Chinese Air Force J-20 stealth fighter flies with WS-15 new engines

As reported by Liu Xuanzun in Global Times, echoing, a news website affiliated with the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, China’s most advanced J-20 fighter jet reportedly flew for the first time with a pair of newly developed WS-15 engines for the first time recently.

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Chinese Air Force J 20 stealth fighter flies with WS 15 new engine Initially, the J-20 was powered by Russian AL-31 engines, and later by Chinese WS-10 engines (Picture source: Wikipedia)

Following the initial coverage by US media outlets, including, in late June, reports emerged citing unverified images and videos circulated on social media. These materials purportedly depicted a J-20 aircraft taking off from a test airfield in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, Southwest China. The visuals suggested that the J-20 was equipped with two WS-15 engines instead of the previously used WS-10 engines. As of now, neither the Chinese military nor the aircraft's developer has confirmed this event to the public.

The Chengdu J-20, also known as Mighty Dragon, is a twinjet all-weather stealth fighter aircraft developed by China's Chengdu Aerospace Corporation for the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The J-20 is designed as an air superiority fighter with precision strike capability. The aircraft has three variants: the initial production model J-20A, the thrust-vectoring J-20B, and twin-seat aircraft teaming capable J-20S.

Descending from the J-XX program of the 1990s, the aircraft made its maiden flight on 11 January 2011, and was officially revealed at the 2016 China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition. The aircraft entered service in March 2017[5] with the first J-20 combat unit formed in February 2018, making China the second country in the world and the first in Asia to field an operational stealth aircraft. The J-20 is the world's third operational fifth-generation fighter aircraft after the American F-22 and F-35.

Initially, the J-20s were powered by Russian AL-31 engines. However, during Airshow China 2021, J-20s equipped with domestically developed WS-10 engines performed public flights, indicating the commencement of mass production of J-20s with these engines.

According to a Chinese military expert who requested anonymity, it has long been anticipated that the J-20 would eventually transition to next-generation engines. These engines are expected to offer greater thrust, resulting in extended range, higher speeds, and the ability to super-cruise, among other tactical advantages.

Wang Ya'nan, the chief editor of Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge magazine, stated that China used to lag behind leading countries such as the US in terms of aircraft engine technology by several decades. However, the country is rapidly catching up. It is likely that more powerful engines featuring vector thrust control and variable cycle engines are also currently under development.