Russian Engine Could Boost Chinese Competitiveness, May Help FC-1 Meet F-16, MiG Challenge
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Moscow’s decision to give Beijing access to Russian-made RD-93 jet engines will allow China’s Chengdu FC-1 Fierce Dragon (Xiaolong) to compete for sales against Lockheed Martin and MiG fighters, analysts said.
Richard Fisher, vice president of the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center, said this will place new pressure on the MiG Corp., “which will now be stressed to develop a new lightweight fighter with better price and performance to compete with Chengdu’s fighters.”
Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported on Nov. 20 that Moscow will allow China to fit the RD-93 in Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder, a variant of the FC-1.
The FC-1 is also a potential competitor against the F-16 on the world market. The delta-winged, single-engine fighter tops out at Mach 1.6 and is seen as a cheaper, more rugged competitor to the F-16. Additionally, countries that have been hit by U.S. military sanctions, like Thailand, might see the FC-1 as an attractive alternative to F-16s that carry political strings.
The RD-93 has a basic thrust of 11,090 pounds, and with afterburner, 18,260 pounds. It is a variant of the RD-33, which powers the MiG-29 fighter.
U.S. political actions against Pakistan in the past 30 years include sanctions placed on Islamabad after a series of nuclear weapons tests in 1998 and additional sanctions after the bloodless 1999 military coup that put President Pervez Musharraf into power.
Both the multirole FC-1 and the JF-17 were jointly designed and developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Corp. and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Karma beginning in the 1990s. However, due to pressure from India, Russia would not allow China to outfit the JF-17 with the Russian engine. This has slowed assembly of the JF-17, which opened production facilities in April 2005.
Fisher sees the recent decision as a major concession from Moscow that will allow China “to market its new generation of fighters long before it is able to sell them with Chinese engines, which may not become accepted by the market until they are proven in PLAAF [People’s Liberation Army Air Force] service, perhaps well into the next decade.”
“An agreement for re-export of the RD-93 may also soon include re-export of the more powerful AL-31FN, as seen by recent reports of this engine's sale to Iran in the Chengdu J-10. Reports also indicate Syria may also receive the J-10,” said Fisher.
However, Chinese officials at the Dubai Air Show on Nov. 13 dismissed reports of sales of the Chengdu J-10 to Iran, calling them a “fabrication” and “not true.” Andrei Chang, defense analyst of the Hong Kong-based Kanwa Information Center, said that it was unlikely that Russia would allow China to re-export the J-10 with Russian-made AL31F engines.
Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sri Lanka are reportedly interested in the FC-1.