80 Years From Invention, China Is Struggling With Jet Engines

The jet engine has a long and storied history. Its development occurred spontaneously amongst several unrelated groups in the early 20th Century. Frank Whittle submitted a UK patent on a design in 1930, while Hans von Ohain begun exploring the field in Germany in 1935. Leading on from Ohain’s work, the first flight of a jet-powered aircraft was in August 27, 1939. By the end of World War II, a smattering of military jet aircraft had entered service, and the propeller was on the way out as far as high performance aviation is concerned.

With the invention of the jet engine so far in the past, one could be forgiven for thinking that the technology has long been mastered around the world. However, recent reports show that’s not the case. China is a great example, facing issues with the development of jet engines for their indigenous military aircraft.

Closely Guarded Secrets

China’s development of ballpoint pen tips was a national news story in 2017. Source: Xinhua

In the age of the Internet and open source, technology moves swiftly around the world. In the consumer space, companies are eager to sell their product to as many customers as possible, shipping their latest wares worldwide lest their competitors do so first. In the case of products more reliant on infrastructure, we see a slower roll out. Hydrogen-powered cars are only available in select regions, while services like media streaming can take time to solve legal issues around rights to exhibit material in different countries. In these cases, we often see a lag of 5-10 years at most, assuming the technology survives to maturity.

In most cases, if there’s a market for a technology, there’ll be someone standing in line to sell it. However, some can prove more tricky than others. The ballpoint pen is one example of a technology that most of us would consider quaint to the point of mediocrity. However, despite producing over 80% of the world’s ballpoint pens, China was unable to produce the entire pen domestically. Chinese manufactured ballpoint tips performed poorly, with scratchy writing as the result. This attracted the notice of government officials, which resulted in a push to improve the indigenous ballpoint technology. In 2017, they succeeded, producing high-quality ballpoint pens for the first time.

The secrets to creating just the right steel, and manipulating it into a smooth rolling ball just right for writing, were complex and manifold. The Japanese, German, and Swiss companies that supplied China with ballpoint tips made a healthy profit from the trade. Sharing the inside knowledge on how it’s done would only seek to destroy their own business. Thus, China had to go it alone, taking 5 years to solve the problem.

There was little drive for pen manufacturers to improve their product; the Chinese consumer was more focused on price than quality. Once the government made it a point of national pride, things shifted. For jet engines, however, it’s somewhat of a different story.

You Can’t Get These Anywhere Else

China has primarily relied on Russian fighter aircraft in recent years, like the Sukhoi Su-27. Source: Dmitriy Pichugin

In recent decades, China has aligned itself closely with Russia for major military acquisitions. Over the years, it has acquired military aircraft like the Sukhoi Su-27 for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, following the nations growing closer after the fall of the Soviet Union.China has also pursued its own fighter development programs, spawning aircraft like the J-10 and JF-17 over the years. While China appear to have had little problem with aerodynamic and avionics development, reliable, world-class jet engines have thus far eluded them.

Attempts to power Chinese aircraft designs have been hamstrung by Russia’s reticence to sell fighter engines directly, preferring to sell entire aircraft instead. The relationship has been further strained over the year’s by China’s efforts to reverse engineer foreign designs. After signing a deal to produce 200 Su-27 aircraft locally, China stopped the production line after just 100 units. Electing to learn from and change the design, the subsequent J-11 ruffled feathers as an unlicenced copy.

Similar efforts were made to accelerate development of jet engines, by copying engines from overseas manufacturers. Reports suggest the CFM-56, purchased from the United States in the 1980s, may have been the starting point for the WS-10 design. Despite having access to the hardware, progress has been slow. A lack of human capital, insider knowledge, and production hardware and materials can make duplicating a complex design difficult to impossible. Early revisions of the resulting WS-10 engine have fallen well short of design goals which aimed to match the Su-27’s AL-31 engine on thrust output and reliability. Overhauls were required every 30 hours, versus 400 hours for the Russian benchmark. Anecdotal evidence suggests the WS-10 also takes longer to produce thrust.

The troubled Liming WS-10 jet engine. Thus far, the engine has struggled to meet the benchmark set by the Saturn AF-31 sold by Russia. Source: GlobalSecurity.org

The problems lie largely in materials and machining. Jet engine components must withstand huge temperatures and pressures, while spinning at high RPM for hours on end. Factors like thermal cycling and crack propagation must be considered for the materials used, lest the engine destroy itself before time. Reliability is as important as performance, as all the thrust in the world is useless if the aircraft needs an engine replacement after every flight. The keys to producing the raw materials, as well as creating the high-tolerance final parts, are closely guarded national secrets. Spy photos are easy to take at airshows, and blueprints can be readily stolen – often as simply as searching for CAD files and sending them home. Data on metallurgy and materials and production processes can be harder to lay one’s hands on.

