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October Surprises In Chinese Aerospace

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by Richard Fisher, Jr.
Published on December 30th, 2009

[for the U.S. Air Force in 2020,]“nearly 1,100 [combat aircraft] will be the most advanced fifth generation F-35s and F-22s. China, by contrast, is projected to have no fifth generation aircraft by 2020.  And by 2025, the gap only widens. The U.S. will have approximately 1,700 of the most advanced fifth generation fighters versus a handful of comparable aircraft for the Chinese.”
--U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, July 16, 2009

"I would contend that in the past decade or so, China has exceeded most of our intelligence estimates of their military capability and capacity every year. They've grown at an unprecedented rate in those capabilities."
--Admiral Robert F. Willard, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, October 21, 2009


Until recently one of Chinese officialdom’s most avoided issues of public and international interest regarding their People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been this: its future plans.  However, this 60th Anniversary year for the PLA has witnessed a marked increase in “transparency” in PLA terms, meaning it has been uneven and not the outcome of any regular process.  Nevertheless, this year has seen the leaders of the PLA Navy (PLAN) and PLA Air Force (PLAAF) address issues of mission, strategy and force modernization, with much more coming from the PLAAF.  Earlier this year rare PLA press leaks revealed an intention to build a sizable aircraft carrier navy.  In October and November the PLA explained China’s intention to build an “integrated air and space force capable of offensive and defensive actions.” 

In addition to official statements, articles in the Chinese and pro-Beijing Hong Kong press have commented on the new PLAAF strategy and have sought to justify China’s building military power in space.  The October 1 PLA parade, and then the early November 60th Anniversary program of the PLAAF put on display its current generation capabilities.  But this month there were other stated or implied indications of future intent: an official statement regarding 4th (5th) generation fighters; updates regarding new large transport aircraft; models of possible next-generation weapons to include unmanned combat aircraft, a new manned bomber and two possible space weapons; and the revelation of a new high-bypass turbofan.

One early result of these revelations is the possibility that the United States has underestimated a key future Chinese military capability, compounding that error by using it to help justify a momentous policy decision. In a November 8, 2009 Chinese television show, Deputy PLAAF Commander General He Weirong stated that the China’s 5th generation fighter would fly “soon” and would “equip troops” in “about eight to ten years,” or by 2017-2019.[1] Earlier this year, the Obama Administration campaigned vigorously to end production of the Lockheed-Martin F-22 5th generation air superiority fighter at 187, a decision in part justified by apparent assessments that China’s 5th generation fighter program would not emerge until well after 2025. 

While there is not sufficient public information to confirm that China will beat this U.S. assessment by about a decade, it does add credibility to Admiral Willard’s recent assertion that “in the past decade or so, China has exceeded most of our intelligence estimates of their military capability and capacity every year.”[2]  Responding to such a stunning indictment of U.S. intelligence analytical capabilities is beyond the scope of this article.  But from recent Chinese revelations and other open sources it is possible to conclude that it is China’s intention to build a level of air and space power to match or even exceed that of the United States.   

Strategy of Integrated Air and Space Power

Seasoned observers of China’s aerospace doctrine development have long warned that China seeks modern “airpower” as well as “space power,”[3] but in November 2009 PLA leaders and assorted Chinese commentators have confirmed that both of these objectives are now codified in new strategy for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.  PLAAF Commander General Xu Qiliang is reported to have described this new strategy as "effecting air and space integration, possessing capabilities for both offensive and defensive operations.”[4]  This new strategy is described as part of the PLAAF’s transition from, a “’campaign air force’ with the main combat capability in a campaign [theater level warfare],” to a “’strategic air force’ with independent operation and strategic striking capabilities...,” meant for more distant operations.  The later follows from the PLA’s new “historic missions” enunciated by Chinese Communist Party and PLA leader Hu Jintao in December 2004, which will increasingly require the PLA to defend the Party’s interests further abroad.  For a lengthy interview with the People’s Liberation Army Daily and Xinhua, General Xu offered the following explanation for the rationale and direction of China’s development of aerospace power:

"China's national interests are expanding and the country has entered the age of space. The Party and the people have given us a historic mission. After thorough consideration, we decided to change…The air force will extend its reach from the sky to space, from defense of Chinese territory to attack [of threats] as well. We will improve the overall capability to strike a long-distance target with high precision, fight electronic or internet warfare with back-up from space... and deliver our military strategic assets…China will become a world power by the mid-21st century and its air force must be able to counter many forms of security threats."[5]

To build a strategic force capable of independent operations General Xu lists the areas where the PLAAF will be expanding its capabilities:

“…in accordance with the general goal of building informatized armed forces and being able to win an informatized war, adhere to the strategic demand of the integration of the air and space and acquiring both defensive and offensive capabilities, constantly increase the reconnaissance, early warning, air strikes, antimissile air defense, and strategic airlift and airdrop capabilities…”[6]

In another article, PLAAF Deputy Commander Zhao Zhongxin is reported noting, “the air force will focus efforts on improving four capabilities: reconnaissance and early warning, aerial strikes, land-air anti-missile (capabilities), and strategic insertion -- focusing development on new model fighter planes, large transport aircraft, anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons, command automation systems…”[7]

PLAAF Commander General Xu Qiliang during the PLAAF 60th Anniversary program in early November 2009. Source: Chinese Internet

This list would be consistent for a country seeking to build an air force to defend increasingly global interest, which China has.  One important addition to the PLAAF’s list of future missions appears to be that of missile defense.  Most Xinhua reports of General Xu’s speech record the phrase “antimissile air defense,” though other reports add a coma between “antimissile” and “air defense.”[8]  But General Zhao’s reported statement would appear to offer clarification, that the PLAAF may now build a range of capabilities for missile defense.  This would give credibility to early 2008 comments to the author by an Asian military source that the PLA could have missile defenses in place by the mid 2020s.  Such a development would have important implications for the nuclear weapons postures of China and other countries.  A growing Chinese nuclear missile force that in the future will be defended enhances China’s options for nuclear attack as it would increase the nuclear forces needed to deter China.  A future Chinese missile defense force would also require the “integration of air and space” as multiple satellite systems would be required to carry out missile defense. 

PLAAF Wins the Space Combat Mission?

