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- Chinese military sources recently said that the WS-15 engine for its J-20 stealth fighter would soon be ready for mass production.
- While the report might indicate that there was a major milestone in the engine’s development, if the J-20 and WS-15 were truly on the cusp of being mass-produced together, there would be more reports about it.
- “There’s [also] the initial process of them testing [the J-20 with the WS-15], it being ready for limited production, and then the first outfits training and testing it,” a CSIS analyst told Business Insider.
Chinese military sources told the South China Morning Post earlier this month that the new engine for its J-20 stealth fighter would soon be ready for mass production.
“The WS-15 [engine] is expected to be ready for widespread installation in the J-20s by the end of this year,” one of the military sources told SCMP, adding that “minor problems” remained but would be resolved quickly.
China currently has about 20 J-20 stealth fighters in the field, but the aircraft are equipped with older Russian Salyut AL-31FN or WS-10B engines, which means they are not yet fifth-generation aircraft.
“It seems interesting that [the WS-15] would be ready for production so quickly,” Matthew P. Funaiole, a fellow with the China Power Project at CSIS, told Business Insider.
The South China Morning Post report “might indicate that there was a major milestone in what they consider to be a ready-for-production engine,” Funaiole said, but there would likely be more reports out there if the whole package was truly ready.
“I imagine this would be a very proud moment for the PLA Air Force, and that they would want to promote that as much as possible,” Funaiole said. “It’s an impressive engine.”
The WS-15 is reported to have a thrust rating of 30,000 to 44,000 pounds. The F-22 Raptor, for example, has a maximum thrust of 35,000 pounds.
Nevertheless, “there’s a difference between something being production ready, and an engine being ready to be outfitted on a particular airframe,” Funaioloe said.
“There’s the initial process of them testing [the J-20 with the WS-15], it being ready for limited production, and then the first outfits training and testing it,” Funaiole added.
In other words, there’s still a ways to go before the J-20 will be mass-produced with the WS-15, even if the WS-15 is almost ready for mass production.
But it’s unclear how long that process will take.
“It’s really hard to put a particular date on it,” Funaiole said, “I think that most people sort of expect there to be progress on it over the next couple years.”