Procurement: Russia and China Settle Their Engine War

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November 23, 2007: After changing its mind several times over the last few years, Russia has finally agreed to allow the use of Russian made engines in Chinese made JF-17 (also known as FC-1) jet fighters that are exported (to Pakistan, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. Lebanon, Burma, Iran and Sri Lanka have also shown interest in this low cost fighter that is similar to early model F-16s.)

Earlier this year, Russia announced that none of the 500 Russian RD-93 jet engines China is buying could be exported to a foreign country. This was a problem, as China needs those engines for the 150 JF17 fighters it is building for Pakistan. What makes this particularly nasty is that Pakistan has invested $150 million in the development of the JF17. Pakistan thought Russia would give China permission to export the RD93 equipped aircraft. After all, China was such a large customer for RD93 engines (originally designed for the MiG-29), and those 500 RD93 engines are worth $1.25 billion.

But apparently India played hardball, and demanded that the Russians forbid the export of the RD93s from China to Pakistan. India is a major customer for Russian weapons, including cooperative development deals. China is a big customer for Russian weapons as well, but India buys more stuff, and is seen as less of a future threat to Russia than China. Pressure from many other nations interested in the JF-17 apparently caused the Russians to finally relent.

But it gets more interesting. China has been developing a similar (apparently identical) engine to the RD93, the WS-13. Actually, this effort is being aided by Russia, which is selling China technology needed for the manufacture of key engine components. Russia isn't happy about this, because they don't want competition in the low cost jet engine market. Then again, China has a history of stealing technology it cannot buy, so the Russians are making the best of a bad situation. China says the WS-13 is nearly ready for service. Maybe, maybe not. Building high performance military jet engines is difficult, and China has had problems mastering this kind of stuff. Not that they will not eventually acquire the skills, but until they do, they need the Russian made RD93s.

China shipped two RD93 equipped JF-17s to Pakistan last March, and informed the Russians that, according to the their interpretation of the 1992 RD-93 contract, China could re-export the RD-93 engines. The situation sat, unresolved, until last Summer, when the Russians said that they believed that the 1992 contract was quite clear about China needing Russian permission, and China didn't have it. The Russians were playing hardball, at the behest of the Indians. Apparently, India is expected to use this RD-93 veto to get Pakistan to offer up some appropriate in the current peace talks between the two countries.

Thus, after much diplomacy, China has Russian jet engines that it can be put into JF-17s sold for export.

 


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