Another important implication of the PLAAF’s adoption of the “integration of air and space” may be that it has won an apparent long-running debate over which service will be responsible for military space or even space combat missions.  In 2004 a PLA officer told the author the battle was between the PLAAF and the Second Artillery, though later sources added the General Armaments Department of the Central Military Commission, which leads the development of space systems and controls China’s unmanned and manned space activities. The PLAAF is certainly eager to justify a new space mission, as General Xu states:

“Considering the (present) global trend of new revolution in military affairs, competition among armed forces is moving toward the space-air domain and is extending from the aviation domain to near space and even deep space. Such a "shift" represents an irresistible trend, such an "expansion" is historically inevitable, and such development is irreversible. In a certain sense, having control of space and air means having control of the ground, the seas and oceans, and the electromagnetic space, which also means having the strategic initiative in one's hands… In the face of the particular nature of competition for expanding the domains of space and air, the people's air force must establish a concept of space-air security, of space-air-related interests, and of space-air development that advance with the times.”[9]

Realizing that General Xu’s candor might not be welcome in all circles, by November 5, 2009 the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu stated,  "I want to point out China has all along upheld the peaceful use of outer space. We oppose the weaponisation of outer space or a space arms race…China has never and will not participate in an outer space arms race in any form. The position of China on this point remains unchanged."[10]  Despite such posturing and its longstanding international campaign to ban weapons in space from other countries, it is clear that the Chinese Foreign Ministry has no authority over the Party and PLA leaders eager to build China’s military space capabilities.  One Chinese commentary notes that as long as “hegemonism” (code word for the United States) maintains military primacy in space, “air-and-space non-militarization is merely people's naive illusion, or just a slogan and banner.” This author further implies that China is now going to deter the U.S. in space, noting, “The Chinese Air Force decided to make the historical change by adopting the strategy of ‘integration of air and space, possessing both offense and defensive capabilities’ precisely for the purpose of restricting the militarization of air and space and realizing an aerospace military balance.”[11]

China’s possible intention to develop new counter-space weapons may have been displayed at a  new PLA Air Force 60th Anniversary pavilion at the China Aviation Museum outside Beijing.  A Chinese internet source image of a wall mural picture of a four-engine aircraft with a nose-mounted laser devise attacking a satellite was likely part of this display.  China’s intention to develop a large four-engine transport aircraft will be explored below, but China’s development of laser and other anti-satellite weapons is well known.  However, the intention to put lasers on a new large aircraft and use them in a counter-space capacity would constitute a new disclosure. In 2006 U.S. government sources accused China of using powerful ground-based lasers to dazzle U.S. surveillance satellites.[12]  A former PLA officer recently told the South China Morning Post, "The PLA is studying two technologies to jam spy satellites: ground-based high-energy laser and electromagnetic wave…The electromagnetic wave systems have been tested in military exercises but the laser technology is still under development."[13]

Possible Airborne Laser ASAT Concept: Seen on a wall mural that likely was part of the new 60th Anniversary PLAAF display at the China Aviation Museum. Source: Chinese Internet

In addition, on January 11, 2007 the PLA made a successful interception of a FY-1C weather satellite with its SC-19 direct-ascent anti-satellite missile interceptor, which followed two or three previous SC-19 tests, all apparently monitored by U.S. space surveillance systems. Then on September 27, 2009, the Shenzhou-7 spacecraft, which has just carried China’s first space-walker, and then launched the BX-1 40kg microsatellite, passed to a point 45km from the International Space Station.  This could be viewed as an attempt to practice space docking or to accomplish a co-orbital anti-satellite interception.[14] A recent Chinese article reports China Strategy Institute member Jiang Feng saying the “next step’ of the Chinese Air Force is to “focus” on “developing” “’assassin’ satellites, laser interceptor satellites, etc.” This report also states,”It is reported that China's air force is currently also working hard to develop a new model orbital bomber.”[15]

ASAT ideas: This illustration of a range of anti-satellite weapons accompanied a November 14 Xinhua article on future PLA Air Force missions printed on several Chinese web portals. Source: Chinese internet

4th (5th) Generation Fighters

China’s 5th generation (which it calls 4th generation) fighter program has been a matter of intense interest and speculation, for which the PLA and Chinese aerospace corporations have managed to deny much basic information.  There is no government budget document, PLA web page or even company brochure which describes this fighter program.  Until this year there had been no official statements on this program.  So it was a surprise when in late April 2009, just before the 60th Anniversary of the PLA Navy, Commander Admiral Wu Shengli, in a wide ranging speech, listed the PLAN’s requirement for a fighter with “supersonic cruise” capability.[16]  Then on the November 8, 2009 edition of CCTV’s program “Face to Face,” PLAAF, Deputy Commander General He Weirong stated that China’s 4th generation fighter would fly “soon” and that this fighter could enter service in “about eight to ten years,” or between 2017 and 2019.  General He is also reported to have said the planes in development “will match or exceed the capability of similar jets in existence today.”[17]

General He Weirong: China’s next generation fighter could fly “soon.” Source: CCTV

Just before General He’s statement a widely cited Chinese Internet source, while not confirmable, stated that a prototype of the 5th generation fighter could start flying in 2010, albeit with a version of the 12-13-ton thrust WS-10A turbo fan in lieu of the not yet ready 15-ton thrust engine.  This source also noted that China could acquire up to 300 of these fighters.[18]  Reportedly these fighters will have a “4 S” capabilities: stealth, super cruise, super maneuverability and short take off.[19]

While General He’s statement could be viewed as “surprising” in light of Secretary Gate’s July 2009 assessment, it shouldn’t be so.  China’s 5th generation fighter program may already be twenty years old, meaning that it should have long been a target for U.S. intelligence monitoring.  According to the apparent memoir of a former 611 Aero Design Institute member, in 1989 China started organizing conceptual studies for its “next generation” fighter.  Both the Shenyang Aircraft Co. 601 Aero Design Institute and the Chengdu Aircraft Co. 611 Aero Design Institute were then appropriated work in the “2-03” Program.  This source also notes that by 1993 China had reached an agreement for engaging Russian consultants from their Central Aerohyrodynamics Institute (TsAGI) and from the Mikoyan Company to study advanced aero designs, knowledge that was shared with the 601 and 611 institutes.[20] Chengdu has also had a long consulting relationship with the Siberian Aeronautical Research Institute (SibNIA), the Siberian branch of TsAGI located in Novosibirsk.[21]  SibNIA’s assistance on Chengdu’s J-10 fighter could have also been applied to Chengdu’s 4th/5th generation program. 

Ghost Reappears: At the recent August 2009 Moscow Airshow, Zhukovsky airfield officials allowed enthusiasts to catch a glimpse of a repainted but non-working MiG article 1.42. fighter. Source: Chinese internet

In addition, 611 Institute engineer cited above was also apparently involved in developing new composite material technologies and structures which were used in the J-10 fighter.  These composite technologies apparently benefitted from sending Chengdu engineers to study at Stanford University in the late 1980s,[22] and even having Chengdu-developed composite materials tested in a U.S. commercial laboratory.[23]  Since the 1980s it is reasonable to expect that China has learned much more about the composite materials and structures from its experience building composite structures for Boeing and Airbus airliners,[24] and from the Ukraine’s Antonov bureau. In early October 2009 X’ian Aircraft International acquired Austria’s Fischer Advanced Composite Components, a major supplier of airframe and interior composite-based components.[25] An ability to build large composite material airframes and skin of sufficient strength would contribute greatly improve China’s ability to produce stealthy 5th generation aircraft designs, as well as modern, efficient civil and military transports.   

