An Aero Engine Corporation of China (AECC) official has hinted that production of the WS-15 Emei engine has started, signalling progress with the Chengdu J-20 fighter programme.

In footage apparently taken at an industry conference, an AECC official states that “mass production” of both the WS-10 Taihang and WS-15 “has been achieved”.

Chengdu J-20 China Ministry of National Defence

Source: Ministry of National Defense, People’s Republic of China

Early versions of the J-20 are powered by the Russian Saturn AL-31FN, with more recent versions powered by the indigenous WS-10C Taihang

It is not readily apparent when the footage was shot. The footage appeared on Twitter following an earlier posting on Chinese social media. The executive was answering an audience question about the supply chain for engine production.

In the case of the WS-10 Taihang, mass production is unsurprising given that the engine powers several in-service Chinese types, such as the Chengdu J-10C, Shenyang J-11B, J-15, and J-16. Some examples of the J-20 itself are powered by the WS-10C.

The video suggests, however, that at least limited production of the more advanced WS-15 is under way.

Images or video of a WS-15-powered J-20 have yet to emerge. In recent years Beijing has greatly limited the sharing of military-related imagery and video on social media. Testing could well be under way with the WS-15-powered J-20, but a shroud of secrecy surrounds the programme and China’s broader military modernisation.

The WS-15 is the ultimate powerplant for the J-20. Estimates have put the maximum thrust at 18.4t (180kN) – compared with about 15t for the WS-10. The WS-15 could potentially give the J-20 genuine “fifth generation” performance, including supercruise – the ability to travel at supersonic speeds without engaging the afterburner.

The official also refers to two other engines, the WS-19 and WS-20. The WS-19 is understood to be the powerplant for China’s new naval fighter, the Shenyang J-35, and the WS-20 is the indigenous engine for the Xian Y-20 strategic transport. Both the J-35 and WS-20-powered Y-20 are undergoing testing.

The executive adds that the supply chain has been organised for both WS-19 and WS-20, and that it is a priority to strengthen the supply of “supperalloys” required for advanced engines.

The official’s remarks emerged days after footage appeared of a Y-20 test aircraft with an AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engine Corporation CJ-1000A high-bypass turbofan in its No. 2 engine position. The CJ-1000A is the indigenous powerplant for the Comac C919.