Chinese WS-15 engine prepared for mass production

J-20
The J-20 fifth-generation multirole fighter is the PLAAF’s current principal air superiority platform. (JR Ng)

The Aero Engine Corporation of China (AECC) has declared that the indigenously developed Shenyang WS-15 (Woshan-15, translated as Turbofan-15) engine for the country’s fighter aircraft is ready for mass production.

Zhang Yong, project director at AECC’s Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials, said during the Seventh China Aviation Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition (CAIEC) in mid-March that from the institute has “addressed all bottlenecks” associated with the production of the WS-15 engine.

“The mass production of WS-10 and WS-15 [engines] delivery has been achieved. Materials screening and verifications have been finalised,” said Zhang. The event was documented by state-owned broadcaster to China Central Television (CCTV)

According to Zhang, indigenous advancements in metallurgy and production techniques have enabled the reliable manufacture and supply of super-high temperature components – such as single-crystal turbine blades, superalloy discs and rings, and fasteners – necessary for advanced propulsion systems.

While AECC did not specify which aircraft types will benefit from the new engine, the People Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF)’s latest Chengdu J-20 stealth multirole combat aircraft is a likely candidate for an engine upgrade. Early production units of the type are powered by Russian-made Saturn AL-31FN turbofan engines, although more recent units have been reportedly equipped with indigenously developed Shenyang WS-10 Taihang turbofan engines as an interim measure.

Performance specifications of the WS-15 have not been disclosed, although analysts believe that the thrust rating of the new engine would likely be well within the 150 kN- thrust class given the country’s desire to field next-generation aircraft propulsion systems that can rival the US-made Pratt & Whitney F119 engine. The latter is the world’s first production fifth-generation combat aircraft engine powering the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.

Imagery of J-20 testbeds equipped with an unknown engine type – possibly the WS-15 – have emerged in January. The images show the engines featuring revised, pointed petal-type nozzles designed for improved stealth and possibly thrust vectoring.

Zhang also noted that AECC is in the process of developing new aircraft propulsion systems such as the WS-19, the WS-20, as well as an unnamed fifth-generation engine.

by Jr Ng