«China Takes An Expensive Hit» — an editorial in the publication «Strategy Page», USA, on 11.10.2011
Sales of Russian jet aircraft engines AL-31 in China will exceed one thousand units thanks to several new orders in 2011.
All this is due to the fact that China is seeking to expand its fleet of modern jet fighters (model J-10 and J-11). He also wants the pilots climbed into the air as often as possible to develop and maintain their combat skills.
But the engines of long work wear quickly.
Oh, and one more reason for new orders from Russia are constantly emerging challenges for Chinese developers to create their own jet engine.
China is particularly interested freed from Russian dependence in the development of engines with high performance for its advanced jet fighters. As long as they do not succeed.
With the increase in orders from the Russian Air Force Russian manufacturer of engines AL-31 had to increase production this year, more than a third.
In Russian also have confidence that the Chinese will not be able to solve a number of problems for the development of engines in the near future. And the fact that China is open (and unsuccessfully) protested against the restrictions that Russia has imposed on the use of AL-31FN engines, proves this thesis.
Russia wants guarantees that its engine AL-31FN will be used only for its intended purpose, that is to propel the Chinese fighter plane, and it does not disassemble into parts that Chinese engineers were able to improve their "illegal clones" of the AL-31FN — Chinese Engine WS-10A.
China is stealing Russian technology for many years, especially intensified this process with the end of the Cold War. Then Russia itself could not afford to buy new military equipment from its producers,
and only orders from China and India held the Russian company defense industry afloat.
Now with more domestic orders of the Russian military, Russian producers will feel confident in their abilities and will be able to firmly defend its interests in its relations with China.
Another problem the Chinese — it’s not a willingness to admit that their own efforts to build its engines again and again fail.
For example, last year China discovered the secret that he found on his fighter J-10 engines of Chinese-made WS-10A engines instead of the Russian AL-31FN. But this year, China ordered several hundred more AL-31FN to be delivered over the next two years.
No more talk about the use of its WS-10A on a large scale.
The Chinese claim that their engine WS-10A exceeds the AL-31F. Given that the Chinese WS-10A engine has a lot of things copied from the Russian technology. The Chinese claim that they improved the engine.
However, these improvements have already been made Russian as an example, increasing the life of the base engine AL-31 from 900 to 1500 hours, and more recently — and up to 2000 hours. In addition, the Chinese have not been able to master some of the basic technology of jet engines with high performance.
The reality is that the Chinese WS-10A has a number of serious and unexpected reliability problems that become evident.
China believes that free from their addiction to Russian military jet engines within the next five years, which implies that Chinese engine manufacturers still have the possibility to solve this problem over time. For years, China has imported two Russian Engine model AL-31 for 3.5 million dollars (per unit) and engine RD-93 (RD-33 version of the Russian MiG-29) for a Chinese fighter jet JF-17
(It’s a plane such as the U.S. F-16, developed in cooperation with Pakistan)
for 2.5 million dollars (per unit).
At some point, the Chinese engineers felt that they were able to master the technology needed to safely do the Chinese copy of the Russian AL-31 engine.
Chinese copy of WS-10A is part of the Chinese program, which was also created by WS-13 engine to replace Russian RD-93. Although the Chinese were able to make their long-lasting engines, they still have serious problems with reliability, and it is deadly for the engine fighter when his refusal in a real fight can be fatal.
China has long copied foreign technology, not always successfully.
In the past decade, China has invested quite a lot of money in creating their jet engines for aircraft.
But the Chinese are faced with many challenges that were in Russian and once at the beginning. Developing the necessary engine design and training of engineers challenge.
However, China has a certain advantage. First, they knew Russian errors and thus can avoid many of them. Then, do not forget the fact that China had better access to Western technology (both legal and illegal).
Finally, China, in contrast to the Soviets (USSR-Russia) has the ability to create capacity for the production of engines in a market environment that is much more efficient than the command economy that was in the Soviet Union and is a burden to the country for seven decades.
The Chinese believe that the creation of its engines J-10 and WS-10A — it’s part of the learning process and they do learn from their mistakes.
But to develop jet engines for civil aircraft significantly lighter than the engines that are needed for combat aircraft, and China face more difficulties than he had expected.