Chengdu Concepts: These Chengdu heavy weight canard-delta fighter concepts have appeared in airshow promotional material in 2004 (top) and during an apparent politician’s visit to the 611 bureau (bottom). Source: Chinese internet

Beyond this public data about the 5th generation programs at Shenyang and Chengdu is unsatisfactory.  Both are thought to have been working on “heavy” twin-engine stealthy and highly maneuverable designs to compete with U.S. and Russian 5th generation fighters.  However, Chinese internet sources, again unconfirmable, have suggested that in the PLA decided in favor of Chengdu’s 5th generation design, giving Shenyang a subcontractor role.[26] Both companies are thought to have at various times tended toward a “canard delta,” with Shenyang first thought to be favoring a “triplane” design and perhaps later a triplane-forward swept wing.  Chengdu has usually been associated with a twin-engine canard-delta design.  A Chengdu 611 Institute brochure obtained around the November 2002 Zhuhai Airshow included a computer simulation design for an apparent heavy twin-engine canard-delta design which bore some resemblance to the aborted Mikoyan MiG 1.44 5th generation fighter prototype.  Reporting from the time of this aircraft’s unveiling in 1999 indicated some Russian interest in selling it to China,[27] but there has been no subsequent reporting to that effect.  There have been more recent indicators that both Chengdu and Shenyang have worked with 5th generation concept that starts with a flat delta shaped airframe core, to which are attached canard controls, wings and stabilizers. 

GTE Image: An advertisement from the Gas Turbine Establishment in the November 2008 ShowNews provided a vague illustration of a possible profile for a next generation fighter similar to the Shenyang canard winged-delta Dark Sword. GTE’s relationship to the Chengdu Group raises the possibility this is a Chengdu 4th/5th gen fighter concept. Source: GTE via ShowNews

There is also a possibility that China could have a program for other 5th generation fighters, perhaps to include a medium-weight fighter to compliment its reported heavyweight fighter program.  In early 2005 a Chinese industry source told the author that the Chengdu Aircraft Co. was considering a “F-35 like” fighter program.  That would have been a period during which Chinese defense concerns were finalizing their programs for the next Five-Year Plan to begin in 2006, but it is not known whether such a medium-weight fighter program was approved.  However, at the November 2006 Zhuhai Airshow the Shenyang Aircraft Co. revealed a radical canard-triplane forward swept wing fighter design.  But its compelling feature was that it had one engine, an indication that there may be a medium-weight 5th generation fighter program as well.  By mentioning the Lockheed-Martin F-35, there is at least the implication that a potential Chinese medium-weight fighter could be built in multiple versions, to include a short-take off and vertical landing model (STOVL), much like the F-35B.

Possible Shenyang Concept: Seen only once at the 2006 Zhuhai show, Shenyang is the likely source of this radical triplane-canard forward swept wing design. With an apparent single engine, it is indicative of a possible medium-weight 5th generation fighter program. Source: Chinese internet

In addition, it is possible that China is using its 5th generation program to move beyond into the next generation of aerial combat.  Since the 2006 Zhuhai show, and most recently at the 60th anniversary Chinese Aviation Museum exhibit, the PLA has displayed models of the Shenyang “Dark Sword” supersonic unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) concept.  At the 2006 Zhuhai show a brief identification plaque noted it had a counter-air mission.  While sharing the potential high maneuverability of the Shenyang canard-fighter concept (the latest model appears to illustrate a thrust vectoring system), an air-superiority UCAV is currently an unrealistic prospect given that computers have yet to match the combat flexibility and instinct of the human brain.  However, the Dark Sword conceivably could operate in support of manned 5th generation fighters, undertaking more narrowly defined electronic or kinetic attack missions while the manned fighters secure the airspace.

Latest Dark Sword: Using the same canard delta-triplane airframe base as the Shenyang canard fighter shown above, the latest Dark Sword model seen at the recent PLA Air Force 60th Anniversary display, indicates it is designed for very high maneuverability, perhaps to compliment manned fighters. Source:

At the April 2009 Navy Association Convention Boeing unveiled at concept for a “6th generation” fighter designed to be made in manned and unmanned versions.  Boeing’s concept was intended to preview its potential offering for a future U.S. Navy A/F-XX program that is yet unfunded.[28]  The U.S. Navy is already leading the development of unmanned carrier-based combat aircraft with the Northrop-Grumman X-47B, due to fly in early 2009.  Also, in December 2009 a U.S. Air Force official noted studies were beginning that may lead to a USAF 6th generation fighter.[29]  But at this point it is valid to consider that the PLA may be ahead of the U.S. in the development of a 6th generation fighter, inasmuch as it may be considering the development of a paired manned and unmanned 5th generation fighter, one apparent major goal for a 6th generation design. 

Race for the 6th Generation?: Boeing’s concept for a 6th generation fighter revealed in early 2009 was intended to support manned and unmanned variants, something China may be developing to support its 5th generation design. Source: RD Fisher

China may be making steady progress in the range of supporting technologies needed to realize its 5th generation combat aircraft ambitions, to include advanced radar, electronics, stealth, weapons and engines.  In early 2009 a new version of the Chengdu J-10, called the “J-10B,” began testing.  One curious feature it displays is an apparent “cant” to the radar bulkhead, which could represent the appearance of a new electronically scanned array radar.[30] In 1997 Flight International reported that a new Phazotron RP-35 electronically-scanned array radar was being offered to China to beat out an Israeli radar also being offered for the J-10.[31] A more recent Russian report suggests that China may have acquired two of these radar “in the mid 1990s,” which became the basis for MiG-35’s Phazotron’s Zhuk-AE active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, which has a range of 160km and can attack 4 to 6 targets simultaneously.[32] A Chinese source suggests that China’s 607 Institute completed an X-band AESA fighter radar in 2008.[33]  China’s new radar is expected to be an indigenous system, but influenced by Russian, Israeli and perhaps Italian technology.  If China has developed such an AESA radar, this would constitute a major breakthrough for their aircraft radar technology.  It would also mean that similar or improved ASEA radar may equip their future 5th generation fighters.   

AESA indicator: The nose of the “J-10B” (top) appears to show a “canted” radar bulkhead, which would be consistent for fitting of an ASEA radar that may have been based on a Russian Phazotron radar design such as was revealed at the 2005 Moscow Airshow (bottom). Source: Chinese Internet and RD Fisher

At the 2008 Zhuhai show China displayed an advanced large-screen cockpit display, which could assist “data fusion” as does a similar U.S. cockpit display being built for the F-35.  A U.S. source noted to the author that such displays are very difficult to develop and manufacture because they must be light-weight and survive the stresses of modern air combat.[34]  A brochure for the Chengdu FC-1 distributed at the recent 2009 Dubai Airshow mentions it can be equipped with a Helmet Mounted Display (HMD), which Chinese officials confirmed was available.[35] An upgraded HMD system is one of the key advances offered by the F-35 and other 4.5 generation fighters, but is not yet incorporated into the F-22. 

