Updated 8:47 AM EST, Fri, Mar 05, 2021

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China’s New Ramjet Engine for Air-to-Air Missiles can’t Deliver on its Promise

New missile

(Photo : PLAAF) Shenyang J-11B fighter carrying PL-12s.

China claims to have developed a solid-fuel variable flow ramjet engine with the potential to triple the range of beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles arming fighter jets of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).

The speed of this engine remains unsuitable, however. And the large engine still can't fit inside the small body of an air-to-air missile.

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China's state-controlled media claims this ramjet is a breakthrough in the engine research field. The ramjet might enhance the combat capabilities of China's supersonic and stealth aircraft, including the Chengdu J-20 "stealth" fighters, by enabling them to engage U.S. Navy fighters and other aircraft at longer range.

The large ramjet, however, still has to be miniaturized to fit into small missile bodies. Researchers admit a lot of research needs to be done to decrease the original size of the huge and bulky ramjet engine.

They also admit that the thrust generated by this engine remains unsuitable for its use as the propulsion unit for supersonic air-to-air missiles at the present time.

A research team from the No. 4 research institute affiliated with state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said they successfully conducted two flight tests of the solid-fuel variable flow ramjet engine. It said the new ramjet engine is ready for further engineering applications.

Researchers said the solid-fuel ramjet engine offers the advantages of low cost; high power; compact size and high controllability.

Chinese military pundits said the ramjet, when perfected, will "remarkably increase" the range of air-to-air missiles and anti-ship guided missiles mounted on PLAAF fighters and attack aircraft, including the J-20.

The engine will allow J-20s to fire from longer range.  In the future, missiles equipped with this ramjet might reach hypersonic speeds in excess of Mach 5 (6,000 km/h).

In 2000, the research institute organized a special research team to work on the project. The research institute conducted eight flight tests with the new ramjet engine over the past few years.

Once the engine is miniaturized, it will likely enable China's air-to-air missiles to shoot down targets up to 300 kilometers away at speeds in excess of Mach 5. State-controlled media claim the new ramjet can also be installed on China's latest missiles such as the PL-12, an active radar-guided beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile.

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