Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China


The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) is designated very high risk for its links to industrial espionage and China’s defence industry.

COMAC was established in 2008 as a state-owned manufacturer of large commercial aircraft. ; ; The company oversees eleven subsidiaries that focus on various aspects of aircraft production. A list of COMAC’s subordinate companies can be found in English on the company’s website.

Despite its focus on commercial aircraft, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has referred to it as a defence industry conglomerate. ; The company maintains strong links to China’s defence industry and some of its leadership is drawn from former executives at state-owned military aircraft and missile manufacturers.For example, COMAC’s party secretary and chairman, Jia Dongfeng (贺东风) has worked in two subsidiaries of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). This includes time spent at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), a major supplier of ballistic missiles and carrier rockets. COMAC’s Deputy General Manager, Wu Guanghui as well as the company’s lead accountant, Zhou Qimin, have both spent time working at the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) – China’s leading producer of military aircraft. See ; ; China’s leading producer of military aircraft, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), also holds a 10 per cent share in COMAC. COMAC supports the continued development of China’s defence industry by awarding ‘national defence technology scholarships’ to Chinese university students.

COMAC’s signature passenger aircraft, the C919, offers an example of how the company could use its civilian aircraft production for military purposes. Numerous Chinese analysts have studied Boeing’s conversion of the 737 into the P-8 Poseidon and E-7A surveillance aircraft and argue that the C919 could also be retrofitted for early warning as well as anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare missions. ; ; ; ; With a greater flight range than China’s other military aircraft, a retrofitted C919 for maritime surveillance operations could reduce China’s dependence on artificial air bases in the South China Sea which currently render aircraft vulnerable to corrosion due to harsh weather conditions.China’s airbases in the South China Sea would be highly vulnerable to enemy missile strikes in the early stages of conflict. An aircraft that is based on the Chinese mainland and is capable of either intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations or anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare missions at long ranges beyond the South China Sea could prove vital in the middle or later stages of conflict against peer adversaries such as the United States and its treaty allies like Australia or Japan. A military variant of the C919 could easily serve these purposes in wartime. Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Zhang Youxia, reportedly expressed an interest in learning from American companies in converting civilian aircraft into military aircraft while inspecting COMAC’s C919.

Economic espionage and misconduct

Recent indictments and a report from cybersecurity firms CrowdStrike indicate that the Jiangsu State Security Bureau—a provincial branch of China’s Ministry of State Security—conspired to steal commercial secrets from various American and European aerospace companies for COMAC’s commercial benefit in developing the C919 passenger aircraft.

Noteworthy international collaborations

COMAC collaborates with Australia’s Monash University on components for the C919. The university’s additive manufacturing center supplied at least 29 components in the C919. In March 2017, COMAC signed a memorandum of understanding with Monash University to collaborate on materials science research and exchange personnel. In October 2019, Monash announced an AUD10 million deal with COMAC to expand their collaboration on additive manufacturing. The agreement was signed in Beijing in the presence of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, prompting federal Education Minister Dan Tehan to say that ‘the government expects that Australian universities act lawfully and ethically.’

Last updated 5 November 2019. Unclear about any wording? Visit the terminology page.