By : Srivatsa RV/Reach Defence

The Gas Turbine Engine Establishment (GTRE) has faced numerous challenges over its operational tenure. These challenges have come in various forms, including severe funding limitations, failures to meet set requirements, lack of high-quality test facilities within the country, and technical limitations naturally experienced during the life-cycle development of the fighter jet aero engine. Spanning nearly two and a half decades, the biggest of these shortcomings definitely points to the lack of foresight by the Ministry of Defense in terms of funding. When GTRE was sanctioned for the program in December 1986, world-class players were already developing engines like the General Electric 404, Eurojet EJ200, and Snecma M88, all of which ended up receiving funding north of 1 billion USD back in the day. Except, you guessed it, the Kaveri-GTX, which received only 386 crores INR (1 billion USD in 1986 was equivalent to 1,260 crores INR – keep this number in mind).

Despite high expectations for integrating the Kaveri engine into the LCA Tejas program, which was running alongside its own development, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and government entities failed to recognize that providing GTRE with higher funding from the outset could have significantly bolstered the program. However, the initial funding was a meager 386 crores INR in 1986. The argument that “India cannot/could not afford this” did not hold then, nor does it now. Separating the budget for facilities and R&D would have provided a significant head start, but unfortunately, this was overlooked as well.

CAG Report in 2011: Summary and Analysis

This article aims to highlight the progress of GTRE, 13 years after the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) produced a report in 2011 titled “Inordinate Delay in Fruition of Kaveri Engine,” which highlighted several key shortcomings and provided recommendations for the program. This article reviews the progress made since the publication of the report in 2011. Before we dive into that, here are the key objectives that the program was expected to deliver.

Kaveri Project Objectives:

  1. Designing and developing the GTX-35 engine to meet the specific needs of the LCA.
  2. Creating a fully indigenous base to design and develop advanced technology engines for future military aviation programs.
  3. Establishing the engine’s performance integrity through various industry standard tests.
#REMARKS BY CAG (2011) UPDATES AS OF 2024UPDATES AS OF 2024
1Time and Cost Overrun: GTRE’s limited experience with the GTX engine and personnel shortages affected progress. Changes in design and material also caused delays.Improvements: GTRE has improved manpower, technical know-how, and in-house expertise in critical components. Successful flight tests in Russia in 2010-11. Awaiting a Flying Test Bed (FTB) due to changed requirements post-disconnection from the LCA project.
2Tardy Progress in Design Intent: By August 2009, only two engines upgraded to K9+ standard. Focus was on activities rather than outcomes.Progress: Three engines upgraded to K9+ standard by 2024. Enhanced infrastructure, including a new compressor testrig and HPC lab, has expedited design and testing. Critical components have undergone redesign and advanced testing.
3Shortcomings in Engine Development: The engine weighed 1235 kg (target was 1100 kg). Critical components like the compressor, turbine, and ECS lagged behind.Achievements: Reduced engine weight to 1180 kg. Significant advancements in compressor, turbine, and ECS technologies. Metallurgical advancements have revolutionised component manufacturing.
4Inadequate Monitoring: Meetings of AEDBs were delayed, indicating inadequate control.Updates Needed: No specific updates provided in the original text.
5Indigenous Objective Not Achieved: GTRE did not accept Snecma’s joint development offer, affecting indigenization efforts.Progress: Significant advancements in turbines, compressors, gearboxes, and metallurgy. Continued commitment to indigenous efforts despite challenges. Strategic balance between capabilities and acquisition timelines has been rationalized.
6LCA Will Not Fly with the Kaveri: The Kaveri engine could not power the LCA, leading to procurement of GE engines.Setback: The inability to power the LCA with the Kaveri engine remains a critical issue. HAL’s procurement of GE-404 engines underscores operational pragmatism.

Testing Timelines with Remarks and Status Update

SL No.Nature of TestStatus as of 2011Status as of 2024
1Component TestingMajor tests like Engine Acceptance Test, Official Altitude Test, Preliminary Flight Rating Test, and Qualification Test not completed.Completed: All major components tested during 2010-11 flight trials. EAT, OAT, PRFT, and QT cleared before 2010 flight trials. New Flight-Test Trial due after modifications.
2Compressor Drum TestDelayed, completed in September 2009.Cleared: Already cleared in 2009. No further update needed
3Altitude TestingNo altitude tests completed.Completed: High-altitude tests cleared before 2010 Final – State of Gas Turbine Research Establishment Looking back from 2011 CAG Audit Report 4 flight test bed trials. Successful high-altitude trials of Kaveri-Dry in 2022.
4Flight Test Bed TrialsNo FTB trials conducted by July 2009.Successful: FTB trial completed in November 2010. Integrated with IL76 Aircraft at GFRI, Russia. 27 flights for 57 hours completed.

What Lies Ahead?

To achieve the ambitious goals set for the Kaveri engine and future projects, GTRE
requires:
We will keep this simple and short , GTRE requires the following:

  • More funding – north of 2 Billion USD as of 2024 A reliable Joint-Venture partner willing to transfer all critical IP and Technology Transfer (if required)
  • State of the art test facilities in house (high-altitude , engine-test cells and other various dependent testing labs.
  • A flying testbed.
  • The future fleet of LCA Mk1A and Mk2 , followed by AMCA , TEDBF , Ghatak UCAV – are looking hopeful for GTRE deliver its punch.
  • A visionary of a person in the DG-Aeronautical Cluster who will push the MoD with no hesitation to get the work done.

Conclusion

The future fleet, including the LCA Mk1A and Mk2, AMCA, TEDBF, and Ghatak UCAV, holds promise for GTRE to deliver its full potential. Despite past setbacks, significant progress has been made in the Kaveri engine program. Continued focus on funding, strategic partnerships, and advanced testing facilities will be crucial for future success.

One thought on “GTRE Kaveri Engine – Progess from 2011 CAG Report”
  1. The need for additional funding makes sense but why does GTRE need an international partner who can do an IP transfer? This makes no sense.

    If the Kaveri engine is being considered only in the context of LCA, then continue with current efforts of weight reduction and redesigned after burner. If the anticipated 81KN flat rated wet thrust is achieved with the proposed changes that’s a pretty strong case for considering the Kaveri for the LCA for midlife refit, export orders and perhaps even for the HLFT-42.

    For MK2, AMCA & TEDBF, that’s a completely different story. If the expectation to take a direct leap from a 81KN engine straight to a 110KN engine, that’s damn near impossible or need to wait for another 15-20 years to get there.

    More realistic would be to do a two phase approach, similar to GE-404 to 414 before trying to leap further to a GE-110 class engine.

    Bottom line, no one is going to give up their crown jewel (IP rights) for any amount of money. This is one more of MOD’s pipe dream like the PPP model.

    The sooner everyone come to their senses and realize we need to put in the hard work ourselves to develop our own IPR like China did, the better.

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