Russian Officials Reveal J-31 Engine and Describe Sales to China

 - November 23, 2012, 8:00 AM
The second Chinese stealth fighter was displayed in model form at Airshow China last week. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

China’s recently flown second stealth fighter is powered by a pair of Russian-supplied Klimov RD-93 turbofans, AIN has learned. A large model of the design, which has been dubbed the J-31 in unofficial reports, was on display at Airshow China in Zhuhai last week, labeled as “an advanced multi-role fighter for the international defense market.” Russian officials at the show described the supply of military turbofans to China in some detail.

Speculation that the new fighter uses Russian powerplants was confirmed by Vladimir Barkovsky, deputy general director of the Russian Aircraft Corp. “MIG” and head of its engineering center named after Artyem Mikoyan. Although he mentioned certain design flaws, Barkovsky gave a generally positive general assessment for the new Avic fighter design. “It looks like a good machine, and although it obviously has some design solutions already tried on the U.S. fifth-generation fighters, it is not a copy but a well done indigenous design,” he told AIN.

Barkovsky expressed regrets over the Russian MoD’s decision not to develop a next-generation lightweight fighter, saying that it may lead to Russia losing out in this distinct market segment. RAC MiG’s most recent MiG-29M2 and its exportable derivative the MiG-35D, belong to the 4++ generation, he explained. Barkovsky further said that the Chinese fighter manufacturers have achieved notable progress with durability and reparability of their products. They have also improved their after-sales support system, which was deplorable a few years ago, he added.

Sergei Kornev, head of the aviation department of Rosonboronexport, told journalists at Airshow China 2012 that, with help from Belarussian advisors and specialized companies, the Chinese fighter manufacturers have managed to create a workable system of after-sales support. For its part, he continued, Russia has sold to China the documentation on overhaul and lifecycle support of the AL-31F series engines and helped it establish a well functioning system for keeping them serviceable.

Kornev added that during the next meeting of the Sino-Russian interstate committee for military-technical cooperation, which opened on November 21, Moscow and Beijing are expected to sign a number of agreements relating to intellectual property rights. Kornev said that this should further ease the transfer of Russian knowledge and expertise in the sphere of combat aviation and its after-sales support.

Engines account for more than 90 percent of all Russian aerospace exports to China. “In the past two years, we have signed large contracts with China for several hundred additional engines of the AL-31F, AL-31FN and D-30KP2 types. Shipments are now ongoing,” Kornev said. The D-30KP2 powers the Ilyushin Il-76 transport, while the AL-31 family powers the Su-27/30/34 series of combat aircraft, and the Chinese J-11 derivative. In addition, Russia has delivered improved performance AL-31FN Series 3 and later turbofans for China’s indigenous J-10 fighter.

Asked whether Russia has assisted China in its development of the WS-10A Tai Hang engine that is broadly similar to the AL-31F, Kornev answered that Russian specialists have not been briefed on this design and that Russia has never delivered AL-31F design documentation to China. Regarding the RD-93, which China mainly uses to power the JF-17 (FC-1) fighter, Kornev said that Russia has completed deliveries of 100 of the engine under a framework agreement for 500. Negotiations on the next batch are ongoing. “All juridical formalities regarding new sales are agreed upon; our negotiations are purely about commercial aspects, including price,” he insisted.