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New Delhi, Jan 20 (IANS) India has finalized an agreement for 99 GE 414 engines to power its indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).
This is the first, and significant, engine contract for GE Aviation to power fighter jets for India and the LCA will be the first combat aircraft in the inventory of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy with engines from the US. Both services have US-made transport aircraft though and all the three US engine majors, GE, Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney have supplied power units for them.
DRDO Director General (and Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister) V.K. Saraswat told India Strategic (www.indiastrategic.in) in an interview that the agreement with GE was signed recently, and that he expected the aircraft to be a success for both the IAF and the Indian Navy.
The IAF has used Fairchild Packets in the 1960s, has Lockheed Martin C 130Js now and is set to get Boeing C 17 Globemasters beginning this year. The Navy used the Lockheed Super Constellations for maritime reconnaissance. They are all transporters.
GE won the contract for its F414-GE-INS6 afterburner turbofan engine in September 2010 with a narrow margin against a competing bid by the European Eurojet EJ 200.
It has taken nearly two years for the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which had selected the engine, to work out details like how and how much of the engine will be produced in India. A production contract is now being worked our between GE Aviation and HAL, which will manufacture them, in this regard.
GE, which is already supplying its LM 2500 gas turbine engines for some newer Indian Navy ships, was given the necessary clearance by the US Government. It will supply an initial lot of 18 engines while the remaining will be progressively assembled/ made in India.
Honeywell's F 125N engine was also selected recently to upgrade IAF's Jaguar aircraft, and a production arrangement is now being discussed. This engine will empower the aircraft to fly over high mountains, which at present, the Jaguars cannot do.
Notably, in recent interviews with India Strategic, both IAF chief Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, and Navy Chief Admiral DK Joshi, have said that they are keenly awaiting the Tejas Mark II, which will be equipped with the GE 414 engine.
HAL is making 20 + 20 LCAs with the GE 404-GE-F213 afterburner engines for IAF in the first two orders. After that, the plan is to produce around 200 LCAs for both the IAF and Navy with the 414 engine. The naval aircraft will have a strengthened fuselage, wheel base, and a drooping nose to facilitate carrier deck landings.
Under the GE-ADA contract, GE is to supply the latest version of the 414 engine beginning 2014, with improved Full Authority Digital Electronic Control (FADEC), single Crystal blade design, single engine safety features, and other electronic advances. The basic engine design, as it is used now for instance on the US Navy's F/A 18 E/F Super Hornets, would stay the same but as new innovations are developed and adopted, they would also be passed on to India.
GE won a $5.3 billion US Navy order for the same engine for powering 66 twin-engine F/A 18 E/F Super Hornets and 58 E/A 18G Growler electronic attack aircraft in 2010. And the US Navy's F 18 Hornet and Super Hornet aircraft built by Boeing have done more than a million hours on GE's 404 and 414 engines.
GE's India President and CEO John Flannery had earlier described the selected F414 engine as "the highest-rated F414 model" and said that it includes "state-of-the-art technology to meet India's demanding Air Force and Naval requirements."
Details of the exact costs of ADA/HAL-GE arrangement are not known but an unconfirmed tender bid figure was mentioned at $ 822 million.
Saraswat said that DRDO and its agencies were keen to acquire total indigenous capability in engine design, and that a good measure has been achieved in this regard.
Notably, DRDO's Kaveri engine was initially selected to power the LCA but it has not been able to achieve more that 80 kilo newtons thrust as against the requirement of 95 to 100 kilo newtons asked by both the IAF and Navy.
Kaveri will now power DRDO's unmanned strike air vehicle (USAV). Both the LCA and USAV though will be extensively made of light weight composite materials. The weapon package on board the USAV is not known and the project itself was disclosed only in December 2012 by Defence Minister AK Antony who told parliament that the "Kaveri spin-off engine can be used as a propulsion system for the Indian Unmanned Strike Air Vehicle."
The Indian Air Force wants to acquire long range unmanned aircraft. Kaveri, which has had some contribution from the French Safran/ Snecma in its development process, is the basic building block from which DRDO can move further up.
DRDO is also in talks with Boeing to acquire an aircraft testing wind tunnel, talks for which are still going on, according to Saraswat.
(Gulshan Luthra writes on strategic affairs. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)