After 25 years spent trying to build a competitive fighter jet engine, China is still struggling to match the performance of a design with roots in the 1970s. Initial production models of China’s latest J-20 stealth fighter used the upgraded WS-10B, but production models appear to still rely on Russian Saturn AL-31 engines. The Chinese-produced WS-15 is slated to enter service within a few years, but until then, the J-20 will be at a thrust deficit to its rivals. In fighter combat, where energy is everything, this is a serious drawback that China will be eager to fix. Worse, until the higher-thrust WS-15 engines reach maturity, the J-20 is also unable to supercruise, meaning it must use afterburner to reach supersonic speeds. China’s premier air superiority fighter will struggle to keep up with its 5th generation contemporaries until the situation is rectified.

As long as there’s money to be made in providing high-quality parts that are difficult to reproduce, it’s unlikely China will be able to buy the information it needs. Instead, it will have to go the hard way, as it did with ballpoint pens. Years of expensive research and indigenous technological development will be required, to replicate something achieved by others 30 years hence. In the military world, as in the corporate one, that’s simply the price of doing business.

130 thoughts on “80 Years From Invention, China Is Struggling With Jet Engines

  1. Technically they are not struggling, as any working jet engine is an accomplishment.

    Now, trying to catch up with the performance of others is a different story. After all, that is a moving target.

    1. Going round the National Palace museum in Taiwan, where all the goodies out of China were salted away before the revolution took hold, taught me a good lesson. China was massively more advanced than the west 3000 years ago, in both ceramics and bronze work. But the technological advance abruptly halted, and the exhibits show a plateau over the remaining time. I suppose they just didn’t need to invent anything new to maintain/serve society, OK there was gunpowder but that was about it. The west soon overtook China, after reinventing, borrowing and copying what they had and, as they say, the rest is history.

      1. From what I understand it became very looked down on to improve anything which became cultural. This turned into stagnation which really continues to this day in some ways.

  2. Good ballpoints in 2017…I don’t see them catching up in jet engines in my younger daughter’s lifetime. Of course there’s always the technological espionage route. It worked for the Soviet Union’s atomic bomb efforts, just four years after the end of WWII.

    1. The tolerances on good ballpoints are insane. Being just about the only company who could do it cheaply made BiC a lot of money over the years.

        1. A lot of it is in the texture of the ball. Can’t be too rough or it won’t roll smoothly and deposit ink evenly. Can’t be too smooth or it will slide on the ink and not roll at all.

    2. And with a bomber that was an exact copy of a Superfortress (right down to the tubes in the radios – which is why you can find old tubes like 12AU6 from Russia, and the engines) that made an emergency landing in Russia after a raid on Japan. The amount of tech copying by Russia and China is stunning. Not copying ideas, but exact copies. Like Chinese motorbikes with “Yamaha” still in the castings.

      1. There were some Asian copies of the Shopsmith Mark V, with cast iron duplicates of the real machine’s aluminum castings. Whomever made them apparently bought a Mark V as scrap because inside the iron headstocks is a line from a crack in the aluminum original. They just patched up the original to look good on the outside to use as a casting pattern.

        The first Soviet B-29 copy included a duplication of a repair patch. One way the copies differed was the aluminum skin panels were slightly thinner, except for along the frame ribs where they were riveted together. The aluminum alloy used was in short supply and making all but the edges of the skin panels slightly thinner would have saved quite a few kilos of it per plane.

        I wonder if anyone ever took a real close look to see how that was done. A difficult and possibly impressive manufacturing feat in order to reduce metal use, and make the planes lighter. Was it a stamping process or did they mill out the middles and recycle every shaving?

        1. One must give credit to the Soviets for even being able to accomplish such a feat as reverse engineering a system as complex as the B-29 AND converting it to metric so that it could be built on thier machine tools! Simple reverse engineering is nowhere near as easy as many think (as some here have pointed out). Add to that the need to adapt everything to the metric system and you have a major accomplishment that rivals the original design effort by the USA (side note: Development of the B-29 EXCEEDED the cost of the Manhattan Project!).

          One must also note that prior to the mid stages of WW2 the Soviets did not need a “B-29”. Unlike the US aircraft industry that needed to design aircraft to cross oceans, The Soviets had “terra firma” under them pretty much everywhere they needed to operate. Its not really an indictment on the Soviet aircraft industry that they resorted to this. It is more of a question of a sudden requirement that the Soviet aircraft industry could not “evolve” to.

          Lastly American “invention” is far from immune to copy. Keeping the focus on aircraft, the Wright brothers, it should be noted, were first in POWERED flight (not heavier than air flight itself). They relied very heavily on the works of Otto Lilienthal if for nothing else what worked and what did not. Furthermore considering de Santo(?) did the same thing in France (without the dead end of “wing warping”) ~6 months later shows how even the works of the Wrights was not “copied”. The REAL accomplishment of the Wrights was building (or finding, not sure which) an engine with a proper power to weight ratio for use in an aircraft.

