Chinese Engine
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China can copy everything except aircraft engines. Why?


China is a huge factory for stamping fakes, and for many decades. They copy everything from clothes to military and space equipment. The party’s policy, established many years ago, implies to miss such a crucial and most expensive stage as development and design; instead, the technology is “borrowed” from the USSR-Russia, the UNITED States, the EU.

MiG-29 with RD-33 engines
MiG-29 with RD-33 engines

But not everyone can just copy, for example, over the problem of aircraft engines there are struggling for a long time and so far without success. And we are talking not only about engines for fighters but also for civilian passenger planes.

Thus, the Chinese tried in the 80s to copy the American engines F-404-GE-402 and F-404-GE-F1D2 for F/A-18 and F-117A Nighthawk fighters. It is quite expected that they failed, and then China paid attention to Soviet-Russian products.

The Russian engine RD-93 seemed to the Chinese a worthy candidate to copy; it is simpler than the American and more reliable. And some successes they have achieved – there was an engine WS-13E, which the Chinese proudly called “theirs.”

JF-17 fighter aircraft
JF-17 fighter aircraft

But it was not easy – not knowing the alloys from which the Russian engine is made, the WS-13E was much worse than the original, the engine just did not keep high temperatures. The exit was found – the working areas of the engine were applied ceramic coating, which allowed it to work at high temperatures.

The engines were installed in a light JF-17 fighter and sold to Pakistan.

Since the WS-13E is unreliable and relatively low-power, a new WS-15 engine is being developed for the “newest” 5th generation J-20 fighter jets, but it is also deaf, and Chinese aircraft are flying on Russian engines.

The Y-20 military transport aircraft and the N-6 long-range bomber are also flying on the Russian D-30KP2 engines, which was developed in the USSR in the 1960s. The Chinese are working on a replacement – W-20 is brought to mind, but so far there is deaf.

Russian AL-31(upper) and Chinese WS-10 engine (Lower)
Russian AL-31(upper) and Chinese WS-10 engine (Lower)

In 2018, China tried to hack into the servers of 13 global companies producing aviation and space equipment, mostly affected by U.S. companies, but other countries got it. Whether successful or not is unknown, the U.S. said that China’s intelligence services and a number of relevant companies were involved in the hacking. It is clear that the Chinese denied everything, but the probability of such an event is high.

Thus, aircraft engines remain a mystery for Chinese specialists, showing that to create their school of aircraft builders at least long and expensive; however, it is the only way.


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