The advanced WS-15 afterburning turbofan engine, designed for the Chengdu J-20 fighter of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Forces, has entered series production.
This engine not only enhances the capabilities of the J-20 but also puts China on par with the United States in terms of engine technology for fifth-generation fighters.
The WS-15 and its advantages
The WS-15 promises longer life, lower maintenance, and more power than its predecessor, the WS-10C. Furthermore, it will allow the J-20 to have more thrust than any other tactical fighter aircraft in the world and could introduce thrust vectoring capabilities to improve maneuverability.
The new engine will make the J-20 more maneuverable, provide more power for onboard sensors and avionics systems, and possibly enable the use of future directed-energy weapons, such as laser weapons.
Greater autonomy and speed
The WS-15 will increase the range of the J-20, which already exceeds that of any Western fighter, thanks to its increased fuel efficiency. Furthermore, it will allow the fighter to fly at higher supersonic speeds without afterburners.
It is believed that a new variant of the J-20, with improved stealth characteristics and modifications to take full advantage of the new powerplant, could be designated the J-20B.
Accelerated production and the impact on the fighter fleet
The introduction of the WS-15 could increase the production of the J-20 on an even larger scale, potentially hastening the withdrawal from the production of other fourth-generation heavy fighters such as the J-16.
The J-20 is one of two fifth-generation fighters in production and deployed at the squadron level alongside the F-35. The first meeting between the two was confirmed in March 2022 over the East China Sea.
The future of fifth-generation fighter engines
The start of deployment of J-20 aircraft with WS-15 engines will likely prompt the United States to develop a new engine for the F-35, as the current F135 suffers from reliability issues and lacks power. The entry into production of the WS-15 marks a milestone in the arms and technology race between China and the United States in the field of fifth-generation fighters.