          1. I always felt the REAL accomplishment of the Wright brothers was to design and build the first wind tunnel and a simple mechanism to measure the lift-to-drag ratio of various wing cross sections. They came up with a simple little two lever system that was counter balanced to subtract the weight of the wing cross section. This allowed them to design airfoils that were efficient and discover the existing body of thought about airfoils was completely wrong.

            They were also the first to realize a propeller was just a wing that rotated. That allowed them to apply the principles of airfoil design to their propellers and make something efficient.

            Not bad for two guys who learned algebra from their mother and had no higher math training.

        2. I heard it the other way round, skin was 1/8th or something, US standard size, and the Russians had metric tooling, so they put 4mm on it and it ended up heavier with less range and load.

        3. The story has clearly become garbled. The soviets used metric sheet thicknesses with different thicknesses in different locations to compensate for the fact that the sizes didn’t match. They used separate sheets to do this, they didn’t make sheets of varying thickness.

          The whole Tu 4 project is quite interesting. It’s not an exact copy, the story about the hole in the wing was almost certainly an exaggeration for effect by the original Russian source. In addition to the structural sheeting changes it has different engines, guns, instruments, radios, tyres, de icing and fuel systems. However it is extremely close and in fact closer than it needed to be. Soviet designers had the knowledge and technology to make a better (for their needs) aircraft, more quickly, by combining their design expertise with Russian manufacturing together with captured German technology, allied lend-lease supplied technology and careful inspection of the interned B-29s they had, but Stalin ordered an exact copy. Tupolev had already been to the gulag and didn’t want to go back so as close to an exact copy as practical was created, despite the difficulties this created. The aircraft was always regarded as something of an affront by Russian designers, and many of the disparaging stories about the design come from Russian sources.

          We know the “hole in the wing” story probably wasn’t true because three aircraft were used as a reference. No features that weren’t on them all were copied.

      2. Or, what the DDR did with IBM computers and Intel chips.

        They copied absolutely everything, except the RAM chips where they ran out of steam. They became so invested in copying that they put no effort into developing the manufacturing technology and eventually couldn’t keep up. They would have needed an entire factory to copy.

      3. This happened in Japan too. In the early 80s my dad worked for a saw mill equipment company and they were building a hydraulic power unit for a company in japan. They goofed and had to cut a hole in a tank wall to make some modifications and bolted a plate on to patch it up. Turns out the Japanese company copied the design… all the way down to the unnecessary cover plate.

  3. Stories like this have me re-evaluating my stance on open-technology. I want it all free…but that imagines a world where everyone is nice and just trying to help. What a privilege polite society is.

    I’m wondering if my open source philosophies are only made possible at all by a wide moat of hidden technologies like the materials fabrication here.

    1. Open source has a long slew of downsides if we look at reality.

      In the perfect world, open source would work perfectly.
      But in the current world, there is a lot of people/organizations that misuse open source stuff both left and right….

      Some things are beneficial if they are open source. (Primarily various software libraries)
      And other things can have rather big deficits from it.

      For an example, if a company has a closed sourced solution for a thing that they do admirably and are having a reasonable price as to pay for future development (and the product cost itself). Then it could be a net deficit if their solution were open sourced, since that could take away their founding due to undercutting competitors saving a buck by not investing in actual development. This means that the company that actually develops and improves the technology goes under as an indirect result of open source. (Now this is likely rather rare, but a logical possibility for some niche markets. Primarily where there is a bit of hardware involved but the “real” development work is in the software.)

      And then there is copy left. One copy left license doesn’t need to be compatible with another, despite them both having the same end goal. (this is a bit silly in my opinion, and makes some projects a pain to develop as one jumps around “open source” stuff with a license one can’t include…) I can though still see it logical for whole applications, for an example GIMP, or Linux, but it isn’t as logical for a small piece of code that is intended to be part of something larger. (ie a function in a library. Though, a copy left library is a bit of a stretch too…(like a GPL licensed “compare strings” function.))

      1. Personally, its ultimately up to the author of the software. A lot of good programmers get exposure and possibly big bucks positions by letting the world see inside their software (Linus Torvalds is a prime example of a “hobbyist” turned programming hot commodity). I must however cringe each time I have to fork out $150+ for a copy of Windows or Office and then see the “disclaimer” that it uses open source software.

        1. It is actually rather common for commercial software to include some open source components. But that doesn’t mean that the whole software is just a clever assortment of such components. A large portion of the development time still is in making one’s own code. (So “cringing” due to a program stating that it is including such components is a bit silly…)

          But in the end, as you say, its ultimately up to the author of the software to decide how they license it.

