Fearing Chinese Knock-Offs, Russia Holds Up Fighter Engine Sale


Mikhail Pogosyan, design chief of iconic Russian fighter builders MiG and Sukhoi, has blocked the sale of advanced Russian built jet engines to China, arguing Chinese builders will put the engines in their export oriented FC-1 fighter, a virtual MiG-29 clone that is nearly three times cheaper, according to this Pravda report.

Russians firms fear that they’re losing global market share, particularly in Asia and Africa, to far cheaper, albeit not as high-quality, Chinese fighters. Sudan and Nigeria have both purchased quantities of F-7 fighters (an upgraded MiG-21) from China. For many developing countries, top of the line fighter jets aren’t really necessary; they want something that looks high performance but is used for flyovers and dropping bombs on insurgent strongholds.

China began work on the FC-1, said comparable to the F-16, in the 1980s, originally as an upgrade to the J-7. Pakistan signed on as a co-development partner after Grumman dropped out following Tiananmen; it entered Pakistan service, as the JF-17, earlier this year.

Egypt has been talking to Russia’s Rosoboronexport about purchasing some 32 MiG-29s (pictured above). Egypt is also talking to China about buying the FC-1. An FC-1 costs $10 million versus $35 million for the MiG-29. Pravda says China plans to sell up to 1,200 of the FC-1 and a knock off of the Su-27.

Chinese industry has struggled, so far unsuccessfully, to build advanced high-powered turbofans (click here for a good analysis). Analysts say an indigenous turbofan is the missing critical component that would allow China to build advanced fighters for export in large numbers; a number of Chinese firms are throwing huge sums at turbofan development.

-- Greg Grant

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