China begin upgrading the engines of its most modern stealth fighter, the J-20, this year to match the US F-22 Raptor.
The ability to operate the J-20 “Dragon” is still very limited due to the reuse of a temporary replacement engine named WS-10C, the engine model used for old Chinese fighters.
But now they are being fitted with thrust vector control (TVC) exhaust, a technology Chinese engineers have spent two decades mastering and first unveiled at the Zhuhai Airshow 2018. The US F-22 Raptor also uses this technology, which helps control the direction of engine thrust, allowing the aircraft to make sudden turns that previous generations could not.
Chinese engineers are also developing a high-thrust engine, called the WS-15, to help their most advanced fighters close the gap with US fighters. But because the project was in trouble, its developer, Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation, had to use the WS-10C to mount the J-20.
A source familiar with the project’s development told SCMP that all WS-10C engines fitted to the J-20 will gain thrust-directed capabilities this year.
“Thanks to the confirmation of the completion of the thrust-directed rudders, the technology applied by the F-22, the maneuverability and stealth of the J-20 will be upgraded” – unnamed source. The upgrade project is intended to meet the increased training requirements of the Chinese military, and to support the deployment plan of about 200 J-20s.
State media earlier reported that the Chinese military had handed over the J-20 to the air force units responsible for the Taiwan Strait and East China Sea areas, with the number of about 150 aircraft.
This week, state television channel CCTV posted a video showing the J-20 brigades conducting night combat training, along with several videos showing the jets being fitted with engines. WS-10C.
Antony Wong Ton, a military observer in Macau, said: “This is the first time the Chinese military has shown simulated combat exercises of the J-20 brigades. However, the J-20’s motives will still lag behind the US F-22, until China installs WS-15 for this fighter model.”
The J-20 has been in service since 2017, after the US deployed more than 100 F-35s to Japan and South Korea. At that time, it was equipped with a Russian-made engine, and China only started to launch the J-20 model equipped with the domestically produced WS-10C engine from 2020.
An unnamed source told SCMP that the WS-15 engine test is ongoing and is expected to be completed next year.
“The engine that the J-20 currently uses will be replaced by the WS-15 as soon as this process is completed,” the source said, adding that there will be no technological problems because of the engines made by Russia and made in China are similar in shape and size.