          I myself is though just of the opinion that its a bit silly when one sees copy left licensed programming components. (thankfully this is very rare, but it makes sourcing off the shelf solutions a bit more annoying….)

          And yes, Windows is a bit on the expensive side of the street and why I personally still use the same old license that I have used for years… (Microsoft does allow one to migrate it from one computer to another. Making the cost of ownership very low, yes, Linux is FREE, but I am using Linux on some computers, it sure ain’t “FREE” when it eats my time for breakfast….)

          1. Yeah GNU-Linux needs sacrifices on the Alter of lost time if you try and do anything a little odd with it, or use it on hardware that doesn’t support it well. Get yourself a Linux ready or even supported linux PC/Laptop and that last issue goes away though.

            The real win on Linux for me is being able to do things Windows just wouldn’t let you or even could not do at all. Many cases of them stripping features for the Pro only licence too.
            I also get satisfaction myself from the tinkering and making Linux do that weird thing I need/want. Might drive me up the wall at the time, but understanding the way it works underneath and then getting the result I want out of it feels like time well spent (Afterwards at least).

    2. Now that is a fascinating question.

      I’m not sure if many of these technologies are really ‘hidden’, in many cases it seems to be more the art of thinking in the right way that puts them behind. Its easy to make a working jet, heck Furze did it with basic tool and rubbish parts. The hard part is the artistry of engineering – finding the balance that works well enough while also being cheap,long lasting,durable,easy to produce etc.

      Materials and their properties are usually quite documented – but thinking hmm our ballpoints are rubbish because the sleeve and ball are binding (or whatever the problem was) and then looking for the right combination to fix it.. Or putting in the effort to quality control and precision – a black magic in itself.

      Also something that rarely gets much mention in an open-source type project, the documenters of a project tend to assume you already share a significant understanding of the ‘fundamentals’ and access to the same supplies so won’t even think to mention certain details. So unless you really do your research and have that similar shared understanding matching the originals isn’t always simple. As Reg says below – institutional memory is a thing.

      So I don’t think open-source is certain to make life too easy for the dictators and despot of the world, as its the skill in using open-source and the ingenuity to put things together in a new way which doesn’t flourish in a culture that suppresses free thinking. Technology will move on while they are still waiting to steal/ purchase/ develop the older stuff..
      But I can see how the world of open-source really could be a problem for that.. And maybe open-source philosophies (and other freedoms) could actually be only possible because the ‘hidden technologies’…

      I wonder if open-source helps the populations in such unpleasant places more than it helps the scumbags on top – if you are crushed underfoot but have that free thinking spark of curiosity does open source keep you safer, more able to learn and live than it helps the scumbags goons find you for re-education puglist style..

      This is one of those moments I thank you for reminding me despite all the flaws the society I live in is really quite nice by global standards. Then perhaps more importantly the population wants to make it better and help others in general not horde everything for ‘their own kind’ – and is allowed even encouraged to talk about and do it.

      1. If you mean the valveless pulsejet, thats a no-moving-parts thrust chamber
        If you mean the one that used an automotive turbo, he had to get the turbo from somewhere

        1. I was thinking turbo, as its the same family of jet being talked about – and the turbo probably comes from China anyway its a low precision mass produced part. Its a proof of the simplicity of concept vs the challenge of execution to make a good one!

      2. Getting some people who use Linux every day and work on an open source project to *properly* document a procedure in a way suitable for a person who knows nothing about it yet needs to use it for a specific task – that can be a major chore.

        They know everything about it yet cannot detail what they know. When writing up instructions they make incorrect assumptions about other people’s knowledge and leave out critical information.

        The same is true of any other software system.

        The flipside is when someone has written step by step instructions in fine detail, absolutely nothing left out, if you follow this *exactly* you’ll get the desired result (and if this doesn’t work something else is the problem) – some people will skip one or more things because they think they know better. Then of course it doesn’t work.

        Another angle is when you ask “Has anyone tried anything I haven’t?” followed by a long list in excruciating detail of precisely everything that has been tried *and didn’t work* – and the first reply is to try *exactly what you already said you’ve done and it failed*, oft times almost a verbatim parroting back of what you wrote.

    3. There’s so much to unpack here but can you imagine a world where a few nations stumbled onto industrialization, and combined it with slave labor and massive exploitation of the entire world’s resources to build a massive empire? Then kept certain technologies secret and devoted massive fractions of their economy merely to advancing these secret technologies? Deploying these technologies in an overwhelming show of force against any small nation which dares to use its own resources for its own citizens? Terrorizing the other nations into staying in line, lest they are next?

      Can you imagine?

  4. Nice article. I use the Pratt & Whitney, GE and Rolls Royce vs Russian vs Chinese jet engines as an example of the importance of institutional memory.

