Warplanes: October 11, 2004

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The Motor Sich company of Ukraine is becoming a major player in supplying aircraft and helicopter engines to countries that cannot afford the higher priced (and higher performance) American and European stuff, or cannot buy Western for political reasons. A current example is China, which is buying the  770 pound, 9.5 foot long Motor Sich AI-25TLK jet engines, to power its 4.3 ton, two seat, JL-8 jet trainer. Originally, China was going to use 3600 pound thrust American engines. But after the 1989 Chinese crackdown on pro-democracy forces, the United States cut off the supply of engines. This encouraged China to design a build a similar engine (the WS-11). But China has had a hard time mastering the precise technologies and manufacturing techniques needed to build jet engines. So it has been buying the AI-25TLK. China has been able to buy (or steal) jet engine technology from Russia and Ukraine. But this technology is itself flawed. The Soviet Union (which left its jet engine technology to Russian and Ukrainian firms), was never able to match Western standards in jet engine reliability and durability. In a perverse way, this helps China somewhat, as they have an easier time reaching the lower Russian standards initially. Once there, and they arent there yet, they can go for the higher U.S. and European standards. Building jet engines, and turbines (for electrical power generation and ship power plants) is an exacting process. A large number of skilled, and experienced, engineers, technicians and managers are required to do it well. The Russians arent there yet, and it will take the Chinese a decade or more of very hard work to make significant progress. In the meantime, Ukrainian and Russian firms do a brisk business selling China second best engines, and the technology to build them.

 


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