By Bhagavan Hindustani
DRDO-Safran engine complex…The future of Indian jet engine program
Recently a report emerged from CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) of India about the offsets of the Rafale deal. The report claimed that the partner companies of the Rafale deal didn’t “yet” made any commitments about investing 50% of the offsets in India. In the midst of all the rage, reports also emerged that DRDO and the French engine maker Safran are going to establish a new engine complex where a 110 KN thrust engine will be developed for the future 5.5 generation aircraft, AMCA.
Before diving in detail lets understand the requirement of IAF:
- An 85 KN Class engine for Tejas MK1 / MK1A
- A 98 KN Class engine for Tejas MK2
- A 110 KN+ Class engine for AMCA
This altogether is a requirement of more than 500 engines which no company in the world would like to let go.
Kaveri Engine Dilemma
After the 36 Rafale deal with France, the efforts were made to leverage the offset to revive the GTRE Kaveri. A joint group was formed, and the engine was evaluated, the results of this evaluation suggested that this engine requires a further investment of Euros 750 Million. Safran (The engine maker of Rafale) could invest only Euro 250 Million as part of the offset deal and thus this fell apart.
Also, the need for the Kaveri engine is no longer a priority. The LCA Tejas flies on GE F404 and Tejas MK1A will continue flying on the same engine. Any further experiment could drastically impact the production timeline of Tejas MK1A. Thus, Tejas MK1 and MK1A will continue flying on GE F404. In addition to this Tejas MK2 requires a steeper timeline based on the depleting fleet of the Indian airforce. As per the reports, a new engine will require at least 7 years before getting rolled out and thus MK2 stays out of the picture.
The Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft is designed for the future requirement and it is expected to make its first flight in 2025-26. Thus, it’s a perfect opportunity to create a new engine from scratch. Looking at this opportunity all three major engine makers are in the race to get this lucrative order.
Future Engine Concept:
As the air force has already stressed that the future generation aircraft from HAL should fly on indigenous engines, these reports gathered a lot of attention. As part of the deal, Safran will help DRDO develop and even manufacture the high thrust engine within seven years of starting the work. This looks too optimistic considering jet engines take a lot of time to design and develop. However, Safran has offered complete transfer of technology to DRDO over this engine which implies the timeline will not only be shorter, but the IP rights of this particular engine will remain with DRDO.
Figure 1: Kaveri engine
Safran and HAL Engine Complex
In a press statement, R. Madhavan, chairman of HAL said that they are signing an agreement related to high thrust engine manufacturing. He also told that this technology will be common with Rafale jets to which HAL will provide support in the future. HAL will act as a manufacturing partner in this deal. Where this complex solely concentrates on high thrust engine manufacturing, HAL might work on low thrust engines for helicopters and other UAV programs.
Though initial squadrons of AMCA will fly on a foreign engine which is assumed to be a variant of GE-414, future squadrons will be flying on this indigenous engine if everything goes according to the plan. Some reports suggested that this engine might be named as Kaveri (speculated), the original indigenous engine program which was started by GTRE, a few decades ago.
If all goes according to plan, within a short span of seven to eight years, India will have an indigenous high thrust jet engine that can be made in India and will be cheaper to produce and maintain. This will also increase the availability of jet fighters as spares will be readily available.