If a deal with Antonov goes through, China will emerge at the end of the next decade with a military air lift capacity second only to the United States.
For war jets, China’s Skyrizon and Ukraine's Motor Sich are planning to build a plant in Chongqing to produce and service aircraft engines with Ukrainian technology, Stepan Kubiv, Ukraine’s First Deputy Prime Minister, said in May after visiting the central Chinese city, 1,500 km southwest of Beijing.
"The company plans to invest $250 million in upgrading the Ukrainian production and design facilities of Motor Sich," Kubiv wrote on his Facebook page after visiting the Chongqing site and meeting executives with Beijing Skyrizon Aviation Industry Investment Co. Ltd.
Motor Sich is one of the world's largest manufacturers of aircraft engines, with sales to 100 countries. Motor Sich recently supplied 20 AI-222 turbofans for use in Chinese L-15 fighter-trainer jets, the first in a $380 million deal for 250 engines.
It is unclear how work will be split between Chongqing and Motor Sich’s design and production base in Zaporizhia. China wants make in China its own engines to power its latest generation J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters. Kubiv predicted that the first Motor Sich engine could be produced in China by the end of this year.
China has had difficulty obtaining high performance engines. The U.S., E.U, Japan and Israel maintain various levels of a trade embargo with China, a legacy of the Tienanmen Square crackdown of 28 years ago.
Russia has mixed feelings about arms exports to China. Over the last 15 years, Russian arms experts charge, China has reversed engineered components of Russian arms sold to Beijing -- Sukhoi-27 combat aircraft, S-300 surface to air missiles, and Kilo class submarines.
Ukraine has been down that road. China’s JL-8, a jet trainer and light attack aircraft, now flies with Chinese-made WS-11 engines, a Chinese version of Motor Sich’s Ivchenko AI-25 engine.
Russia also has geopolitical misgivings. Moscow is always nervous about its control over Russia’s thinly populated, but resource rich Far East. More pressing, Moscow has a 40-year history of arming India, a nation that now is emerging as China’s rival in South Asia.
In turn, Ukraine sells tanks to Pakistan, India’s geopolitical rival.
Today, Ukraine is happy to take arms sales from Russia, a nation that arms Ukraine’s secessionists.
Last year, China became Ukraine’s top arms client, buying $90 million in arms. Since 2012, Ukraine has sold $1 billion in arms to China,
China, without going out of its way to irritate Russia, follows its own interests in Ukraine.
“China does not accompany investment with demands on what Ukraine should do,” said Ruslan Osypenko, CEO here of the China Trade Association.
Russia’s press worries that much of Antonov, a crown jewel of the Soviet Union’s military industrial complex will move to central China. Reports talk of the construction of a $1 billion living and industrial complex in Xi’an, China, complete with a new 4,000-meter long runway, almost as long at the longest runway at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.
At Xi’an, the Xi'an Aircraft Industry Company Ltd. has for many years built its Y-line cargo planes. The Y-7, Y-8 and Y-9 are based on Soviet-era, mid-size Antonov cargo models.
Now, Xian’s parent company, Beijing-based Aviation Industry Corporation of China, wants to move into production of Antonov’s strategic air lift jet models; the An-124-100 ‘Ruslan,’ the largest military transport aircraft in the world.
The Ruslan can carry 150 tons of cargo, about three times the capacity of China’s largest transport plane, the Y-20 ‘Chubby Girl’ cargo jet. The largest cargo jet of the American military, the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy can carry a 120 ton payload.
The Chinese also are setting their sites on the biggest plane in the world, Ukraine’s An-225, or ‘Mriya’, which can carry 250 tons. An outgrowth of the Ruslan, only one Mriya, or ‘Dream’ has been built. It sits in a hangar at Antonov’s Gostomel airport, about 40 km nw of central Kyiv. A half-finished second Mriya sits in a nearby Antonov factory.
Last summer, after seven years of negotiations, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, or AICC, told Chinese CCTV state television that they had signed a deal with Antonov to produce the Ruslan and Mriya in Xi’an.
Antonov denied they had agreed to sell plans to the Mriya, saying they are negotiating “a contract under which the completion and modernization of the second An-225 Mriya will be carried out at the facilities of the Antonov state enterprise."
Antonov is considered financially vulnerable, During the first half of this year, its profit was down by two thirds compared to same period in 2016, falling to slightly less than $1 million.
In this case, the sale of Ukraine’s half-built, second Mriya would be similar to China’s purchase in 1998 of the Varyag, a 2/3 completed aircraft carrier owned by Ukraine. Rebuilt and modernized by China’s military, the carrier was rebaptised the Liaoning. Last November, the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, was declared ‘combat ready.’
Products of the late Soviet period, the Varyag was launched in Dec. 1998, the same month when the Mriya made its first flight.
Zhang Youshengtells, president of AICC, believes that Ukraine’s airborne inheritance from the Soviet military also has a future in China.
In an interview last year with BBC Future, the executive said China could use the Mriya to launch commercial satellites at heights up to 12,000 meters.
“Its launch time is flexible, accurate, and can quickly send the satellite into intended orbit, which greatly reduces launch costs,” Zhang told the BBC.
Confident that the China-Antonov deal will eventually go through, he predicted that the Mriya will be the centerpiece of China’s ambitious plan to add 1,000 heavy lift aircraft over the next decade.
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Posted Aug. 28, 2017