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China manufactures a number of aircraft that use Russian-made jet engines. For instance, JF-17 uses a Russian RD-93 engine, etc. Similarly, Russian sells AL-31 jet engines for Chinese J-10C jets. These two aircraft have become a strong competitor to Russian Mig-35 aircraft. Similarly, Chinese Y-20 military cargo aircraft uses Russian Soloviev engines. This aircraft has become a strong competitor to Russian-made IL-76.

Why does Russia sell jet engines to China?

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    First, we are probably nearing SE.PO's limits on questions asking about internal motivations. Second, this phenomenon is in not very different to what Western companies have been doing: they felt they needed to access China's market to profit, but the Chinese system of enforced joint ventures and its tendency for industrial espionage has made the actual outcomes questionable in many cases. No VTC or DV on my part though, only this remark. Jan 3, 2022 at 18:56
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    Many businesses sell products and services to their competitors. Why do you think it should be any different for countries?
    – Barmar
    Jan 3, 2022 at 23:35
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    After the fall of USSR, Russia is very, very poor. Especially after the West sanction it for the Crimea issue. Russia don't have much it can export, thanks to USSR's policy. So it can only sold whatever it could to get money--vodka, petro/gas, and military hardware
    – Faito Dayo
    Jan 7, 2022 at 2:19
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    @alamar And just about all of that trade surplus is attributable to Russian oil and gas exports. High oil and gas prices are literally the fuel that finances Putin.
    – Just Me
    Mar 12, 2022 at 19:39
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    "Why does Russia sell jet engines to China?" Why not? The question should motivate more what is so strange about one country selling jet engines to another country that both are friends currently. After all selling stuff is good normally. Mar 12, 2022 at 20:34

2 Answers 2

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Money.

Engine manufacturers are separate from aircraft manufacturers, so you can't expect the engine manufactures to care about the profits of the aircraft manufacturers. There is a demand for engines, so they sell engines, and aircraft manufacturers just have to find a way to compete.

All engines are created differently

A modern jet engine is an extremely complex and optimized piece of machinery. This means that two jet engines, that may look very similar from the outside, can be optimized for completely different flight or operating conditions:

  1. high or low altitude
  2. subsonic, trans-sonic, or even supersonic cruise.
  3. type of fuel

China does design and manufacture their own engines, but their engines use a different set of requirements. Instead of investing in designing and building production lines for engines that Russia already produces, they may have found it cheaper to just import Russian engines.

Tech support

By providing engines to China, Russia inherits the obligation to support these engines - replacement parts, repair work, etc. Should China wish to go to war with Russia, which is unlikely in the geopolitical situation as it stands (08.2022), then China would need to either:

  1. Replace the engines with their own (see the previous point)
  2. Take into account, that they would not be able to receive replacement parts and tech support for their Y-20 transport aircraft.
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    Good answer... but one answer that seems to be overlooked is that if one nation sells to another, they now have receipts on the weapons sold... thus valuable knowledge of what the other nation can field in combat and how best to anticipate this. It also ensures peace, because China is less likely to go to war with the guys doing tech support for their engines. Nobody would be stupid enough to rob a gun store.
    – hszmv
    Sep 2, 2022 at 11:17
  • @hszmv This may be true for ground vehicles, small arms, munitions, etc. However, we're talking specifically about transport aircraft. Unless they are on a stealth mission, they usually fly with transponders on. Even without a transponder, they don't have a small radar cross-section, and are quite large, so it's difficult to hide their existence. Their amount can be counted from satellite photos and monitoring radars. I will add tech support though, as that is a valid point.
    – MishaP
    Sep 2, 2022 at 11:33
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    @MishaP It can actually be valuable. During the cold war, Russia was able to trick the U.S. into thinking they had a better bomber capability by flying the same craft in formation over military parades over and over again. In this situation, Russia, aware of how many engines a plane needs, plus the idea that some engines will be for spare parts, can say that China has a maximum potential to field X number of planes. If China wanted to conceal their plane numbers, they could build 40 and only fly 15 at a given time... but Russia would know they bought 40 planes worth of engines.
    – hszmv
    Sep 2, 2022 at 11:47
  • During the Cold War, satellite imagery and over-the-horizon radar observation was very poor quality. The US built the SR-71 because it lacked the ability to get fast and accurate data from satellites, and that's 1966, they continued to be operated well into the 80s, and the Cold War ended in 1991. Satellite imagery in 2022 is significantly more accurate and faster. There's no way to conceal aircraft. By monitoring air bases, it's possible to get reconnaissance that is no less accurate than what you describe. Also, radar tracking and transponders allow you to count them in the air.
    – MishaP
    Sep 2, 2022 at 11:55
  • As I said - your argument is completely valid for other types of military assets, just not so much for huge transport aircraft.
    – MishaP
    Sep 2, 2022 at 11:56
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Countries with their own defense industries like China, the U.S., and Russia, frequently insist upon making their own major weapons systems, even if they import some parts.

Russia does not see China as a military threat to it, so it wouldn't be considered a threat to Russian national security to sell parts for military equipment being built by Russia. Indeed, the Russian government may see selling military equipment and parts for military equipment to China and other countries that are not hostile to it as a national security asset, because it makes the military might of the purchaser countries beholden to Russian cooperation in the long run as parts need to be replaced over time, and as the customer country wants to buy more units of its existing military equipment systems. These national security concerns may outweigh a "Russia first" international trade policy for the Russian government, and even when China sells its finished aircraft, Russia is at least getting the consolation prize of part of the profits from that sale, even though it isn't getting the full profit from the sale as it would if another country bought one of its finished aircraft.

At the time that some Russian company entered into a contract with China to sell the engines (keep in mind that it is a company that happens to be located in Russia and also does business with the Russian military as a defense contractor, and not "Russia" itself that sold the engines), the Russian company that makes completed aircraft with the parts supplied by the common engine supplier, either (1) didn't have the power to prevent the engine supplier from also selling to China (and perhaps wasn't able to get Russian government backing to prevent this from happening out of diplomatic concerns for Russia-China relations), or (2) didn't anticipate that the Chinese finished aircraft would develop an export market that would compete with the Russian finished aircraft. In the second case it is worth noting that, until very recently, China was not a viable competitor to Russia in the exported finished military aircraft market.

Both possibilities are plausible.

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