China Aerospace Studies Institute
/ Published April 22, 2020
As we move further into the era of 21st century great power competition, it is important to understand with whom we are competing. This report is our second in a series of studies by the China Aerospace Studies Institute that seeks to lay the foundation for better understanding the Aerospace Sector of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
This is our first case-study in this series. This paper focuses on the aeroengine industry within the PRC. As you might expect, engines are a critical component to any aerospace endeavor. Despite serious efforts on the part of the PRC, China still struggles with several key technologies for the most advanced aeroengines. In other areas, however, China has made significant progress, either through their own research or through co-opting foreign technology. Part I of the study provides an overview of the R&D and acquisition ecosystem related to Chinese aeroengine development and a historical perspective on China’s key advances in the field. Key research institutes, factories, government offices, and people involved in the development of Chinese aeroengines are profiled. As there is significant overlap in the materials, propulsion, and control systems design and engineering used for turbines meant for power generation and aeroengines, an examination of Chinese gas turbine development is crucial to understanding China’s advances in aeroengines. Therefore, for the purposes of this study, we have also chosen to highlight the role of Chinese R&D institutes or breakthroughs related to power generation.
Part II of the study focuses on the development of four particular types of engines that represent the areas of greatest effort, highlighting the difficulties Chinese aviation engineers have faced and their progress toward overcoming challenges in this vital but complicated sector. These are fighter jet engines, turbofans for bombers and commercial aircraft, helicopter engines, and engines for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and cruise missiles.
• Fighter Jet Engines – analyzes the historical development of jet engines in China from the earliest rote copies of Russian designs to indigenous successes and cutting-edge research currently being incorporated into China’s latest generation of stealth fighters.
• Bomber and Commercial Aircraft Turbofans – focuses on high-bypass turbofans under development for bombers like the H-6K and H-20 and for strategic transport, aerial refueling and airborne early warning and control aircraft (AEW&C) such as the Y-20 and its variants.
• Helicopter Engines – discusses China’s path toward indigenized lines of turboshaft engines for the PLA’s expanding range of rotary wing aircraft.
• UAVs and Cruise Missile Engines – looks at two areas with significant overlap: “micro and small” turbofan engines for the significant number of
high-performance UAVs and advanced cruise missiles being developed for the PLA.
Drawing on Chinese-language government publications, news articles, authoritative writings on strategy and tactics, and academic studies, each section
examines the history of declared priorities, strategy, and R&D in the field. Combined with contemporaneous reporting, each section gives an assessment
of the current state of the respective field. Taken together, these provide a clear snapshot of the strategic requirements driving aeroengine R&D, the companies
and research institutions carrying it out, and the relative trajectory of progress by these companies.
CASI would like to thank the team at TextOre for their continued work in helping us bring further clarity to the often murky world that is the aerospace sector in the PRC. We would also like to specifically thank Peter Wood, Roger Cliff, and all the others who contributed to completing this report. We hope you find this volume useful, and look forward to bringing you further reports in this series on the Chinese aerospace sector.
Brendan S. Mulvaney
Director, China Aerospace Studies Institute
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