    The oil industry is losing that memory and with it the ability to work safely in 10,000 ft of water. It won’t happen overnight, but slowly the unrecorded knowledge will be lost.

    1. That sort of thing “may” happen at large physics experiments too. Because nobody had passed on the switch configuration for some testing, ended up with hot air balloon size rapidly changing magnetic field. It made all the mesh walls spark. Briefly lots of fun but then wrote a method statement to do it without sparks.

  5. The folly of copying instead of actually learning.

    Doing research on one’s own is usually more valuable in the long run compared to just looking over the fence at what others have already done.

    One reason for why copying isn’t beneficial is because one can only see what is easily acquired. (ie, a generation or two behind what the one’s one is copying actually considers “impressive”.)

    Another reason why copying isn’t beneficial is because one isn’t actually working with the finer nuances nor striding down the various alternate approaches that took the design to its current state.

    And then another downside of copying is that one is thinking inside of the box and not usually considering alternate approaches at all. (a given problem can have multiple solutions, the one used by your adversary isn’t always the best solution.)

    In other times, copying is a simple way to just get stuff done. But this is mainly true for simple systems.
    (At times, an off the shelf drop in solution for a given problem is very nice to have. Reinventing the wheel isn’t always necessary.)

    1. > Another reason why copying isn’t beneficial is because one isn’t actually working with the finer nuances nor striding down the various alternate approaches that took the design to its current state.

      Yeah, copying will never instill the copier with expert knowledge. So, when faced with the first problem the copied product runs into, the copier won’t have the knowledge of a whole slew of fixes that won’t work because some prerequisite was already invalidated in getting to the current design.

      1. Yup.
        This is why I like to at least try to come up with my own solutions to problems, even if there is an off the shelf solution already.

        Poking and studying the off the shelf solution is also usually beneficial, but sometimes one’s own prodding can lead to better insight into a particular issue, not to mention that one might find an alternate path taking one on a totally different journey.

        And then every now and then, one can challenge oneself to do something differently or down right bizarre, just to see what one can learn.

        It’s a bit like climbing the highest hill while wearing a blind fold.
        When one reaches the top, can one be certain that it is the highest one?
        Some hills might be steeper than other ones, but some can continue higher and there is numerous other hills left to climb.

    2. They have to figure out their own chip making equipment as the US administration is stopping the bleeding edge chip equipment from exporting to China. TSMC will also stop shipping to Hauwei in Sept.


      They pretty much have to go through a parallel evolution path to figure out all the high energy physics, chemistry and manufacturing of these precision machines for chip manufacturing equipment on their own. Also the much needed chip design CAD tools have some US IP in them.

      1. I read an article not to long ago (maybe it was a HaD post?) regarding how reliant China is on Western IC design software, with their domestic software significantly lagging behind. China isn’t as vertically integrated in terms of tech capabilities as many people think.

    3. Reinventing the wheel isn’t always necessary.

      Tell that to all the programmers who have created their own dialog and file handling boxes to do the tasks that Operating Systems have Standard Dialog Boxes for. That’s one of the core functions of a GUI OS, to provide the services that nearly every program needs, so those services don’t need to be included in every program.

      Yet many programmers act like they’re writing for MS-DOS, when anything beyond the very basic functions had to be built into each program. One big one was printing. Anything beyond spitting raw text out a serial or parallel port had to be handled by every program that did printing. Finding one printer that several different programs all supported was at times a pain in the butt. At one time I had two printers, not because having two printers was a nice thing in itself, but because two programs I used had zero models of printer they both supported.

      Now I have three printers, because each printer has different capabilities, but thanks to Windows providing the printing support, *every program* with a print function can print to any of them in some fashion (I have printed to my Dymo 400 Turbo from Photoshop) while specialized software can format its output for one printer. If Windows was more like DOS, the only software that could print to the Turbo 400 would be the Dymo software. Photoshop would require a special plugin to be able to print to the Canon inkjet, and Word would have to be specifically set to print to the LaserJet. If I was looking for a graphic design program I’d have to check its list of supported printers…

      I definitely am not nostalgic for that part of vintage computing.

  6. “Instead, it will have to go the hard way, as it did with ballpoint pens. Years of expensive research and indigenous technological development will be required”

    I know a family member who has worked at a aerospace company (as security).
    They will come steal US taxpayer funded designs fiddle with them then
    come up with something like the j-31.

    1. “Even Hackaday”…. I guess if you’re own outlook is shifting left at a rapid pace it might seem that way. Primarily I don’t see much political bias in this article one way or the other. Furthermore I see most everything I read staying roughly neutral center, without anything getting more “right wing”, EXCEPT the left wing stuff, which is veering off into the distance.