5th Gen Aircraft Systems: An advanced cockpit display was seen at the 2008 Zhuhai Airshow. It is similar to the display to be used in the U.S. F-35 fighter, and humorously, a F-35 shape appears on the screen. Source: Chinese internet

For many years China has also shown an interest in aircraft stealth technologies and next-generation weapons.  The latest models of the Chengdu FC-1 use airframe shaping and diverterless intakes to aid stealth.  A U.S. official recently conceded to Aviation Week that China has had many years to study U.S. and European stealth technology.  Since the 2002 Zhuhai Show Chinese air-to-air missile (AAM) maker Luoyang has mentioned its “next generation” AAM.  In 2007 internet source images appeared of a new high off-boresight and highly maneuverable AAM appeared, showing a marked similarity to the South African Denel 5th generation A-Darter AAM.  In a recent exchange with the author, South African sources admitted that Denel and Luoyang had explored possible AAM cooperation, but that Denel decided not to proceed as they could not profit from such cooperation.  However, they noted that Luoyang was very interested in and influenced by the A-Darter design.  Without South African help, these sources estimated that Luoyang could make this AAM in about five years.[36] 

Luoyang’s A-Darter: Not the result of cooperation with Denel say South African sources. But these sources note that in five years the PLA could have an AAM similar in capability to the MBDA ASRAAM and the Raytheon AIM-9X. Source: Via CJDBY web page

New Engines

The PLAAF’s ability to evolve into a “strategic force” will be heavily dependent on its successful mastering of advanced turbofan technology.  This will determine the success of next generation combat aircraft programs, and its ambition to develop and sell large military and civil transport aircraft.  However, as with so many other advanced military programs, China does not allow the dissemination of sufficient data about specific engine programs to make clear determinations regarding their progress.[37] Chinese media and web reporting is often incomplete and contradictory and Chinese engine company officials at air shows are often reluctant to describe their new products, much less future programs.[38]  That said, it is possible to detect that an enormous effort is underway and while China has experienced considerable difficulties along the way, it is a fact that progress is being made.  It is also likely that China has not just one, but two advanced fighter turbofan engine programs underway under the Shenyang and Chengdu groups.  These groups, along with the X’ian Engine Group, are likely pursuing new large high-bypass turbofans for military and civil transports, but here China also hopes to spur greater cooperation following a recent reorganization of engine concerns under AVIC. 

Taihang, 2008 and 2009: The WS-10A/FSW-10 Taihang was first displayed at the 2008 Zhuhai show (top) and then with full nozzle during the PLAAF 60th Anniversary program (bottom). Source: RD Fisher collection and

Much attention has been focused on the WS-10A or FWS-10 “Taihang,” China’s first indigenously designed 3rd (4th) generation fighter turbofan, a product of the 606 Shenyang Aeroengine Research Institute (SARI) and  the Shenyang Liming Aero Engine Group.  A program reportedly started in 1986 by Deng Xiaoping, the goal of the WS-10A program was to produce a turbofan competitive with the Russian Saturn AL-31F and comparable U.S. engines to power new 4th generation fighters like the Shenyang J-11 and Chengdu J-10.  It reportedly began flight testing on a J-11 fighter in 2002 and may have started low-rate production in 2006.  A picture of the Taihang was revealed at the 2006 Zhuhai show, and a full scale engine was finally displayed at the 2008 Zhuhai show, though a full engine complete with exhaust nozzle was not displayed until the recent PLAAF 60th Anniversary.

Taihang Production: A Chinese television report from early 2009 apparently shows factory production of the Taihang engine. Source: CCTV

Since the early 1990s Russian sources have disclosed to the author that Shenyang was experiencing great difficulties in meeting planned thrust goals, while there have been reports and rumors of other specific problems.  In August 2009 a Chinese AVIC official admitted there were many problems facing the Taihang but declined to elaborate.[39]  The chart below notes Taihang thrust goals and reported results, though in 2004 a Russian official speculated that China would still put this engine into production.[40]  Other possible issues include incidents of shedding turbine blades, oil leakage issues, and even one unconfirmed rumor of a new J-11BS fighter disintegrating in flight due to a Taihang engine failure.[41]  To be sure, U.S. engine makers were very challenged to make the leap from 3rd to 4th generation fighter engines, though at the recent November 2009 Dubai Airshow Russian officials conceded that given their large investment and commitment that China would eventually make the Taihang work. 

While having kept a much lower profile, it is increasingly clear that the 624 Engine Design Institute, or the China Gas Turbine Establishment (GTE), and its related Chengdu Engine Group, may have competing advanced fighter turbofan engine programs. This was revealed with some surprise at the 2008 Zhuhai Airshow, when GTE revealed models of new fighter and trainer turbofans.[42]   One is a 9,500kg maximum thrust class engine, the other a 4,200kg maximum thrust class engine, and both appeared equipped with axisymetric thrust vector control nozzles.  These enhance extreme post-stall maneuverability and can improve short take-off and landing performance. In recent years less credible Chinese internet sources have suggested that Chengdu may have a 13+ton thrust turbofan program called the WS-12 or “Tanggula.”[43] Other sources suggest this program may have been cancelled in 1999, but then the possibility remains it could have been succeeded by another similar program. Another web report from early 2009 alleges that a turbofan called “Huashan” may be a cooperative program between GTE and the X’ian Engine Group.  This would be a 15-ton thrust engine based in large part on the Russian Tumansky R-79 turbofan for the defunct Yakovlev Yak-141 STOVL fighter and reportedly will power the J-10, a new STOVL fighter and be developed for a 5th generation fighter.[44]

Competing Chengdu Programs?: A advertisement in the Novmeber 2008 issue of ShowNews provided a linkage between GTE and a new 9.5-ton thrust turbofan. Source: GTE via ShowNews

There are other indicators that Chengdu may have a large fighter turbofan development program.  At the 2009 Moscow Airshow a Chinese AVIC official demurred when asked whether the Taihang would power the J-10 fighter.  Then at the same show, Ukrainian officials explained to the author their hope to work with China, first to coproduce the Progress AI-222-25F turbofan for the Hongdu L-15 trainer,[45] but then to co-develop a 9,500kg thrust engine and then a 15-ton thrust fighter engine.  A Chinese source then suggested the AI-222-25F coproduction venture would fall under the Chengdu Engine Group.[46] 

It is also likely that there are programs underway at Shenyang and Chengdu to develop more powerful turbofans for 5th generation fighters.  Chinese professional engineering journals show an interest in engines with a 10 to 1 thrust to weight ratio, thought to be a requirement for advance 15+ ton thrust engines needed for next generation fighters. One program is called WS-15 and is likely a program of the Chengdu Engine Group, though some Chinese sources say it is a Shenyang program.  In mid-December 2009 an internet-source image of the WS-15 engine core appears, at least confirming this program’s existence. A wall chart from the 2006 Zhuhai show illustrating China’s fighter engine history noted the “4th Generation Aero-engine” to be a product of the “AVIC-1 Power Systems.”  In 2008-2009 AVIC was further reorganized resulting in the “AVIC Engine Group,” which may promote greater cooperation among formerly competing engine groups. A Russian source recently stated that China is also developing a 18-ton thrust engine,[47] which would exceed 40,000 lbs. of thrust and approach the 19.5-ton thrust Pratt and Whitney F135 engine of the F-35.  China is unlikely to stop there. At the 2008 Zhuhai show a GTE official gave a rare interview in which he noted that the U.S. may be developing future engines with 16 to 1 thrust to weight ratios.[48] 

WS-15 Core: This Chinese internet source chart shows the WS-15 engine core, upper right, and WS-13 which is based on Russian Klimov RD-33 turbofan technology. Source: CJDBY

While having resisted the sale of its current advanced turbofan technology to China, Russia hopes to remain a source for completed advanced turbofans.  According to Russian officials China has purchased between 300 and 400 Saturn A-31FN engines for the Chengdu J-10 fighter.[49]  This source also noted that China has not yet purchased a thrust-vectored version of this engine despite reports of interest dating back to 2005.  However, this source did note that China is interested in the improved more powerful versions of the AL-31.  For example, the AL-31F-M1 adds 1,000kg of thrust for a total maximum thrust of 13,500kg, and Russian officials note that future versions could achieve 15-tons of thrust.  The PLA may make additional purchases of the AL-31FN if Shenyang’s and Chengdu’s engine programs remain problematic.  While sale of Russia’s next generation Saturn Item 117 turbofan remains possible, it may not be likely given that China would prefer that its 4th/5th generation fighter be an indigenous product. 

