China makes turbine blade breakthrough that could give Type 055 guided-missile destroyers an edge
- ‘Milestone’ advance comes as China pursues hi-tech goals
- Development was a result of cooperation with Russian firm, shipbuilding source says
China said it has produced a blade casting that could improve the performance of the heavy duty turbines that will power the latest generation of its guided-missile destroyers.
State Power Investment Corp (SPIC), one of China’s largest state-owned power generator companies, said it could now establish its own production process for the core component of 330-megawatt gas turbines.
SPIC said on its website on Tuesday that the blade casting was “China’s first breakthrough in core components in heavy-duty gas turbines” and “the most important milestone achievement” since 2015, when China launched a task force to develop a home-grown gas turbine.
To generate electricity, air and fuel are mixed and combusted, causing the turbine blades to spin, driving the generator. The blades are typically made of superalloys designed to endure the high stresses created within the turbine.
China’s efforts to access critical but sensitive technologies – owned by foreign players such as General Electric in the US, Germany’s Siemens, Japan’s Mitsubishi and Italy’s Ansaldo Energia – have been turned down over the past 50 years, putting China “at risk of being choked by the neck”, especially in the field of national energy security, Science and Technology Daily said in May.
The technical breakthrough was announced with China locked in a trade war with the US and “Made in China 2025”, a strategy aimed at transforming China into a technology and manufacturing superpower, drawing the ire of US President Donald Trump and Western governments.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said the new component could be used on gas turbines that are designed to power later variants of China’s most advanced surface ship, the Type 055 guided-missile destroyer. China has launched four over the past 18 months and four more are under construction.
The Type 055s are designed to serve as the primary escort vessels for the People’s Liberation Army aircraft carrier strike groups.
“The original gas turbines used on Type 055 destroyers are not as powerful as the engines used by the Americans’ Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers,” Li said. “But the gap between Chinese warships and their American counterparts will be narrowed as China overcomes the core technology [gap].”
The first two Type 055s do not feature super efficient integrated electric propulsion systems (IEPS) because of their relatively low power supplies. The IEPS would allow warships to operate high-energy, hi-tech weapons such as rail guns, which can launch projectiles at speeds far beyond conventional weapons.
A source close to the Chinese shipbuilding industry said Beijing’s achievement on turbine blade technology development was made with the help of foreign counterparts, especially through a cooperation agreement signed between Russian United Engine Corp and China’s state-owned Harbin Turbine Co in July of last year.
“Russia needs China to retrofit its only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov-class carrier, whose hull, deck and other parts were all damaged following a series of accidents earlier this year,” the source said.
“Chinese shipbuilders in Dalian, Liaoning province, are capable of retrofitting the Admiral Kuznetsov-class carrier, based on their experience of refitting the country’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.”
China bought the Liaoning, a half-built Admiral Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier, from Ukraine in 1998, and spent about a decade refitting it, turning it into the country’s first commissioned aircraft carrier. The country’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, was launched last year by the Dalian shipyard.