      1. I would agree it’s a article trying to actually state factual points instead of push an oh too obvious agenda.

        Interesting how bad the copied engine tbo is only 40 hours. That’s not much better than what the first Gen engines saw in WW2. I think the German engines were good for 25 hours to compare. They had shortages of things like chromium and could not make better materials. To compare a civilian jet engine has a tbo usually of 6000 hours to start and goes way up. It’s not just the metals but things like seals as well.

        1. The WW2 German engines didn’t last long because they were made from materials unsuited to the job, not because they didn’t know how to make them better. If they’d had chromium and other elements needed to make alloys with better heat resistance, they would have, and the engines would have been able to go at least hundreds of hours between overhauls, instead of lasting one or two flights, or even not making it through one flight as they often did in the closing weeks of the war. Some of the ME-262’s captured by the Allies had their engines go to pieces on their first flights by American or British pilots, despite the efforts of the German engineers to make the engines ready for use. One of those was the one they’d mounted a 75mm cannon in the nose but Germany was defeated before they got to use it in combat. Should have just taken them all out by train and truck then made shape copies of the engines with better materials for flying the captured planes.

    2. I think you’re approaching the article with a mindset that’s colouring your opinion of it – after all it’s very clearly making the point that China’s history of taking and leveraging the IP of other countries (legally and illegally) above developing their own has resulted in some fundamental deficiencies in their technological capabilites. That’s as much a criticism of their approach as a blunt argument about IP law and moral rights is.

  7. Right wing, left wing, mid wing, whatever. The eventual truth is that the PRC will crush the western world into subservient well-trained consumers. The Chinese culture and their languages and their individual sensibilities have a different perception of time than the western world. They have long-term plans. They think strategically. They will eventually solve this problem.

    The western world has educated the China intellectual elite for two generations. Chinese nationals have worked in western technology companies for three generations. These are part of long term planning by the CPC central committee. Western governments and corporations have no sense of long-term strategy. They live for the next quarter and for annual fiscal reports; and all else is secondary.

    One of the (few) things that the current administration is correct about is limiting supply-chain exposure to PRC interests. But their attempts to protect IP and return manufacturing to the west is too little and too late and has no unified planning to drive these efforts.

    1. It’s a great strategy if you want to isolate your country and drive research to other countries, leaving us in the background while other countries share their stuff with each other. You can see it happening now as we push Iran and China closer.

    2. My favorite part (as evident by the comments on this article) is that they have already trained many in the west that to think critically about the situation or the cultural differences is to be racist (or xenophobic, or whatver). If you’ve ever lived in China you know how the culture is different. The PRC is an engine that runs on copying, and literally stamps out innovation. To innovate is to question, and questioning is bad for the PRC’s longevity.

          1. Totally agree. CPC and PLA run the country and right now, nobody crosses the emperor Xi or is critical of his long range goal to re-introduce solid Marxism and expansionism. 3% of the people are in the Party and they all look to the top before saying or doing anything. But the whole population knows how to change on a dime when the winds change. Like the recent dramatic turn against foreigners, and Americans in particular. Everyone in China knows they might be watched and Evil Uncle will turn them in. And public behavior shifts as quickly as the posters in the underground change to show who the government favors and disfavors. This control is like all the dynasties under a different name, and as stifling – no one wants to draw attention. Some of the most popular Youtubers who live in China have had to leave due to threats, and a lot of non-Chinese who have been living there for job reasons have bailed out or been taken out by their companies. It is really monolithic and saddening.

    3. “They live for the next quarter and for annual fiscal reports; and all else is secondary.”

      How many quarters does it take to develop a jet engine?

  8. Pollitically motivated partisan journals such as this one quoted here do not have a place in a technical blog like Hackaday. Please differntiate right wing opinion from creative artfull work of hackers you publisize

  9. So you think they will stop doing research when they succeed in cloning our stuff? Of course not, they will continue to improve and leave us in the dust. Better to license the tech to them and then they will not be motivated to clone it

  10. Even if China forever lags behind the West in terms of jet engine tech, the gap between the two capabilities will shrink to the point of irrelevance as is to be expected when you consider how mature the technology is; meaning all the “low hanging fruit” have long been picked, and an insane amount of resources have to be devoted to develop marginal improvements. Once that gap is small enough, the difference in capabilities will be so negligible that other factors in the system not related to the powerplant will play a more defining role. Often times, being good enough can be just as important as technological parity. For example, many US fighters have been more advanced than their Soviet/Russian counterparts, but that doesn’t mean the latter weren’t extremely formidable, especially if they could be deployed in greater quantities.

    So it’s safe to assume China will achieve sufficient gas turbine know-how eventually. At that point, worried nations would need something else to differentiate their weapons systems enough in a way that gives them the potential upper hand.