China is also apparently making progress in developing its own high-bypass turbofans for use in new large civil and military transport aircraft.  At the 2008 Zhuhai show a mockup of the 3,200kg thrust “Minjiang” high-bypass turbofan, with potential application for business jets or UAVs, was displayed for the first time.  It was reported to be a joint program of the GTE and the Shenyang Liming Aeroengine Company,[50] another potential indicator of cooperation between the otherwise rival aeroengine groups.  This engine may be used by business jet size aircraft.  Then at the early November 2009 Shanghai Industry Fair the AVIC Commercial Engine Corporation made a surprise revelation of its new “SF-A” 12,000 to 13,000kg thrust high-bypass turbofan, which one Chinese report noted had been developed in “secret” since about 2001.[51]  This engine may be ready for use by 2014 and is reportedly intended for use by the new Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) C919 regional airliner.

GTE/Shenyang “Minjiang”: This 3,200kg thrust high-bypass turbofan could be used for bizjets or UAVs, and could also indicate that larger high-bypass turbofans are under development at the Chengdu Group. Source: GTE via ShowNews

The Chinese companies responsible for the SF-A have not yet been revealed.  However, it has been oft reported that SARI was developing a high-bypass turbofan based on the engine core developed for the WS-10A.  The prototype for this engine may be known as the FWS10-118, which also may be known as the WS-10D, a 12+ton thrust engine.  This engine, or a purchased Russian Dvigatel D30-KP turbofan, or a co-produced model known as the WS-18, may power the new X’ian H-6K bomber. GTE’s work on the Minjiang is a potential indicator that Chengdu may also be working on larger high-bypass turbofans.  With the SF-A engine China hopes eventually to compete with the Safran/General Electric CFM-56 high-bypass turbofan family, one of the most popular regional jet turbofan engines with over 14,000 in service.  This is a very ambitious objective, as China would also have to compete with the global sales and service infrastructures of well established turbofan makes CFM, GE, Pratt Whitney and Rolls Royce.  But China is also planning to support the long-term development of its advanced high-bypass turbofan sector by developing several types of large aircraft that will provide a growing domestic market for its engines. 

Surprise SF-A: Following a reported eight years of “secret” development China revealed its new SF-A large high bypass turbofan in early November 2009. Source: Chinese Internet

Known, Reported and Foreign-Source Chinese Fighter Turbofan Programs
Service Date
Max Thrust/Afterburner kg/lbs
T-W Ratio
Qinling (WS-9)
Xian Aero Engine Group
9,325+kg (20,500+lbs)
Co-produced version of Spey Mk 202; initial deal in 1976 founders; revived in 1998; co-production of improved version starts in 2003
Qinling 2a
Xian Aero Engine Group
JH-7B ?
9,700kg ? / (21,400lbs) ?
6.5 ?
Improved version said to be competitive with the French SNECMA M53-P2
Huashan 100a
China Gas Turbine Establish-ment  (GTE) and X’ian Engine Group
J-10; J-10M
2013 ?
15,530kg ? / (34,240lbs)
Reportedly based on Tumansky R-79 and R-79M turbofans, all tech data for which reported acquired in late 1990s; to be developed into versions to support new medium, STOVL and 5th gen fighters
Taihang (WS-10A/FWS-10)
Shenyang Liming Aero Engine
JXX proto-type?
Reported goal: 13,200kg / (29,106lbs)
Reportedly achieved: 11,220kg / (24,730lbs) to 12,800kg  / (28,220lbs)
Development starts in 1986; reported initial production by 2006; US and Russian tech influences; has Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC); core serving as basis for large bypass transport turbofan and naval turbine engine
Taihang Mod.
Shenyang Liming Aero Engine
15,500-15,810kg / (34,117lbs)
Reported development of the Taihang intended for 5th generation fighters
Taishan (WS-13)
Guizhou Aero Engine Group
FC-1 ?
80-86.37kN / (17,980-19,391lbs)
Development started in 2000; based largely on RD-33/93 but with substantial new inputs; 2,200 hour life span; reports of 100kN/22,450lbs thrust version in development
Unknown engine
China Gas Turbine Establish-ment  (GTE) (Chengdu)
FC-1 ?; new Chengdu twin-engine fighter?
9,500kg / (20,940lbs)
Revealed at the 2008 Zhuhai Airshow; reported derived from WS-13; FADEC and axisymetric thrust vectoring nozzle; GTE is designer, but manufacturer is not known
Unknown engine
4,200kg / (9,259lbs)
Different from but also benefitted from Taihang program; also reported cancelled in 1999, but unknown if it has been succeeded by another progam
WS-12 / Tanggula / Emei?a
GTE?/Chengdu Engine Group Co.?
new fighter ?
13,815kg ? / (30,400+lbs)
Different from but also benefitted from Taihang program; also reported cancelled in 1999, but unknown if it has been succeeded by another progam
GTE/Chengdu Engine Group Co. or 606 Shenyang ?
Ptype in 2009?
Ptype: 16,500kg / (36,380lbs)
Future: 180kN / (18,350kg or 40,340lbs)
Not clear if it is a GTE or 606 or joint program; development likely started in early 1990s; component production reported started in 2006; 18-ton thrust program reported by Russian sources
Foreign Fighter Engines
Spey RB-168 Mk 202
Rolls Royce
F-4K/M; Buccaneer; early JH-7
9,325kg / (20,500lbs)
Early UK military turbofan development starts in late 1950s; purchased for early JH-7 development
Russia, Klimov
1972 (tested)
8,300kg / (18,300lbs)
Improved version of RD-33 which began development in 1968
Russia, Saturn
J-10 (AL-31FN)
1977 (test flight)
12,258kg / (27,557lbs)
AL-31FN: 12,700kg / (28,000lbs)
Development likely stated in late 1960s; AL-31FM-2 increases to 13,200kg max thrust; development up to 15-tons thrust
US, Pratt Whitney
15,570kg / (35,000lbs)
Included for comparison; first 5th generation engine; 19.5-ton/43,000lb class F135 powers the F-35
Russia, Saturn
14,500-15,000kg? (32,000-33,070lbs)
Possible option for future PLA fighters
Note: This is a tentative listing of known and reported Chinese turbofan engine programs, performance figures for PRC engines estimated.
a This engine’s existence is reported by Chinese sources but not verified.
Sources: Reports from Chinese web pages including FYJS, CJDBY, Warsky, Top81, 9 iFly, and author interviews

Large Civil and Military Transport Aircraft

China’s ambition to build new large military and civil transport aircraft has been affirmed many times since the 2006 National People Congress meeting.[52]  On November 5, 2009 Chinese reports stated that during a press conference officials of the China Aviation Industry Group (AVIC) revealed that a mockup of a new 200-ton “military transport” aircraft would appear by the end of 2009.  This would constitute remarkable progress on a program for which China has revealed little.  In 2006 Ukrainian officials noted they had been hired as consultants by X’ian Aircraft Design and Research Institute (603 Institute) to consult on large aircraft programs, to include the possible adaptation of Antonov’s turbofan-powered An-70 for turbofan propulsion.  Then in 2007 a Ukrainian official confirmed that images of a model of a Chinese four-turbofan military transport was another AVIC-1 design.  It is not clear if the “200-ton” aircraft is the same as the AVIC-1 transport concept, but Chinese internet reporting indicated this aircraft was designed to carry a 60-ton payload, which would place it in the same class as the Russian Ilyushin Il-76 and the U.S. C-17.

