China’s F-XX Program Faces Engine Problems
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Engine and radar issues will prevent low-rate production for China’s F-XX next generation fighter before 2020, sources said.
A Taiwan defense source has confirmed the fighter is still in the research stage and challenges remain in securing a high-performance engine and radar.
“Given the challenges integrating fifth-generation technology, there appears little evidence China is about to roll out a stealthy fighter” capable of engaging the F-35 or F-22 anytime before 2020, the source said. The Chinese have a requirement of 300 fighter aircraft.
Two Chinese companies have developed competing prototype designs, the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corp, with sources indicating both aircraft are twin-engine, twin-tailed multirole fighters.
One of China’s most demanding problems is developing the engine for the F-XX, the source said. Russia has been increasingly reluctant to sell fighter engines to China, forcing Beijing to look for a homegrown alternative. These include the Shenyang WS-10 turbofan and a higher-thrust WS-15, now under development, said Richard Fisher, vice president of the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center.
“There may also be multiple fifthgeneration fighter engine programs underway,” he said. “A 15-plus ton thrust variant of Shenyang’s WS-10 is sometimes called the WS-10G, while it is not clear if the 18-ton thrust WS-15 is a Chengdu or a Shenyang program.”
Fisher, the author of the new book “China’s Military Modernization,” said 2010 was a “critical year for the WS-15, as a lack of success” could mean China will not meet its stated goal of having a fifth-generation fighter in service by 2017 to 2019.
China might have to act fast. Russia appears increasingly ill at ease selling high-performance engines to China.
Mikhail Pogosyan, the general director of Sukhoi Design Bureau and Russian Aircraft Corp., recently asked Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation to block delivery of 100 RD-93 engines to outfit China’s JF-17/FC-1 fighter due to fears it would compete against the MiG-29 in the export market. Pogosyan is also upset with China’s decision to ignore intellectual property agreements over the J-11B (Su-27) fighter issue.
In many cases, China has turned instead to Ukraine for technology and know-how barred by Russia. There are unconfirmed reports China procured an early prototype of the Su-33 fighter from Ukraine as a model for China’s indigenous development of a carrier-based fighter.
Debate continues on whether an indigenous carrier-based fighter will be Shenyang’s J-15 “Flying Shark” canard-configuration fighter, based on the J-11B, or the Su-33 prototype procured from Ukraine, sources said.
In 2009, Chinese Adm. Wu Shengli stated publicly that the Navy was also interested in a supercruise capable fighter, indicating the F-XX was of interest for both land-based and carrier-based missions, Fisher said.
China has expressed an interest in procuring a small number of Su-33s as stopgap trainers for the eventual fielding of an indigenous carrier-based variant, but Russia has turned down the request because of production costs and fears China would reverse-engineer the fighter.