Defence & Security

Rollercoaster Ride of India's Fighter Jet Engine Development: Achieving Success In A Changing Market With The Help Of Foreign Manufactures

Following the Pokhran-2 nuclear test in 1999, which effectively made India the world's nuclear power, India witnessed a global ban on purchasing weapons from countries, particularly the United States and its allies. 

India was denied all weapons, even during Pakistan's invasion during the Kargil War.

India has repeatedly requested GPS assistance from the US government to conduct pinpoint attacks against Pakistan's invading troops, but one country that stood by India's side even after resistance from the US government was Israel. 

India was even denied to purchase of cryogenic engines from Russia. Russia agreed to deliver India the cryogenic engine but they failed to provide it due to American pressure. 

Russia had to toe American lines because it had recently disintegrated from the Soviet Union and was fighting a war against Chechen rebels in Chechnya and Dagestan

They were unable to fight any kind of battle against America because the world had turned upside down, from a bipolar to a unipolar world in which America was undeclared king.

The Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991 as a result of flawed policies and a massive economic burden caused by systemic corruption.

As India was an ally of the Soviet Union at that time, India was aware of the condition of Soviet satellite states and India had some sense regarding the collapse of the Soviet Union.  

Indian dependency on Soviet weapons was highest at that time. Sensing the danger, India started its Jet engine development Program in 1986. 

In 1986, India's defense ministry's Defense Research and Development Organizations (DRDO) was authorized to launch a program to indigenously develop a Jet engine for India's Light Combat Aircraft.

However, the jet engine development program was put on hold following India's economic debacle in 1991, as a result of which India had to approach the IMF and money became scarce. 

Although, India revives the Kaveri program around 2002 after, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's decision to develop India's own Light Combat Fighter, LCA Tejas.  

Kaveri: The Failed Program Or Path To True Independence  

The Kaveri (GTRE GTX-35VS) is an afterburner turbofan project developed by Gas Turbine Research Establishment, a lab under DRDO in Bengaluru, India. 

Responsibility for developing Gas Turbine Research Establishment was given to the DRDO because DRDO had some experience in developing jet engines. 

It had developed the GTX37-14U after-burning turbojet, the first jet engine designed entirely in India, which first flew in 1977, followed by a turbofan derivative, the GTX37-14UB

Initially, the DRDO planned to construct 17 prototype engines. So far, it has only developed 9 full prototype engines and 4 core engines, with 3217 hours of engine testing on those prototypes.

But, As a result of Kaveri's failure to deliver the desired results as expected by scientists, the program was officially delinked from the HAL Tejas program on which it was originally based. 

Why Kaveri Not Yet Ready Or Failed?  

The main roadblock in Kaveri's path is the Flight Test Bed (FTB) Facility, which India has but not on a grand scale, which is most important to check the blood vain capacity of any Jet engine. 

FTB can validate engine performance at 12,192 to 15,240 meters above the ground. 

The FTB measures the vitals of any jet engine, by putting the engine at its breakeven point, particularly safety measures. 

As of 2015, media reports indicated that India had a few FTBs, operated by various defense research laboratories such as the center for airborne systems (CABs). They were usually flown by qualified Indian Air Force test crews from the Aircraft and System testing establishment in Bangalore. 

The Kaverie's downsides are: 

1. Ab-initio development of state of art gas turbine technologies. 

2. Technical technological complexities. 

3. Lack of availability of critical equipment and materials and denial of technologies by technologically advanced countries. 

4. Lack of availability of test facilities in the country necessitating testing abroad. 

Therefore, Kaveri's failure is mainly India's failure to acquire or to develop its FTB to indigenously develop its Jet engines for future jet programs. 

Indi's Own Flight Test Beds 

India has its test beds based on British-origin Hawker Siddeley HS-A, Modified Dornier Do-228, and Russian-origin IL-76. 

Although, the Russian-origin IL-76 test is based at "Gromov Flight Research Institute" in Moscow. Meanwhile, India is completely reliant on Russia for IL-76 access. 

Now, India has to open a bid to develop a jet engine for its upcoming ambitious, Deck base twin-engine fighters, Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), and different kinds of drone systems. 

To win the bid to jointly develop fighter jet engines, three companies have registered their name; British Rolls-Royce, France's Safran, and American General Electric. 

Foreign Bidders and Their engines  

Let us now discuss Rolls-Royce (RR), which has offered India the Eurojet EJ-200 engine, whose thrust is between 110Kn to 120 Kn.  

The engine is largely based on the technology demonstrator Rolls-Royce XG-40, which was developed in the 1980s. 

RR is currently manufacturing engines for 6th-generation fighters like British Tempest and Japan's F-X fighters and is eager to collaborate with India for its 5th-generation engine needs. 

RR had first expressed interest in developing an engine for AMCA in 2021. 

When MOU will be materialized then DRDO and JJ will develop the engine under a joint venture program, JJ agreed to transfer the technology and intellectual property right of the high thrust-Low bypass engine of 110Kn. 

Later in 2022, RR ups its game and offers an engine with 20% growth for India's AMCA program.

Next is a french company, Safran is already working with DRDO for India's 36 Rafael jets

SAFRAN is one of the main contributors to India's 36 Rafael Jets that India acquired in 2016.

The SAFRAN Snecma M88 engine with 110Kn thrust has been offered for co-development with India's DRDO for the AMCA jet engine program. 

The SAFRAN-DRDO joint venture is planned with a complete transfer of technology and Intellectual Property Rights. 

The last one is General Electric, which is already delivering F-404IN20 engines for India's LCA Tejas fighter jets. 

It offered India to develop a jet engine for the AMCA program, after 3 year's suspension on joint development of the engine under the defense trade and technology initiative (DTII) in October 2019. 

GE has offered the F-414-INS6 engine for India's Tejas MK-2 jets and the same engine's joint development for India's AMCA development. 

The CFM56 engine from GE also powers India's P-8I, and the CT7-8 engines power the Indian Air Force's VVIP squadron of AW101.

Still, India will face difficulties in exporting fighters lacking indigenous engines

Companies are agreeing to the transfer of technology and intellectual property rights, but this does not guarantee that fighters can be freely exported to any country.

It does, however, guarantee the ability to manufacture engines independently for the country in which the engines are manufactured. 

India has already developed superior light-combat aircraft using fighter parts supplied by Western allies. Therefore, the LCA Tejas is 50% to 65% indigenous. 

The design was created in India, but the engine, ejection seats, and other components were imported from other countries. 

Because it relies on foreign components, India cannot independently export Tejas fighter planes to any country.

The nations that contributed to the Tejas' construction may object to its sale to any of their adversaries. 

Therefore, to make truly make in India fighter jet India have to develop fighter jet engines, as well as other components.