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Monday, January 10, 2022
Information Tracking: China and Russia Embroiled in Dispute over Aircraft Engines
Chan Kung

In 2016, Russia, whose rocket engine technology is more advanced than China's, had announced that it would no longer sell rocket engines to China, but in the meantime, Russia has been supplying the RD-180 rocket engine to the United States. By 2021, Russia still wanted to continue selling rocket engines to the United States, who no longer intends to use Russian rocket engines. Russia's cautious attitude toward China is evident.

In 2022, news of Russia's decision not to export aircraft engines to China was widely circulated. At this point, revealing weakness of China’s aviation industry. It is certainly not as simple as a unilateral "stoppage of supply" by Russia. As a matter of fact, there was a time when China stopped purchasing weaponry from Russia more than 10 years ago. Now, it appears that China has also begun to significantly reduce its purchases of Russian aircraft engines.

Several Russian media reported a few days ago that China's J-20 fighter aircraft have been using Russian engines. But the upgraded J-20B fighter aircraft, which could be in mass production by the end of the year, will no longer use Russian engines, and will be replaced by Chinese-made engines. Some other Chinese fighters had earlier replaced Russian engines with Chinese ones.

Russian media reported in March that the country supplied a total of 463 units of D-30KP-2 engines to China over the 11 years from 2009 to 2020. These engines are equipped on the Chinese Air Force's H-6K bombers (Xian H-6) and Y-20 transport aircraft (Xi'an Y-20).

The last contract for China to purchase these engines ended this year, the report stated. But so far China has yet to sign a new engine procurement contract with Russia, suggesting that Chinese engines will be used on China's H-6K bombers and Y-20 transport aircraft next year.

According to the report, China has been able to produce locally the Russian D-30KP-2 engine, which it has named WS-18. The engine will soon be mass-produced and fitted on H-6K bombers and Y-20 transport aircraft, which will enable China to completely free itself from reliance on Russia for bomber and transport aircraft engines.

The D-30KP-2, or WS-18 engine, still lags badly behind the new-generation WS-20 engine in thrust and fuel consumption, the report stated. China will use a lot of WS-20 engines in the future, which are essential for the Y-20 transport aircraft. As many former experts from Ukraine's Antonov Aircraft Design Bureau are already working in China, it is believed that the further upgrading and improvement of Chinese bombers and the Y-20 transport aircraft, will be reflected in the future.

China's use of the Y-20 transport aircraft to transport military medical staff to Wuhan during the outbreak and to send Chinese military honor guard to Moscow for the parade in Red Square last month has drawn attention in Russia and been widely reported by local media. Some military analysts also infer the number of Y-20 transport aircraft that are currently equipped with the Chinese Air Force from the factory numbers shown in the Y-20 transport aircraft photos. The Antonov Design Bureau, established in the Soviet era, is known for specializing in the development and production of large transport aircraft.

Still, China is likely to continue buying engines for the JF-17 fighter aircraft jointly developed by China and Pakistan. In a press release issued more than two weeks ago, Russia's United Engine Corporation said it had begun testing the improved and upgraded RD-93MA engine.

Some military analysts at Russia's Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) said a prototype of the more advanced JF-17 Block 3 made its first test flight last December and will be equipped with an improved Russian RD-93MA engine when it goes into mass-production.

A website run by the CAST stated the JF-17 fighter aircraft has always been equipped with Russian RD-93 engines. China signed procurement contracts with Russia for 250 units of RD-93 engines in 2007 and 2009, and could buy another 400 units in the future. So far, 157 units of engines have been delivered, 117 of which have been transferred to Pakistan and the remaining 40 have been delivered to China.

By and large, we had judged that, whenever Russia was having a hard time, it would demand a big procurement contract from China to tide it over. The current dispute over aircraft engines is actually an indication that Russia is short of money again. As to what action China will take in response this time, it depends on how far China's aircraft engine technology has progressed. Overall, the development progress of China's aircraft engines is evident.

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