Possible 200-ton transport concepts: The above image which appeared in 2007 is identified as an AVIC-1 concept, while a more refined model appeared in late December 2009, while the bottom image of a possible transport concept appeared in mid-2009. Source: Chinese Internet

In addition, it appears that the X’ian Aircraft Company has made progress on smaller twin- turbofan powered high-wing transport, first revealed in model form at the 2004 Zhuhai Airshow as the “WJ” for Whoshan Jiaolian.  It was described as a 50-passenger 20-ton aircraft for training.  But in mid-December 2009 an image of a new model of this aircraft appeared on the Chinese internet, apparently with the factory number “175,” which is a X’ian factory, plus “01,” which may mean it represents the first example to have been produced.  This aircraft may eventually serve as a training aircraft for the larger transport or other military support missions, but its design experience would also serve to inform the development of the larger transport.  It is not clear which engine it uses, but a high-bypass development of the WS-10 or purchased Russian D30-KP turbofans are likely.  This design may also serve as the basis for a reported larger 25-ton payload twin-turbofan medium transport that may also emerge at the end of 2009.[53]  If true, this aircraft would be competitive with the proposed Brazilian Embraer C-390 high-wing twin-turbofan transport, which is being developed for a 20-ton payload.  Such an aircraft might allow X’ian to gain a leading position in an emerging medium-transport market for a more modern and faster replacement for the turboprop powered Lockheed-Martin C-130 Hercules.

Possible Twin-Turbofan MediumTransport: A December 2009 image indicates that a X’ian program to develop a medium size turbofan powered military transport, first seen in 2004 (bottom), may still be active. This may form the basis for a new 25-ton medium transport. Source: Chinese Internet and RD Fisher

Following the ARJ-21 regional airliner, now in advanced testing, China hopes to build the C919, the product of its new Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC).  This 80-ton, single-isle150+ seat twin-engine airliner is expected to fly by 2014 powered initially by Western-made turbofan engines, then supplemented by a slightly more powerful version of the SF-A.  The C919 is reportedly going to use a 30,000lb thrust engine, meaning the SF-A would have to exceed 13-tons of thrust. With the C919 China is joining Canada’s Bombardier C-Series and Russia’s Irkut MC-21 airliners in challenging the global leaders in this market segment, the Boeing B-737 (6,000+ built) and the Airbus A-320 families (4,000+ built).[54]  Though it is a newcomer, China is striving to ensure the C919 benefits from the latest technologies.  Reportedly about 20 percent of its airframe will be made from weight and fuel-saving composite materials.[55] While not a high as the 50-percent goal of the latest Boeing B-787 airliner, it is much higher than the older B-737 and A-320. 

C919: China is starting to compete against Western aerospace giants with its 150+ seat C919 regional airliner (top). Source: Chinese Internet

Chinese companies and aviation officials have had much less to say about a possible larger wide-body four-engine passenger transport program.[56]  The designation for this aircraft is unknown, but since 2007 occasional computer graphics and photos of models of this aircraft have appeared on the Chinese Internet.  The most famous was taken at the end of 2007 at X’ian’s Aircraft Design and Research Institute (603 Institute) during a visit by Premier Wen Jiabao, seen standing next to a partial view of the model.  Subsequent photos of this model also indicate it a X’ian concept.  This aircraft appears to be about the size of a Boeing B-767, or a 140+ ton max-weight airliner.  An aircraft this size would likely obtain adequate power from four 13-ton thrust SF-A engines.  The FWS10-118 turbofan is also linked to a 150-ton aircraft program, which would increase the possibility that X’ian’s four-engine aircraft is a real program. Powered by Chinese-made engines, both the C919 and the undesignated four-engine transport could also serve a range of missions for the PLA.  The C919 could be adopted as a regional maritime patrol aircraft, similar in concept to the Boeing P-8 based on the B-737, or it could be outfitted with a linear phased array radar to fly at a higher altitude than the similarly equipped turboprop-powered Shaanxi Y-8W AWACS aircraft.  The larger four-engine transport could be outfitted for long-range AWACS, electronic intelligence/attack and tanking missions, or as the laser-armed ASAT aircraft noted earlier in this article.  A tanker version of this aircraft would provide a much more useful replacement for the smaller HU-6 tankers currently in use, and allow PLAAF transports, bombers and strike fighters to greatly extend their range. 

China’s 767?: Seen pictured with Premier Wen Jiabao in December 2007 (top) and then in a subsequent side view, this 767-size aircraft is apparently a program of the X’ian Aircraft Company. Source: Chinese Intenent

Future Corner: Bombers and Space—But How Real ?

One corner of the new China Aviation Museum exhibit appears to have been set aside to offer views of potential future or perhaps even imagined PLAAF programs. These include models of two possible bomber programs and a possible hypersonic or space-based combat platform.  On the one hand this could be a PLA attempt at “future gazing,” a marketing strategy for high-technology weapons (usually expensive) long ago mastered by Western aerospace corporations and their governments.[57]  But then again, specific services of the PLA rarely “campaign” for such support in a public manner, and minor revelations, not to mention ones of such magnitude, would require approval by very high authorities.[58]  But for the domestic and foreign audiences targeted by the PLAAF anniversary program, the PLA would also want to use such models to convey the seriousness of their intent to become a global aerospace power.  However, an early spate of Chinese internet source pictures of this exhibit has curtailed; perhaps this exhibit has been closed.[59]

H-6K, JH-7A and JH-7+: Current programs of the Xian Aircraft Corporation: Source: Chinese Internet

Possible New Bomber Platforms

For many years there has been speculation on Chinese military interest web pages of a new Chinese strategic bomber program.  Often called the “H-8” or “H-9,” speculation has centered on whether the X’ian Aircraft Company (XAC) is building either a new subsonic or supersonic large bomber aircraft.  XAC is currently producing the H-6K, the latest version of its copy of the 1950s vintage Soviet Tupolev Tu-16, this time upgraded with a more powerful engine, better electronics and the ability to carry new precision guided weapons (PGMs) and long-range land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs).[60]  XAC is also producing the JH-7A strike fighter, which China is marketing mildly as a less expensive competitor to the Russian Sukhoi Su-30 and the U.S. Boeing F-15E.  Though a design that dates back to the 1970s, X’ian’s success in obtaining from Britian’s Rolls Royce the ability to co-produce the Spey Mk 202 turbofan early in this decade, has allowed the production of an all-weather strike platform capable of delivering modern laser and satellite guided PGMs, or carrying electronic warfare pods to act in an escort jamming role. 

