China Makes J-20 and C919 Engines with Rhenium Superalloy


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)

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Stealth Showdown: America’s F-22 Raptor vs China’s J-20 (Who Wins?)


Two F-22 raptors in column. National Interest’s photo

Dave Majumdar October 1, 2017

Perhaps the most compelling evidence that would point to the J-20 being optimized for the strike role is the fact that the airframe is enormous but has relatively small wings. It’s also seems to have huge weapons bays. While such a configuration works well for a fast supersonic strike aircraft, it’s not ideal for an air superiority fighter that needs be able to sustain high rates of turn.

The People’s Republic of China is likely to be the only peer level competitor to the United States over the next fifty years. While a conflict is unlikely—a Third World War is in nobody’s interests—the United States must be prepared for such an eventuality.

As with all modern conventional wars, airpower and air superiority will play a key role. For the United States, the stealthy Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor will be America’s premier weapon to ensure dominance over the skies until it is eventually replaced by whatever comes out of the U.S. Air Force’s F-X program.

The most direct Chinese analogue to the Raptor is the Chengdu J-20. How would such a jet fair against America’s best?

Not much is known about the Chinese jet—it might not even be a fighter in the traditional sense of the word. It could be a specialized aircraft that is specifically designed to attack the sinews of U.S. power projection capabilities in the Western Pacific as part of an overall Chinese anti-access/area denial strategy (A2/AD). Basically, the jet might be optimized to hit support assets like tankers, AWACS, JSTARS or even carry long-range cruise missiles to attack scattered U.S. bases and aircraft carriers in the region.

Here is what we do know about the J-20. It appears to have a stealth airframe and it liberally borrows design cues from both the Raptor and its Lockheed stable-mate, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. That’s not an accident; the Chinese very likely stole a large amount of classified F-35 data.

There are some indications that the J-20 is a primarily a strike aircraft but with a robust air-to-air capability. Like the American F-35, the newest J-20 prototypes appear to have an electro-optical targeting system mounted under the nose. That sensor could be Beijing A-Star Science and Technology’s EOTS-89 electro-optical targeting system (EOTS). A dedicated air superiority fighter wouldn’t need that kind of sensor.

There are also indications that the Chinese jet carries an active electronically scanned array radar (AESA). Allegedly, the J-20 would be fitted with a Type 1475 radar, which is supposedly being tested on a China Test Flight Establishment owned Tupolev Tu-204. However, there is no way to confirm that information because the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) isn’t really all that forthcoming about sharing information about its developmental projects. That being said, given Beijing’s interest in the Su-35—which is mostly likely driven by a desire to harvest that Flanker variant’s radar and engine technology, I have my doubts about how far along the Chinese have gotten on developing an operational AESA.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence that would point to the J-20 being optimized for the strike role is the fact that the airframe is enormous but has relatively small wings. It’s also seems to have huge weapons bays. While such a configuration works well for a fast supersonic strike aircraft, it’s not ideal for an air superiority fighter that needs be able to sustain high rates of turn.

Moreover, China hasn’t demonstrated that it has the requisite engine technology necessary to power an air superiority fighter of that size. The People’s Republic hasn’t perfected its indigenous WS-10, let alone come close to finishing development of the next-generation WS-15. In fact, China hasn’t demonstrated it can build any reliable jet engine—and that’s including designs that it stole from Russia. But a strike aircraft doesn’t need to have a spectacular thrust to weight ratio—thus the jet’s current twin Russian-built Saturn AL-31F engines might be adequate for China’s purposes.

Further, there is a strong argument to be made that short-range tactical fighters like the F-22 and F-35 are ill-suited for operations in the Western Pacific where distances are vast and bases are scarce. The same geographic constraints also apply to the Chinese. That means that jets like the F-22 and F-35 need tankers to operate over those vast distances. The most logical way for the Chinese to tackle American and allied airpower is not to confront those forces head-on but rather by removing their ability to fight. That means going after U.S. bases, tankers and communications nodes. Thus in that sense, the J-20 could be China’s means to establish air superiority if viewed through that lens. In that sense it might have the upper hand against the F-22.

Of course, this is all conjecture. Only the PLAAF knows where the J-20 fits into their order of battle, but it could prove to be a formidable foe.

Dave Majumdar is Defense Editor for The National Interest. You can follow him You on Twitter: @DaveMajumdar

Source: National Interest “Stealth Showdown: America’s F-22 Raptor vs China’s J-20 (Who Wins?)”

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.


