Engine Delay, Sanctions Threaten Sino-Russian CR929 Program

 - August 25, 2022, 11:10 AM
A model of the CR929 graces the CRAIC display at the MAKS'21 air show in Moscow. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Funding shortages will delay by up to three years the development of the engine that Russian industry hopes will power the prospective Sino-Russian widebody known as the CRAIC CR929. That's according to Alexander Inozemtsev, the general designer of United Engine Corporation’s Aviadvigatel design house. Still, program leaders expect to assemble a fully functional demonstrator of the engine, designated as the PD-35, by 2024.

Inozemtsev relayed his message while speaking to journalists at the Army 2022 International Military-Technical forum, held in Kubinka, Russia, from August 15 to 21. “The PD-35 project goes somewhat slower than expected…It requires huge funding,” he said. “No doubt, we will assemble a complete demo engine and put it to the test by 2024. But next steps will be made depending on conditions.”

Meanwhile, the CRAIC 50-50 joint venture between Russia’s UAC and China’s Comac hasn’t officially chosen an engine. The worsening geopolitical situation between the West and Russia and China has made it increasingly difficult for General Electric and Rolls-Royce to bid for a place on the program with the GEnx-1B76 and Trent 1000, respectively.

Program leadership has rescheduled the CR929’s first flight, once planned for 2023, for 2025, but meeting that target appears unrealistic without Western engines. China’s AECC CJ-2000 effort to produce a suitable turbofan in the 77,000-lb-thrust class using Ukrainian technologies has stalled, leaving the PD-35 as the only plausible solution. "Airbus and Boeing rule this market today," Russian minister for industry and trade Denis Manturov once told his Chinese counterparts. “Our widebody project provides an alternative, which is unlikely to make them happy. When we are about to complete the work, we may be told that their big engines are not available to us for some reason. I am sure they would give at least ten explanations [or excuses] to this.”

Manturov touched on the topic again at the International Economic Forum 2022 in St. Petersburg, stating that the Western sanctions on Moscow and worsening U.S.-China relations because of the dispute regarding Taiwan require the CR929 project to be revisited and re-formatted. “There is a process ongoing on to do with the CR929,” he noted. “But, taking account of the new inputs and those restrictions that are present today, the industrial cooperation we had formed with our Chinese partners and with the participation of Western manufacturers is impossible today," he said. "Therefore, we need to spend time on re-working the principles so as to rely on Russian and Chinese vendors only.”

Manturov believes program leaders will complete such a “vendors reshuffle” by year-end.

Later this summer, deputy chairman of the Russian government Yuri Borisov acknowledged a decline in his country's participation in the CR929 project. “This project between us and China goes in a direction that does not satisfy us," he said. "China, as it continues to turn into an industrial giant, tends to be less and less interested in our services. Meanwhile, we have the design house working, [and] we have a huge experience at TsAGI [abbreviation for Central Aero Hydra Dynamics Institute]. For their part, the Chinese have a larger market. Our share goes down and down. I do not want to make any prognosis for the future of this project—whether we would leave it or not—because, in fact, it continues to go forward.”

Moscow and Beijing continue to send signals to each other about their readiness to work jointly on the CR929, but each wants the other partner to make concessions in view of the new reality that reflects ongoing geopolitical changes.

The CR929-600 baseline version would transport 280 passengers in a three-class layout 12,000 km. The family would also include the CR929-700 stretch flying 320 passengers 10,000 km and the CR929-500 shrink version carrying 250 passengers 14,000 km.