Big Bomber Concept: This model apparently part of the PLAAF 60th Anniversary display suggests the ambition to build a large intercontinental bomber. Source:

In the 2004 and 2005 time frame there was some speculation of renewed Chinese interest in purchasing a small number of Tu-22M3 Backfire supersonic bombers from Russia, but such a sale has not come to pass.  An earlier decision to move ahead with the H-6K may have been one reason, but the PLAAF 60th Anniversary display contained another possible reason: Xian could be working on a new large bomber.  Suspended from the ceiling of this display was a curious model of what appears to be a large delta wing bomber powered by four high-bypass turbofans.  Reminiscent of the 1950s British Avro Vulcan delta wing bomber, it may also represent XAC’s effort to make an intercontinental range stealth bomber.  It would apparently have three large weapons bays to carry PGMs, free-fall weapons or LACMs—all of which could be nuclear armed.  This design also aids China’s development of new concept and potentially efficient/economical blended-wing transports. One reason to doubt this concept, however, is the fact that in July 2008 there emerged on the Chinese Internet a series of web art concepts that resemble this bomber.  Was the PLA in turn inspired by this concept to advance some disinformation as part of its larger release of information?  At a minimum this model helps advance the impression PLA leaders would like to convey of their having far greater military power in the future.

But doubts: In July 2008 these artist conceptions appeared on the Chinese Internet, which given unofficial nature of this medium, raises some doubt about the above model. Source: Chinese Internet

Apparently nearby the delta bomber model was another delta wing platform, a twin-engine sharp nose aircraft.  It appears to be an unmanned test platform, with one possible goal being to develop an unmanned or manned attack platform capable of supercruise speeds, or sustained speeds above Mach 1 without using fuel-guzzling afterburners.  Like the U.S. XB-70 of the early 1960s, it uses “compression lift,” or surfing in its own compression shock wave, to achieve lift at high altitudes.[61]  The size of the engines suggest it may use Qinling/Spey Mk 202 engines, which would also suggest this is a XAC program.  Xian is also known to be working on advanced versions of the JH-7A incorporating stealth technology, but this unmanned test platform may be part of Xian’s effort to develop a new more advanced supercruising strike aircraft or even larger supersonic strategic bomber.  A manned strike fighter or bomber, however, might require a more powerful engine than the Qinling. An unmanned version might also be suitable for surveillance, electronic warfare or limited strike missions. 

Possible Supercruising UAV: This model may represent a test article for a future supercruising UAV/UCAV or manned reconnaissance-strike platform. Source:

At the end of “bomber model row” is a very curious model of an almost science fiction/comic book appearing craft. One guess is that it may represent a future orbiting space combat laser or railgun armed platform.  In this vein it may be suggestive of the former Soviet Polyus/Skif unmanned laser armed space battle station of the late 1980s.  However, it has what appear to be intake/exhaust openings suggesting it may also be an airbreathing system powered ramjet or scramjet engines.  Its faceted shape also suggests a trans-atmospheric operating capability, making it a possible strike platform, or even an air-launched long-range very high speed/high altitude anti-air weapon to attack critical U.S. targets like AWACS or tankers.[62] 

Space, Air, or Air-Space?: It could be a space weapon platform or a hypersonic trans-atmospheric attack system. Source:

[1] General He’s remarks were broadcast on a November 8, 2009 CCTV show commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the PLA Air Force, A Chinese transcript of his remarks on the 4th generation fighter is available at: His comments on the 4th Generation fighter were then widely reported on the Chinese web, for example, see, “Air Force Deputy Commander: China’s fourth generation fighter could be flying soon,”, November 9, 2009,, a report taken from Xinhuanet,

[2] “Admiral: U.S., China military relations thawing,” Associated Press, October 21, 2009.

[3] For useful previous examinations of China’s development of airpower and space power doctrine see, Mark A. Stokes, “The Chinese Joint Aerospace Campaign: Strategy, Doctrine and Air Force Modernization,” and Kevin Pollpeter, “The Chinese Vision of Space Military Operations,” in James Mulvenon and David Finkelstein, eds., China’s Revolution in Doctrinal Affairs: Emerging Trends in the Operational Art of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Alexandria: RAND Co. and Center for Naval Analysis, 2005, Chapters 7 and 9; Michael P. Pillsbury, An Assessment of China’s Anti-Satellite and Space Warfare Program, Policies and Doctrines, Report submitted to the United States China Economic and Security Review Commission, 19 January 2007; and Larry M. Wortzel, The Chinese People’s Liberation Army and Space Warfare, Emerging United States-China Military Competition, Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, October 2007.

[4] As noted in, Zhuang Jingqian, “Beijing Observation: Chinese Air Force Quickens Pace of Strategic Transition, Possibly by Taking Two Steps,” Zhongguo Tongxun She, November 10, 2009 OSC Translation; For discussions of the new Air Force strategy also see, Sun Maoqing, Xu Zhuangzhi and Li Xuanliang, “60th Anniversary of Founding of PLAAF--Expert Interpretation, PLAAF Begins To Realize Five Major System Advances,” Xinhua, November 11, 2009, OCS Translation; Yang Minqing, "Chinese Air Force's New Strategy and New Security Concept", Liaowang (published by Xinhua), November 20, 2009, OSC Translation; Liu Yueshan, "Air Force Combat Strength Boosted To Adapt to Three-Dimensional Operations,” Wen Wei Po Online, November 21, 2009, OSC Translation.

[5] Comments as reported by Stephen Chen and Greg Torode: "China 'To Put Weapons in Space',” South China Morning Post, November 3, 2009.

[6] Renmin Ribao reporter Feng Chunmei, Xinhua reporters Sun Maoqing and Li Xuanliang and Central People's Radio Station reporter Li Guowen, “Take the Road of Scientific Development, Build an Iron Great Wall in the Blue Sky -- Special Interview With Xu Qiliang, Member of the Central Military Commission and Commander of the Air Force,” Xinhua Domestic Service, November 6, 2009, aired November 1, 2009, OCS Translation.

[7] Liu Yueshan, op-cit.

[8] Missile defense included version seen at “Air Force Commander Xu Qiliang: Chinese Air Force To Build Peacekeeping Force To Seize Information and Space,” November 1, 2009,

[9] "Flying with Force and Vigor in the Sky of the New Century -- Central Military Commission Member and PLA Air Force Commander Xu Qiliang Answers Reporter's Questions in an Interview", Jiefangjun Bao Online, Sunday, November 8, 2009.

[10] "China Disavows General's Comments on Space Militarization," Agence France Presse, November 5, 2009.

[11] Yang Minqing, op-cit.

[12] For an excellent overview of China’s ground-based laser program see Sean O’Connor, “China’s Other ASAT,” IMINT & Analysis web page, November 3, 2009,

[13] Minnie Chan, “West suspects Beijing has developed space-age arms, despite Hu’s denials, Military observers say satellite image confirms suspicions about PLA capabilities,” South China Morning Post, November 10, 2009.