New Test Flight of J-20 Prototype Powered by Homegrown Engines


Muzzles of this new prototype’s engines are obviously different from the Russian engines used on previous J-20s

There are new photos on the Internet of successful new test flight of J-20 new prototype with yellow coating. The nozzles of the prototype’s engines are different from the Russian engines on previous version of J-20. There is speculation that the new J-20 is powered by China’s homegrown Taihang engines.

Source: “Another successful test flight of Taihang version of J-20” (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the report in Chinese)


Official: China Has Formally Commissioned J-20 Stealth Fighter Jet


J-20 commission ceremony. mil.huanqiu.com photo

Mil.huanqiu.com says in its report on September 28 that Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in reply to a reporter’s question at the Ministry’s press conference that J-20 has already been formally commissioned in the military and that follow-up test flights are being carried out.

Source: mil.huanqiu.com “J-20 formally commissioned in Chinese military: Follow-up test flights are being carried out” (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the report in Chinese)


Estimate of China’s Cost in Developing and Producing J-20


J-20 new prototype no. 2021 uses WS-10X engine. Photo: fyjs.cn

In October 2016 China’s Aviation Industry Publishing House openly published “Collection of Gu Songfen’s Articles” which reveals the estimate of the progress and costs in developing J-20 by Gu Songfen, a fellow of Chinese Academy of Engineering,

According to Gu, the total research and development costs at the value of yuan in 2002 are 37.1 billion yuan including the making and testing of 8 test and 6 pre-production prototypes. Research and development of the fuselage costs 20 billion yuan, of engine, 6 billion yuan and of electronic equipment and weapons on board, 7.5 billion and 3.6 billion yuan respectively. The price of a single plane ranges from 450 to 500 million yuan, a little higher than the US$35 million cost for the import of a Su-27. The cost is much lower than that of F-22 and F-35, the EMD of which costs US$19.5 billion and US$60 billion respectively.

Source: mil.news.sina.com.cn “Depth Column: Disclosure of estimate of the cost of China’s 4th-generation fighter jet: Price of a J-20 is perhaps 500 million yuan” (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the article in Chinese)


J-20s Are Not Toys but What China Relies on for Air Supremacy


J-20 new prototype no. 2021 uses WS-10X engine. Photo: fyjs.cn

Quite a few high-ranking officers, politicians and military experts give me the impression that when they make comparison between the weapons of similar kind developed by different nations, they regard the weapons as toys instead of what a country relies on for its national security.

When the US designed its F-22 and F-35, it assumes that others have no stealth fighter so that its stealth fighter jet may shoot down enemy fighter jet with missile before the enemy is even able to detect its stealth fighter. Therefore, more attention was paid to stealth than the fighter jet’s maneuverability in dogfight.

Moreover, US military strategy focuses on break enemy’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) as the US regards attacking and subduing its enemy as the key to its national security. As a result, US stealth fighter jets shall be capable of penetrating enemy air defense and be equipped with air-to-ground weapons.

China, however, develops its stealth fighter J-20 to resist enemy attack so that it regards as the key J-20’s capability to grab air supremacy from others’ stealth fighters. If a J-20 and its enemy flies at the speed Mach 2, it has only 2.3 minutes before the two meet suppose that their radar is good enough to discover enemy stealth fighter 150 km away. Suppose J-20’s missiles go at Mach 4, it takes 1.5 minutes for the pilots to find that their missiles fail to hit. Then they have only 0.8 minutes left not enough for a second missile attack. Therefore, J-20 must have better dogfight capabilities than F-22 and F-35 as of all the countries in the world only the US F-22 and F-35 are designed with the capabilities to break other countries’ A2/AD and to attack their homeland.

That is why China is satisfied with its J-20 in spite of the radar visibility from its back and its lack of the capability to penetrate enemy air defense. Analysts may be happy that J-20 is inferior to F-22 and F-35 in those respects but neglect J-20’s capabilities in grabbing air supremacy.

However, US military is not so carried away by their analysis as to risk attacking China with F-22 and F-35. They want to develop B-21 to attack China.

Now, there is news that new J-20s use better engines with radar invisibility from their back and greater vector thrust. The analysts shall not be unhappy as J-20 is utterly incapable of attacking US homeland even if it is capable of penetrating enemy air defense.

Article by Chan Kai Yee


Ukraine Helps China Make Rhenium Superalloy for High Tech Warplanes


J-20 new prototype no. 2021 uses WS-10X engine. Photo: fyjs.cn

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.