the implementation of the program of Ukrainian-Chinese strategic cooperation in the field of aircraft engine building will strengthen the positions and influence of the Ukrainian aviation industry in the world market.