China seeks to overcome historical engine deficiency of aircraft, says GlobalData

The domestic development of new engines for China’s Y-20 aircraft could be an initial step towards remedying a historical shortcoming of its defense industry. The ability to produce efficient and effective aircraft engines is expected to improve the attractiveness of Chinese platforms for the foreign customers, offering China a greater opportunity to grow and strengthen its international ties, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

The company’s report, ‘China’s Defense Budget Analysis (FY 2020), Competitive Landscape and Forecasts’, reveals that China is particularly active in exporting to Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia. The primary buyer, Pakistan, accounted for 35% of the total defense exports between 2015 and 2019, followed by Bangladesh (20%) and Algeria (10%). Furthermore, aircraft, alongside ships, are the greatest exports. During 2015–2019, both aircraft and ships each accounted for 27% of total Chinese defense exports.

Harry Boneham, Associate Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “Arms sales are an avenue for China to expand its global influence. However, one factor limiting this option is the capabilities of Chinese platforms, which in general have inferior performance to Western alternatives. In particular, Chinese turbo-fan engines are a long-standing weakness. The trade-off for customers has historically been that Chinese platforms are cheap.

“However, poor performance has demonstrably been a sticking point limiting closer relations. For example, Jordan put its 6 CH-4B UAVs, built by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), up for sale only two years after delivery. The Royal Jordanian Air Force was reportedly unhappy with the platform’s performance.”

The new engine for the Y-20 aircraft is reportedly the WS-20, although this is unconfirmed. If Chinese military sources are to be believed on the engine’s capabilities, the WS-20 could bring several benefits. Also, as the range and carrying capacity of the Y-20 has been increased and reliance on Russian engine imports reduced, the successful introduction of domestically-produced engines would signal the cultivation of a domestic capability, which when spread to other Chinese products, will increase the attractiveness of these platforms and enhance the Chinese influence globally.

Boneham concludes: “As part of its export strategy, China trades defense goods with African countries for oil, mineral resources and fishing rights. One of the country’s strategic priorities is to secure access to the resources needed to supply its growing economy. In addition, through military missions, educational exchanges and arms sales, China is able to establish international bilateral relationships and increase its influence and position on the world stage.”

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