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China makes the J-20 fighter independent of Russia. First flight with Chinese WS-15 engines

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China has most likely successfully conducted the first flight of a J-20 fighter powered by all-Chinese engines. Beijing has been trying to independently develop turbojet engines for its most modern fighters for two decades in order to become independent of Russian technology.

Photos and short recordings have started to appear on the web, which are supposed to show the first test flight of the fifth-generation Chinese J-20 fighter powered by domestically produced WS-15 engines. The test was scheduled to take place on June 29 at the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation’s facilities in the middle China.

A breakthrough in Chinese aviation

A number of aviation experts, as well as – unofficially – the Chinese media informed about the groundbreaking flight in the first days of July. As confirmation of the use of a completely new, Chinese-designed drive, the following are indicated, among others: to the changed shape of the nozzles of the J-20 engines and the sound of their work, which was different than before. There is also a huge banner unfurled around the fighter standing on the apron, on which the name of the new engines “WS-15” is visible.

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Aviation experts also emphasize that it is impossible to confirm with certainty the use of the WS-15 in flight. The flight has not been officially confirmed by the Chinese authorities, and the low quality of photos and recordings makes it difficult to identify the details of the test drive. It is also noted that the visible part of the engines of the tested fighter seems to be slightly different from the previously presented WS-15 models, although this may be the result of censoring these engines at the shows or the effect of developmental design changes.

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China becomes independent from Russia

The development and use of new WS-15 engines to power J-20 fighters has been one of the priorities of the Chinese Air Force for twenty years. From the very beginning, this modern turbojet engine was to be the pillar of the fifth generation Chinese fighter, i.e. the most modern generation of fighters today, characterized by, among others, reduced detectability by radars (stealth technology).

However, the development of these engines has so far been beyond the capabilities of Chinese industry. Despite prioritizing the matter, increasing industrial espionage, and investing huge resources in this work, the WS-15 was still only in Chinese announcements. Therefore, China was forced to use Russian technological assistance. Introduced into service in 2018, the state-of-the-art J-20 fighter has so far had to fly on Russia AL-21FM2 engines or Chinese-produced WS-10 engines, which, however, were completely not adapted to this machine.

However, the use of Russian engines in its latest fighters was not only a prestige and technological failure for China. These engines also did not allow the J-20 to be used to its full potential. It is estimated that powering these fighters with WS-15 engines will significantly increase their maneuverability, allow for long flights at supersonic speed (i.e. without the use of afterburner), and at the same time allow full use of their characteristics that reduce radar detection. According to Chinese media, the thrust of each of the new engines is to be about 15-18 tons, which is comparable to the thrust of the American twin-engined F-22 Raptor fighters.

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The best Chinese fighter

The Chengdu J-20, also known as the Mighty Dragon, is a state-of-the-art Chinese fighter that is to become the backbone of China’s fighter force in the near future. A twin-engine machine with reduced radar detection (stealth technology) is designed to gain air superiority and carry out precise strikes against ground targets. The J-20 is considered the Chinese equivalent of the latest American F-35 fighters, although visually it looks more like the older F-22. Like the F-35, this fighter is produced in three variants, one of which is designed to operate from the short decks of aircraft carriers.

After entering service in February 2018, it became the third operationally ready fifth-generation fighter in the world – next to the American F-35 and F-22. However, the actual comparison of these machines remains only a matter of speculation. Most Western experts are of the opinion that although the J-20 is a huge developmental leap for Chinese aviation, the machine is still inferior to the most modern American fighters in terms of the technologies, software and techniques used. In early 2022, information appeared that the J-20 and F-35 met for the first time in the air over the waters of the South China Sea.

Chinese fifth generation Chengdu J-20 fightersZhang Hui/VCG via Getty Images

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tvn24.pl, Aviation Week, South China Morning Post

Main photo source: Zhang Hui/VCG via Getty Images

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