AVIC and Skunk Works…is that a definition?

BEIJING — China’s Avic Defense will use rapid prototyping centers like the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works for future military aircraft developments, with the aim of overcoming what it says are inefficient production processes.

The prototyping centers are being set up at the fighter plants at Shenyang and Chengdu, the latter of which has just begun test flying the large J-20 combat aircraft.

The statement by Avic Defense President Wang Yawei is a hint that work on the J-20 or the earlier J-10 could have been smoother, although he does not name any particular project. He blames long development cycles on the competition for resources at major plants.

Wang is critical of the Chinese industry’s traditional separation of design and manufacturing, with research institutes distinct from factories. “This has affected the efficiency of aircraft development,” the executive says in an interview with International Aviation, the Chinese partner of Aviation Week.

Within Avic Defense, only the Hongdu Group at Nanchang has unified development and production facilities. “In Chengdu, Shenyang and Guizhou, the design institutes and factories are separated,” he tells International Aviation reporter Zhang Zhengguo.

So Avic Defense is forcefully pushing the integration of design and production in its facilities, following the lead of foreign companies. It also is following a foreign lead in setting up the rapid prototyping centers.

“At the beginning of the rationalization effort, Avic Defense raised the question of how to unify design and production, especially with regard to raising the low efficiency for new aircraft programs,” he says. “In the past, low efficiency was caused by mingling trial production with volume production. The two often competed for resources in machining, subassembly, final assembly and other work, resulting in long development cycles for new aircraft.

“In contrast to this, the U.S. Skunk Works and [Boeing] Phantom Works are both independent trial-production centers. Russia also has independent operations for trial production. This method is worth borrowing,” he said. Wang did not say when the new facilities at Shenyang and Chengdu would be ready.

Unmanned aircraft will be a new focus of Chinese military aircraft exports, he says, adding that China has made crucial but unspecified technological breakthroughs in the area.

Photo: Chinese Internet

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