      1. Among other things. Some of these technologies are so undeveloped that the playing field is closer to being level than more mature western tech. The West might have a better base to build on top of, but that doesn’t preclude the Chinese from making big headway by hard work and thinking outside the box (though creativity seems to still have limited cultural acceptance, and many of the people who possess those traits seem to want to leave the country). I would have argued that China has the upper hand due to its large population compared to the US and its big push towards STEM in schools, but when it comes down to it, the US isn’t exactly an island, and has the benefit of relatively strong Western and Asian trade/military/tech alliances which makes up for those differences. I suspect that’s among the biggest driving factors behind China wanting to undermine those alliances.

    1. Quantity has a quality all its own.

      In a full on shooting war it won’t matter how good our military stuff is if an enemy has five times (or more) the amount we have. That’s way it was so stupid to end production of the F-22. We should’ve quit building F-16 and F-15 planes and set a goal of replacing all of them with F-22’s while concentrating the F-35 on being a replacement for the F-18 and some of the F-16’s tasks. While the F-18 has two engines the single engine F-35 should be suitable to replace it. The Navy has this thing about having two engines in aircraft they fly over water, nevermind that modern weaponry is very rarely going to leave a twin engine fighter in any sort of state to be able to make it back to a carrier even if somehow one engine still works.

      Rather than restart F-22 production (all the production tooling has been retained) they’re having yet another generation of F-15 built, able to cart around 20+ missiles, with the intent of having an F-22 or F-35 acting as FAC to launch and direct them.

      1. I thought that one of the advantages of an F-16 was that it required less pilot training, not sure that’s been addressed in any replacements. Was supposedly more suitable for ANG pilots and could shave time off pilot training in all out conflict. Dunno if it’s quiiiiite what they showed in “Independence Day” though, anyone who can fly a Cessna gets one to have a crack at the Aliens.

          1. All the “Pros” were in F-18s and Randy got one too, but I swear one of the mass takeoff shots implying citizen volunteer pilots were of F-16s, and while F-18s are front and center in the formation or aerial armada shots, there’s single tail jets at the back I took for F-16s.

          2. Can’t find a clear shot, but step through this clip slowly from 35 secs, on the left bottom, those look like F-14s, above them, there’s something that looks like Harriers in front silhouette, but when they peel off the look more like prowlers. Then just right of the tail of the “hero” F-18 there’s some fuzzy blobs at the back that look more like F-16s when everything is peeling off before it switches scene..

      2. Certainly we could design and build a new F-22, but every argument I’ve seen against it includes the assertion that one reason it would be difficult and slow, is because the tooling no longer exists.

    2. USAF is probably in for a rude shock, since they haven’t been up against even a half sharp air force in decades. A little bit of discipline and some smart tactics and a well motivated air force could give them some real trouble, even with up to 60 year old tech. Recently, they’ve only really fought air forces on the ground, by making them ineffective with preemptive strikes. Two strategies from an air force that wants to fight could give them a lot of trouble, especially if they have decent numbers. Firstly, hit and run from those Mach 2+ rocketships with the performance envelopes similar to EE Lightnings or F-104s, basically high speed strafing runs from altitude with unguided rocket pods or cannon. Those two are retired, but think there’s still some Mirages and Sukhois booting around that fit the bill..Catching them napping on a low speed loiter, they could be diving for home and stay ahead before they get into missile range. Second, drawing them into dogfights with subsonic aircraft that are highly maneuverable. Speed can take you away from a dogfight, but if you’re arrogant and stay in it, it’s a turning contest, and you can turn tightest at lower speeds, good pilots aware of their machines envelopes could be turning inside USAF fighters, full flap, 200 knots, again, making max use of unguided munitions, because of the ECM capabilities of newer planes. These would not even be suicidal tactics if rules of engagement precluded following enemy over a certain line, whether it be a political one, or a fuel range limit or something. Other asymmetric or guerrilla air warfare tactics would also likely inflict casualties, much as a mob of Toyotas with machine gun mounts can prove a handful on the ground.

      1. I see where you’re coming from RW, and I agree that some of the tactics you mentioned would work in very specific cases.
        However, the way the USAF & NAVY conduct operations would limit if not entirely eliminate the chance of an air attack surprising them in this manner.
        The amount of AWACS support a modern air operation has would mean the controllers would have the huge advantage of being able to see everything in the battlespace. There’s not much point in launching a huge air attack with outdated equipment when your enemy can see exactly what your doing and either directly counter the attack or move assets to limit the effectiveness of any attack.

