China’s newest stealth fighter prototype is made in the People’s Republic and could pose a challenge to U.S. air power. But it’s got an Achilles’ Heel: its engines are Russian imports.
Without reliable, homemade motors, China’s planned stealth armada will continue relying on Russian-made engines that aren’t always adequate — and in any event can be withheld by a wary Moscow.
“China’s inability to domestically mass-produce modern high-performance jet engines at a consistently high-quality standard is an enduring Achilles’ Heel of the Chinese military aerospace sector,” wrote Andrew Erickson, a Naval War College analyst. Erickson chalked up the engine gap to a lack of standardization, cooperation and quality control in Chinese industry.
The new J-21, which apparently hasn’t flown yet, first appeared over the weekend in photos snapped at the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation’s factory airfield in northeast China. One high-rez pic clearly featured the twin-tail fighter’s two engines. “A good early guess is that the engines are Klimov RD-93s,” ace aviation reporter Bill Sweetman concluded.
The RD-93, a derivative of the engine fitted to Russia’s classic MiG-29 fighter, also powers China’s Chengdu JF-17, a light fighter intended for export. China bought at last 100 RD-93s from Russia starting in 2005. It seems at least two wound up with Shenyang for its new stealth fighter prototype.