[14] See author, “Closer Look: Shenzhou-&’s Close Pass by the International Space Station,” International Assessment and Strategy Center Web Page, October 9, 2008,

[15] Liu Yueshan, op-cit.

[16] Bradley Perrett, “Chinese Navy Requires Supercruising Fighter,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, April 27, 2009,

[17] Deng Jingyin, “New Generation Fighter Jets on the Horizon,” Global Times, November 10, 2009,

[18] For example, this data was posted on the popular web portal on November 2, 2009,

[19] Deng Jingyin, op-cit.

[20] This data from a passage of the memoir of 611 Research Institute member Liu Wu Chuen, copied on the FYJS Web Page on November 26, 2009,

[21] Reuben Johnson, “SibNIA remains center of Russian innovation,” AIN Online, July 2006,

[22] Ibid.

[23] A reference on the FYJS web page, apparently an excerpt from a memoir, notes that composite materials related to the J-10 were tested in the Delsen Testing Laboratories (Glendale, CA) in early 1990, ending in April that year, see, FYJS Web Page, November 26, 2009,

[24] For a review of Chinese aircraft companies producing composite material components for Boeing and Airbus airliners see, “Boeing, Airbus fuel China’s emerging aircraft industry,” Av Buyer, November 16, 2007,

[25] “China approves XAC’s purchase of Austrian composite maker,” Global Times, November 19, 2009,

[26] Hui Tong, “J-20,” China Military Aviation Web Site, Accessed November 25, 2009,

[27] Howard Gethin, “MAPO Reveals First Glimpse of 1.42 MFI Multifunction Fighter,” Flight International, January 6, 1999, p. 5; Nikolai Novichkov and Michael Dornheim, “MiG 1.42 Set for First Flight,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, January 11, 1999, p. 436.

[28] Stephen Trimble, “Boeing displays manned concept F/A-XX jet,” Flight International, July 9, 2009,

[29] John A. Tirpak, “We’ve Got To Start Now,” Airforce, December 22, 2009,

[30] Canting or tilting a stationary AESA radar array reduces its own radar reflectivity, aiding stealth, and is a feature used by the U.S. F-16 Block 60, F/A-18E/F, F-22A and F-35.

[31] Douglas Barrie, “Phazotron offers China second alternative for its F-10 radar,” Flight International, December 3, 1997, p. 18.

[32] Andrei Fomin article on the J-10, translated into Chinese and copied on the CALF Web Page, November 3, 2009,

[33] Mentioned in an article by Li Yanhua, “Innovate…,” AviationNow Web Site, March 22, 2009, This article first mentioned by poster “70092” on the SinoDefense Forum on December 12, 2009,

[34] Interview, Air Force Association Convention, September 2009.

[35] Interview, Dubai Airshow, November 2009.

[36] Conversation with author, Athens, Greece, October 2009.

[37] There is no public or private source Chinese reference to all ongoing Chinese turbofan engine programs. Web sites that print AVIC press releases or news articles, plus a larger number of Chinese military enthusiast web sites reflect deep interest in China’s engine development by providing a constant flow of partial news, speculation and sometimes disinformation. The CJDBY web site has a specific page devoted to engine issues, while informed posters like “TP Huang” or “Maya” (or “Aliasmaya” on Chinese web pages) makes the SinoDefense Forum thread on engines a useful filter of Chinese source data,

[38] According to colleagues who attended the 2008 Zhuhai show, Chinese official would not answer questions about the Taihang turbofan, on display for the first time, or about other new fighter turbofans on display.

[39] Interview, Moscow Airshow, August 2009.

[40] Interview, Zhuhai Airshow, November 2004.

[41] “The Taihang engine problem again…,” CJDBY Web Site, November 6, 2009,

[42] The conclusion that GTE is responsible for these engines comes from the November 4 and 5, 2008 issues of ShowNews, a joint publication of Aviation Week and a Chinese partner, in which full page advertisements for GTE are accompanied by illustrations of these two turbofans. These issues can be viewed at

[43] “J-10A engine is ‘Tanggula’ turbofan engine,” report on Warsky web page, February 10, 2009,

[44] “’Mountain’ is a turbofan from 624 in Chengdu…,” report on the Top81 Web Page, April 20, 2009, . The Tanggula and Huashan reports include impressive detail and appear to have been written by the same author, which would usually diminish their credibility as Chinese sources. However, the potential for X’ian to have yet another turbofan engine program has to be considered inasmuch as X’ian may be developing a new supersonic attack bomber and a new strategic bomber.

[45] A co-production deal for the AI-222 had been reported previously by Chinese and Ukrainian sources.

[46] Unattributed article posted on the ifly web page, August 15, 2009,

[47] Interview, Dubai Airshow, November 2009.

[48] Interview with Jiang Hefu, chief designer of the Gas Turbine Establishment,, November 6, 2008,

[49] Interview, Dubai Airshow, November 2009.

[50] “New Minjiang Powerplant Shown by Shenyang Liming Aeroengines,” ShowNews, November 6, 2008, p. 2,

[51] “Revealed: Domestic engine in development for eight years strives to catch up with C919,”, November 5, 2009,

[52] For an early review of this effort see the author’s “New PLA Transport Aircraft: Building for Power Projection,” International Assessment and Strategy Center Web Page, June 25, 2006,

[53] X’ian’s possible replacement of its Y-9 turboprop program with a new twin-turbofan medium weight transports reported in “Shaanxi aircraft delivered nine finished products…,”, December 18, 2009, ; for additional reporting see Hui Tong, “Y-20,” Chinese Military Aviation Web Site, December 17, 2009,

[54] For recent reporting on the C919 see Bradley Perrett, “Nosing Ahead,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, September 14, 2009, pgs. 26-27, and Leithan Francis, “COMAC outlines details of C919 twinjet family,” Flight International, September 9, 2009; “Comac hints at C919 extended family,” Flight International, September 15, 2009, p. 13.

[55] C919 composite material composition to reach 20 percent…,” CALF Web Page, November 4, 2009,

[56] Chinese officials queried at the February 2008 Singapore Airshow and the November 2009 Dubai Airshow had nothing to say about this aircraft.

[57] “Modelology” does not offer firm predictions of the future, but Chinese combat aviation programs first revealed by Chinese companies in model form, which were subsequently realized, include: Guizhou FTC-2000 trainer (2000); Hongdu L-15 trainer (2001); Chengdu Tian Yi UAV (2006); Chengdu-Guizhou Sunshine UAV (2006) and the Shenyang J-11BS (2007).

[58] Several years ago I was able to ask a Chinese aerospace official what it would take to allow me to tour a certain fighter factory, and the chuckled reply, which I took to be serious, was: “A Politburo decision.”

[59] It has been common practice at recent Zhuhai Airshows for Chinese authorities to have last minute second thoughts and withdraw items intended for display just hours before the start of the first show day.

[60] For a fuller description see author, “China’s ‘New’ Bomber,” International Assessment and Strategy Center Web Page, March 14, 2007,

[61] The author thanks John Bosma for this insight.

[62] Again the author thanks John Bosma for the second theory.

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