Canadian Engines Power Some Chinese Attack Helos
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) officials say they don’t know how several PT6C-67C helicopter engines they sold to China for civilian aircraft ended up in Z-10 Zhisheng attack helicopters.
A U.S. State Department official said the department is aware of the engine sale and is “taking steps to gather more information.” It is not clear yet whether the sale violated U.S. restrictions on exporting military items to China.
Several trade experts said the sale likely did not. PT6C-67C engines can be used on commercial and military helicopters and are among the most widely used aircraft engines, they said.
If Pratt believed the engines were intended for use on civilian helicopters and “simply shipped the engine identically to how they would have shipped a commercial engine,” there probably was no violation of U.S. export regulations, said Joel Johnson, a senior executive at the Teal Group consulting firm in northern Virginia.
More skeptical observers say the firm knew or could have guessed that the engines were not destined for a 6-ton civilian helicopter.
“Claims that P&WC had no idea they were supporting a military program truly beg credulity,” said Richard Fisher, vice president of the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center. “China’s efforts to support the Z-10 through massive foreign technology acquisitions have been an open secret for over a decade.”
The switch was discovered in early October by Andrei Chang, director of the Hong Kong-based Kanwa Information Center, who reviewed a new brochure from Jiangxi province-based Changhe Aircraft Industries Group (CAIG), which described its new Z-10 helicopter and listed its engine as the PT6C-67C. The brochure said several Z-10 prototypes have been built since 2003.
If the engines contained components or technology controlled by the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), “P&WC will have violated U.S. export control laws and regulations, and there will be heck to pay,” one former U.S. export control official said. “If not, there will still be negative implications for future U.S. ITAR-controlled exports to P&WC, as State and Defense will remember that the Canadian company has exported to a military end-user in China.”
The former official said, “Future authorizations are likely to be reviewed more closely, and technology release decisions are likely to be more conservative.”
A P&WC spokesman said the sale, which had been approved by Ottawa, violated no export restrictions.
“In 2000, we were chosen as a supplier for a dual-use Chinese Medium Helicopter platform, which was to have both military and civil variants using a common rotor and transmission,” said Jean-Daniel Hamelin, a spokesman for P&WC in Québec. “Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PT6C-67C engine was selected to power the civil variant while a Chinese indigenous engine was to power the military variant. We sought and received Canadian government approval to provide 10 engines for the development of such platform, and these engines were delivered between 2001 and 2002. The Chinese engine encountered delays and our engines were used during the development of the common platform.
“Since 2002, no other engines have been provided and the program has undergone changes by the Chinese. The Canadian government is currently re-evaluating the program.”
A Long Resume
The Z-10 is far from the only Chinese military aircraft powered by P&WC engines.
In November 2002, the firm announced that Beijing had picked the PT6B-67A engine for CAIG’s Z-8F helicopter, a more powerful variant of the 13-ton Z-8 intended for use in the mountains and high desert of western China. The news release noted the possibility of export sales.
But it did not mention that the Z-8 is operated by all three People’s Liberation Army (PLA) service branches: the Z-8A transport by Army Aviation, the Z-8K by the Air Force for search-and-rescue missions, and an anti-submarine and troop transport version by the Navy.
That same month, P&WC said four PW150B engines would power each Y8F600 medium airlifter built by Shaanxi Aircraft Industry Group. Again, a news release said the aircraft is “mainly used in general transport and postal aviation,” although earlier Y-8s have plenty of military service. The PLA flies variants optimized for troop transport, electronic countermeasures, electronic surveillance and signals intelligence. There are also the Y-8X maritime patrol aircraft and Y-8J Airborne Early Warning.
At Heli-Expo 2007 in Orlando, Fla., P&WC announced that its new PT6C-67E engine was to power the EC175/Z-15 CMH medium helicopter being co-developed by Eurocopter and Harbin Aviation Industry Group. The engine has a dual-channel, full-authority, digital electronic control (FADEC) system to reduce pilot workload and increase reliability, a February news release said.
Besides civil sales, the PLA intends to use the Z-15 to replace aging Mi-8/17, S-70, Z-8 and Z-9 helicopters that handle troop transport, anti-sub warfare, and search and rescue.
P&WC has indirectly made a few clearly commercial sales. In 2002, the firm announced the sale of three PW306A-powered Gulfstream G200 business jets to Deer Jet, a business-aircraft charter operator owned by China’s Hainan Airlines Group. The aircraft group also took delivery of two PW206C-powered AgustaWestland A109 Power twin-turbine helicopters to ferry harbor pilots to ships in Shanghai Harbor. Hainan Airlines also flies 19 Fairchild/Dornier Do328JETs powered by PW306B engines.
“There is also the additional question as to how much Pratt & Whitney Canada either willingly or unwillingly aided the Chinese in the development of their indigenous advanced helicopter engine, sometimes called the WZ-9 turboshaft,” Fisher said.
P&WC’s Hamelin said, “We have no knowledge of such activity.”
China has long considered Canada a back door to restricted Western military technology. In 2001, Canada added items on the U.S. Munitions List to its own roster of controlled-export categories — but only for U.S.-made items.
“If there is not ITAR-controlled content, the Canadians can do as they please,” the former U.S. export control official said.
Canada has no formal arms embargo on China, as do the United States and Europe, but generally exports no weapons to Beijing.
“I would bet, however, the Canadians would say that whatever P&WC exported to China is not controlled as a military item and probably does not even require an export license from Canada,” the former official said.
Blood Vs. Money
“The Z-10 attack helicopter case is a classic example of how China exploits the tension between globalized business and national security, forcing governments to choose between blood versus money,” Fisher said.
The Teal Group’s Johnson said he believes that nothing is going to stop China’s military from getting what it needs.
“This incident is likely to be used by China hawks to argue for even more stringent controls and on-site verification of actual end use for dual-use shipments to China,” said Johnson, who before joining Teal last year was vice president international of the U.S. Aerospace Industries Association. “As neither Rolls, GE nor Pratt can afford to antagonize the U.S. government, one would suspect that the Russians will be knocking on the door with a Russian engine. In the end, the Chinese will get an engine, just not necessarily the one they want.”
The lure of the giant Chinese helicopter market is practically gravitational. The country is expected to buy an estimated 10,000 military and commercial helicopters worth some $84 billion by 2020, according to the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corp.
That makes it a plum market for American, European and Russian helicopter makers.
“Russia’s helicopter companies now dominate the China military market but the Europeans and even the American helicopters companies want to compete,” Fisher said. “Companies like Pratt & Whitney Canada want to be in the best position to benefit from future helicopter sales.”
As for the Z-10, Fisher warned of repercussions. “The chances are very good that Z-10s will be hurting Americans, either killing them on some future battlefield or attacking their jobs,” he said. “It can be expected that the Z-10 will have a large production run, especially after the indigenous engine is ready, and that its price will undercut sales for the A-129 and the Bell AH-1 Cobra.”