Canadian Engines Power Chinese Military Aircraft

Kenneth Epps

Kenneth Epps

The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2007 Volume 28 Issue 4

The use of aircraft engines built by Montreal-based Pratt and Whitney Canada (PWC) in Chinese attack helicopters and other military aircraft reveals flaws in Canada’s export control regulations. Canada may be politically committed to more effective international standards for arms transfers, but it needs to do more to ensure that Canadian equipment does not reach the security forces of governments known for human rights violations.

In October media sources confirmed that turboshaft engines exported by Pratt and Whitney Canada to China were used to power the prototype Z-10 Zhisheng attack helicopter, the Chinese equivalent to the US AH-1 Cobra. Originally reported in Jane’s Defence Weekly in 2002, the supply of Canadian-built engines for the Z-10 was cited in the report Arms Without Borders (Control Arms 2006) as an example of Western-sourced components for the Chinese helicopter gunship. More recently, an international press report noted that “an official brochure on the helicopter shows that the Z-10 uses a PT6C-67C engine imported from Pratt and Whitney Canada” (Chang 2007). The brochure also stated that several Z-10 prototypes have been built since 2003.

According to a company spokesman, PWC delivered 10 engines between 2001 and 2002 to Changhe Aircraft Industries in Jiangxi province for “a dual-use Chinese Medium Helicopter platform, which was to have both military and civil variants” (Minnick 2007). PWC officials claim that their engines were intended for the civil variant only and that they were unaware the engines would be used in the military Z-10 variant. The Canadian government confirmed that an export permit issued in 2000 for the engine shipment expired following the delivery of the 10 engines.

Changhe Aircraft Industries, meanwhile, is a known supplier to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China as well as to other armed forces accused of serious human rights violations. The US and the European Union responded to the PLA massacre of citizens in Tiananmen Square in 1989 with arms embargos that are still in place. Despite support “in principle” for the 1998 EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, Canada has not participated in the EU embargo, nor is China on Canada’s Area Control List of states to which Canadian military exports are banned.

Rather, as with most states not allied to Canada, arms exports to China are reviewed by Canadian export control officials on a “case by case” basis. Approval of the export permit for the engine shipments would have followed a review of the circumstances of the joint military/civilian helicopter program. If the approval were conditional on the use of the PWC engines solely for civilian aircraft, it raises important questions about how the engines were diverted for military purposes.

Yet the circumstances of the Z-10 engine transfer are not new. PWC has exported aero-engines to power Chinese-manufactured aircraft with military use for decades and deliveries continue today. In the past five years, for example, such transfers have included:

  • PW150B turboprop engines for Y-8F600 transport/KJ-200 Airborne Early Warning aircraft;
  • PT6B-67A turboprop engines for the Z-8 multirole transport helicopter;
  • PW-206C engines for A109 civilian and military helicopters; and
  • PT6C-67E turboshaft engines for the EC175/Z15 medium helicopter.

Pratt and Whitney Canada has an enduring relationship with Chinese aircraft manufacturers. There are also future economic incentives for Canada to maintain an open supply of aero-engines to China. The emerging Chinese aerospace market is expected to be one of the world’s largest in the near future and PWC seeks to provide engines across a range of civilian and military aircraft programs.

Concerns about the human rights impact of Canadian engine transfers to China go beyond the use of the engines within the country. As one of the largest global arms suppliers, China exports military aircraft to other nations. Through deals struck by Chinese arms suppliers, Canadian engines power the military aircraft of other states in which there are risks of grave human rights violations by government forces.

As perhaps the most prominent example, for over two decades PWC has provided PT6A turboprop engines for the Y-12 transport aircraft exported by China’s National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation. Since 1990, more than 40 Y-12 aircraft have been delivered to state armed forces in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Y-12 transfers to Burma (Myanmar), Eritrea, and Pakistan occurred when there was well-documented criticism of the human rights conditions in these states. In these cases it is likely that such “indirect” transfers of Canadian engines would not have been approved if Canadian permission had been sought for direct transfer of the engines. Yet, as new Chinese military aircraft programs come on stream in the future, transfers of Canadian engines via China to other military users will be equally problematic.

The history of the Canadian export of engines for Chinese military aircraft underlines the urgency of an upgrade to Canada’s export control system. Canada’s military export regulations call for the close control of military goods to countries “whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens, unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.” It is incumbent on Canadian officials to ensure that Canadian-manufactured engines—and, indeed, any equipment with a military end-use—are not delivered to the security forces of countries like China, Burma, and Pakistan, where such a risk is real.

Canada supports the negotiation of a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which would set universal standards for the national regulation of weapons transfers. To help ensure that the ATT establishes effective global standards to reduce and prevent irresponsible arms transfers, including exports of military equipment to governments responsible for serious human rights violations, Canada must lead by example. It could begin by adequately controlling the export of equipment such as civilian aircraft engines to their final use or destination.



  1. As compiled in the Canadian Military Industry Database, Project Ploughshares, from public sources


Chang, Andrei. 2007.Analysis: China’s Z-10 uses Canada engine. United Press International, 5 October.

Control Arms. 2006. Arms Without Borders: Why a globalised trade needs global controls. October. Amnesty International, IANSA & Oxfam International.

Minnick, Wendell. 2007.Canadian engines power some Chinese attack helos. 15 October.

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