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How difficult is it to build an Jet engine? Ask India and China


Jet engines are one of the most challenging and complex machines ever made. Imagine a blade rotating at 35000 rpm in a temperature of 1200 C and also withstanding all kinds of mechanical and aerodynamic stress. Such complexity has resulted in only a few companies having the knowledge of how to do it correctly.

Developing jet engine is not an easy game unlike rocket engines as it’s comparatively very compact in size & it requires advance engineering to develop it’s crystal blades technology & maintain it’s thrust to weight ratio & that’s what make jet engine technology one of the most complicated technology.

F-22 raptor Pratt & Whitney F119 engine
F-22 raptor Pratt & Whitney F119 engine

China

As we all know, after decades of continuous copying, China’s military technology has become one of the few countries in the world with a very strong military industry. Especially in terms of stealth fighters and transport aircraft.

However, under such circumstances, China also has some shortcomings, such as the engine field. It can be said that the current engine is one of the biggest obstacles to Chinese fighters and transport aircraft. Currently, the Chinese aviation industry depends on the Russian engine AL-31. Although China has J-20 stealth fighter but its combat effectiveness is greatly restricted due to the lack of power of the engine.

WS-15 engine
WS-15 engine

The Chinese defense industrial base is infamous for its tendency to “borrow” from foreign designs, particularly in the aerospace industry. Almost the entirety of China’s modern fighter fleet have either borrowed liberally from or directly copied foreign models.

Chinese efforts to reverse engineer certain Russian jet engines during the 1990s and 2000s invariably produced engines with extremely short lifespans, and without the power of their Russian counterparts. Even today, jet engines remain an obstacle for PLAAF fighter modernization, with its early 5th generation prototypes notably underpowered. Further complicating the problem, Russia is wary of supplying engines more powerful than the AL-31 used to power its Su-27s. However, China has several avenues to work around this.

J-10 with WS-10C engine
J-10 with WS-10C engine

The most obvious option is simply to build a better indigenous engine. In 2016, China’s 13th Five-year Plan for the National Development of Strategic Emerging Industries emphasized the importance of improving the performance of indigenous jet-engine designs and the further development of the aerospace industry. It appears that there has been at least some success, as the latest J-20 prototypes are powered by upgraded WS-10 engines that are supposedly stealthier and more powerful than the AL-31. However, the lack of public information regarding China’s indigenous engine programs makes their true quality difficult to ascertain.

At the Zhuhai International Airshow, China introduced an upgraded version of the J-20 fifth-generation stealth fighter with the designation name J-20B. The new variant of J-20 was equipped with WS-10 engine but many experts point out the weakness of the new engine.

India

India is one of the largest buyers in the global arms market, including warplanes. But in recent years, the present Govt. has been actively working to strengthen our own military industry.

Most of you are not aware of the fact that the Kaveri engine was initially planned to be integrated on Tejas fighter aircraft but due lack of technology GTRE failed to develop Kaveri engine and hence Tejas was then fitted with the GE-404 engine from USA. Even today India not able to develop Kaveri engine. Several initiatives were taken by GTRE to revive Kaveri engine but it failed again.

GTRE GTX-35VS Kaveri engine
GTRE GTX-35VS Kaveri engine

The domestic aircraft engine was scheduled for production in 1985. The Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO) assigned the work to the Gas Turbine Research Establishment. But the company had little experience in engine making. Tejas flew three decades later because of delay.

“The Kaveri engine project has suffered many setbacks since its inception. The financial backing from the government is important. The Kaveri engine project was launched in 1985 but still has no results.

DRDO had planned 17 models for the Kaveri engine. The first test of the Kaveri model was carried out in 1996 and ground tests were conducted in 1998. Then in 1999, it was time for a test flight. However, for some technical reasons, this test was not possible. The Kaveri engine failed a high-altitude test in Russia in 2003.

Kaveri Engine Dry & Wet Thrust Demo
Kaveri Engine Dry & Wet Thrust Demo

The Kaveri engine project was not a complete failure. GTR E developed eight model and four core engines. Passed the Altitude test in 2010 with the help of the Russian Central Institute of Aviation Motors (CIAM). According to DRDO, Kaveri engine performance has been tested at various altitudes. According to the DRDO, a flight test has been conducted at the Russian Gromov with this engine for over an hour at an altitude of 6000 meters (20,000 feet). This year DRDO developed single crystal blades essential components. Only a few countries have achieved such a feat.

Even after 36 years, there are several setbacks to domestic engine development. The main reason for this is the lack of a DRDO project. It is reluctant to admit problems with engine development. In 2010, the Ministry of Defense made it clear that the lack of critical equipment and products, technology complexities, zero testing facilities and lack of skilled personnel were the main reasons for the delay. The ministry noted that the DRDO is in the dark as countries with technology refuse to make an agreement with the DRDO. This delay is still causing the country a loss.

After a continuous effort by the silver lining, India’s jet engine project has made some progress. The engine is capable of producing 75Kn. However, the LCA requires 90Kn and the AMCA 110Kn thrust. A project with Rolls-Royce has raised hopes of meeting these. India is emerging as the country’s global hub for defense aviation. The development of the domestic jet engine is being emphasized here. The initiatives of the Central Government’s Make in India and Atmanibhar Bharat can have a positive impact here.

It’s a pity that the advanced performance it possesses can’t be played out at all. In contrast to the United States, the F119 engine on its F22 stealth fighter is one of the most advanced engines in the world, and the technology involved is very complex and diverse.

Even if such an advanced aero-engine is placed in front of our eyes, it cannot be imitated in a short time or even at all. Because manufacturing such an engine not only requires the material composition and ratio of each component, but also requires corresponding cutting-edge processing technology.

Therefore, even if China and India have made great progress in recent years is in the engine field, but there is still a big gap compared with the United States, it still needs to work very hard.


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