        However, an air attack using a combination of fast old hardware and modern ECM techniques would be very interesting. Rather like the “Black Buck” air attacks on the Falklands where Vulcan bombers were outfitted with cutting edge (at the time) wing-mounted ECM packages. This combination worked surprisingly well with the outdated Vulcan delivering the range and bomb load that no other UK aircraft had and the US made ECM defeating the admittedly outdated Skyguard air defence.
        A flight of older but fast fighters escorted by a spread of ECM equipped support aircraft would be a very legitimate threat.
        Of course, you still have to counter visual and IR tracking, but good ECM would reduce the interception range and increase the effectiveness of an outdated airforce.
        I still wouldn’t want to be in any sort of fight with a flight of F-22’s though, long or short range. You’d have to rely on having more aircraft than the F-22 has armament.
        I know the F-22 is maybe over-hyped by commentators in some respects (like all good aircraft are) but it’s still in the absolute top tier of fighter aircraft.

        A flight of NAVY F-18’s in the situation outlined above would be very very interesting though.
        I’d like to hear other people’s opinions on this.

      2. Depends on how you define up against – they must have trained against other NATO allies etc – so they should have some idea of what being on the receiving end of a decently trained and equipped force is like, just hopefully without as much blood.

        I know there’s been some embarrassments dealt to the US Navy in training over the years in training exercises (highly doubt its one way – but aircraft carrier group training against a much smaller navy what would you expect?).

        The most likely old tech to actually cause trouble in the air I would suggest is the doped canvas and wood frame piston jobs – almost nothing to return radar signals, slow enough that the set might well filter them out. But something like a Stringbag can be one heck of a harrashment platform, its dirt cheap, and by its nature actually quite hard for many modern weapons platforms to harm (add in some modern upgrades of course). Obviously needs to be used right – but faster, bigger, longer range developments the forces have been favouring are not the only solution (though probably the best for preserving your own troops lives in the awkward ‘peace-keeping/terrorist hunt type world most tools of war are used in of late). The small cheap and hard to spot routine works even if the fangs are smaller, and you can keep making them easily even in a major war with big disruption to your industrial base. I really can’t see a new F35 rolling off the production line after a real war starts, its just too complex, needs too many processes and stages to make any of it work (same for most if not all current top end jets).

        1. >by its nature actually quite hard for many modern weapons platforms to harm

          On the other hand, they have plenty of time to try, since it’s coming in so slow that you can spot it visually and by ear before it’s in attack range. One ancient biplane carrying one torpedo doesn’t do jack to a modern carrier, and the approach is low enough that you can shoot it out of the sky with a machine gun boat.

        2. Right, these little buggers caused a lot of trouble…
          It’s not just sneaky commies who were into that. Churchill proposed that all Tiger Moth trainers should be deployed in a similar role to harass any German Operation Sealion landings in UK night and day.

          However, I think Predator drones, which are capable of targeting speeding vehicles by their engine heat signature, i.e. 100 mph targets from above, would make short work of them these days.

  11. I guess MIT’s aerospace engineering servers are rock solid. Lmao, good luck, China. Perhaps when people are treated as people again and not government property, their minds will soar and allow them to think outside of the box.

  12. Since 2016 I have been telling you guys that you simply ignore the science which comes from the unapproved place or scientist.


    This guy invented the first jet engine in 1910. It took him 20 years to develop tge fluid dynamics theory called “coanda effect”. The work continued and was picked up during the 1930s by several groups – among them were the people you mentioned – struggling to invent some materials strong enough to resist.
    The first operational fighter aircraft was Messerschmitt ME323 with an estimated engine MTBF=36 hours, so they had to submit every jet engine to maintenance after 20 hours of work to replace their blades.
    After 1945 many of them and also new prototypes were… let’s say confiscated by both US and Soviets. It is not nice to say “stolen”. The resulting re-branded jet fighters met during the 50s in the korean war. They looked the same, so everyone thought their enemy was their friend painted in different colors, so nobody shoot.

    1. He didn’t. Coanda was another example of a fringe scientist who found one curious effect, misunderstood it for something it’s not, and tried unsuccessfully to press it to service. In the end he started faking his accomplishments for the lack of any real results. There’s a particular mental problem with this type of person, a sort of tail-wags-dog mentality of magical thinking that enables them to even fake their own research and still believe that it’s real.

      The man was trying to develop a sort of ducted fan that would act as a more efficient airplane propeller, yet:

      >”Contemporary sources describe the Coandă-1910 as incapable of flight.[6] Years later, after others had developed jet technology, Coandă started making claims that it was a motorjet, and that it actually flew.[3] According to Charles Gibbs-Smith: “There was never any idea of injecting fuel; the machine never flew; it was never destroyed on test; and Flight noted that it was sold to a Monsieur Weyman.”

      >”A small stream of a high-velocity fluid could be used to generate a greater mass flow, at lower velocity. Although eventually unsuccessful for aircraft propulsion, this effect has been widely used on a smaller scale, from packaging machinery for small pills through to the Dyson Air Multiplier bladeless fan. “

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