The Chinese aviation industry is having serious problems building engines for both civilian and fighter jets
Exactly 10 years ago, China shocked the world with the successful flight of the Chengdu J-20 fighter, in January 2011. The first flight, of the first stealth fighter, was successfully developed in China. And yet, in October 2012, the Shenyang FC-31, China’s second stealth fighter, conducted a test flight. Since then, there has been a lot of speculation about the FC-31. It is believed to be a future Chinese carrier-based fighter, similar to the US Navy’s F-35C.
However, China’s stealth aircraft still has to fly with Russia’s “heart”, the jet engine. According to sources, only a single J-20 was tested with a Chinese-made WS-10B engine, and the rest were powered by AL-31FN engines, built by Russia’s NPO Saturn. This is also the engine mounted on the Chengdu J-10 – the Chinese pride.
China wishing to get rid of dependence, as usual, turned to ask for help from Russia; but the Russians only sell AL-31 engines if China continues to buy the Su-35. China has approached Ukraine, once the backbone of the Soviet aviation industry. Ukraine’s Motor Sich aircraft engine maker has been in serious trouble since the Crimea crisis of 2014, due to the loss of its most important market, Russia.
Some Chinese investors, including Beijing Skyrizon Aviation, want to buy Motor Sich and use Ukrainian know-how to develop engines for their aircraft. But the Ukrainian government announced to stop the deal. Instead of being in Chinese hands, Motor Sich is now nationalized. Aleksey Danilov, head of the National Defense and Security Council of Ukraine, said the company will be “returned to the people of Ukraine”.
The reason Ukraine nationalized it, because it was in a state of war and could not give up control of Motor Sich. In fact, the Ukrainians were not alone in deciding their interests, but mainly due to pressure from Washington. The Chinese company Skyrizon has long been blacklisted by the US Department of Defense along with other Chinese companies.