This post was edited by sansukong at 2013-2-1 17:54|
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The Y-20: China Aviation Milestone Means New Power Projection
Driving Additional Jet Engine Investment
The Y-20’s capabilities are reportedly close to those of Russia’s Il-476, with one important exception: The Y-20’s Russian D-30KP2 engines lack the thrust and efficiency of the Il-476’s PS-90A76 turbofans. In a sign that even China’s aviation Achilles’ heel – engines – is now receiving major resources, China is developing a high-thrust turbofan called the WS-20 to fill this role as part of a major aeroengine resource and technology push. While progress will likely take time, reports suggest China could investup to 300 billion yuan ($49 billion) in jet engine development by 2035. Acquisition of foreign technology and breakthroughs in recruiting foreign experts could help accelerate China’s jet engine development.
Financial considerations and a belief that Chinese jet engine makers are behind the Russian technical curve will likely motivate Russia to permit transfers of additional jet engines over the next 2-3 years despite the significant risk AVIC will reverse engineer key portions, if not the entire powerplant. Meanwhile, Ukrainian engineers are already readily available, and their Russian counterparts may become increasingly so as Russia moves its aviation contractor headquarters from prime city real estate near aging engineers’ apartments to Zhukovsky Airfield, which lies 45 km from downtown Moscow and is a long commute even under the best of circumstances given the capital’s congested roads.
The last two years have yielded a growing body of evidence that China is enjoying significant success in simultaneously managing multiple advanced aircraft programs. At present, no other nation can—or does—allocate so many personnel and financial resources so rapidly toward achieving national strategic goals.
That said, the Chinese aerospace sector also has a number of key weaknesses that will be exposed if continuing budget increases fail to yield commensurate technical breakthroughs in critical unproven areas, including aeroengines, electronics and avionics.
So far, by exploiting open source study, commercial joint ventures with tech transfer and industrial espionage, China has been able to leapfrog and save costs and time as it closes its technical gap with advanced aerospace power such as the U.S., Russia and certain European countries.
Yet the closer China comes in capability to other advanced aviation powers, the less of a follower’s advantage it will have, raising questions about how much Chinese aerospace expenditures will need to rise in order to have a chance of creating a comprehensive global aerospace power, as opposed to one that makes snazzy airframes, but struggles with critical subsystems such as the engines and electronics. To boot, getting the hardware right is only part of the challenge, since being able to employ it effectively will require millions of man-hours invested in maintenance, training and learning how to integrate platforms with each other to operate in a way that the whole is more powerful than the sum of the parts.
In short, the Y-20 is a point of national pride and a substantial breakthrough for China’s large aircraft programs, but to begin thinking of it as a true military advancement, we need to see a Y-20 undertake a long flight with heavy cargo, then turn around and do the same thing on a return flight. Proof of an aircraft’s reliability and effectiveness lies in real objectives successfully achieved under real world conditions. A long and interesting road lies ahead for the Y-20.