Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on a four-day state visit to the United States, from 21 June to 24 June.
Among the various agreements being pursued in his visit, the most noteworthy is the deal for the production of General Electric (GE) F-414 jet engines in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
According to various reports, the US government has granted approval to transfer critical technologies for the GE F-414 engine to India.
In this article, we address some questions pertaining to the jet engines deal.
1. Why does India need a foreign jet engine?
The indigenous Kaveri jet engine project that was started in 1986 hasn't made significant progress and despite India's efforts, progress has been slow and has not resulted in a fully operational engine.
This has prompted India to seek foreign engines to meet the immediate requirements of its fighter jet programs.
Moreover, the Chinese has made significant progress in developing indigenous jet engines and recent reports suggests that they may already have developed a breakthrough in the production process of WS-10 and WS-15 high-thrust engines.
India needs to ensure it maintains strategic parity in the region.
To achieve this, it requires indigenous jet engines that can match or exceed China's advancements, ensuring a strong and technologically advanced defense.
Consequently, due to the slow progress of its indigenous Kaveri jet engine project, India has sought foreign engines to meet the immediate requirements of its fighter jet programs, such as Tejas Mk-2 and AMCA, which necessitate high-thrust engines.
A high-thrust engine is needed for ongoing fighter jet programs, including Tejas Mk-2 and AMCA. Foreign engines, such as the General Electric F414, offer the necessary thrust levels to meet these requirements.
2. Why does Tejas Mk2 need a higher-thrust engine?
The Tejas Mk-2 is a heavier fighter jet than LCA Tejas Mk-1. The Tejas Mk-2 weighs about 17.5 tonnes compared to the LCA's 13.5 tonnes.
This allows Tejas Mk-2 to carry additional payload of more than six tonnes compared to 3.5 tonnes of the LCA. It also has twice the endurance of two hours compared to 57 minutes of the LCA.
Tejas Mk-2 also carries advanced technologies like a new more powerful Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, an advanced Electronic Warfare (EW) suite, an Infrared Search and Track (IRST) sensor, a newly built Digital Flight Control Computer (DFCC), and an improved weapons package.
The increased payload and advanced electronic systems of the Tejas Mk-2 demand a higher level of thrust and electrical power.
To fulfill these requirements, the General Electric F-414 engine, with its maximum thrust of 98 kN, is well-suited for the Tejas Mk-2.
3. Why is the Kaveri engine program stalled, and what is its current status?
The Kaveri jet engine program which was started in 1986 has faced significant delays.
The program suffered from various technical difficulties including engine fan blade flutter, reheat oscillations and first-stage low-pressure compressor blade vibration.
The engine was unable to produce sufficient thrust, suffered poor performance at high altitudes, and had excessive weight.
Moreover it was only able to produce 78 kN wet thrust in its afterburner mode and for a short period of time and 47-51 kN of dry thrust, which was much lower than the targeted 81 kN.
The lack of testing facilities in India and inadequate funding severely hampered the program.
The excessive delays, lack of sufficient thrust forced the Government of India to shut down the program.
Attempts of revival of the program with French engine-maker Snecma's help, failed when the government deemed funds demanded by Snecma — €560 million — too exorbitant.
Despite the setbacks and the discontinuation of the Kaveri jet engine program, its sustained dry thrust of 47 kN has found potential application in the Ghatak Stealth Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) program.
The GTRE is now working with another DRDO lab — Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), to make the dry Kaveri engines for the stealth UCAV program a reality.
4. How much progress has China made on an indigenous jet engine?
The Chinese have made substantial progress in there home-grown WS-10 and WS-15 jet engine program.
A report suggests that the Chinese have made a breakthrough in the production process of high-thrust jet engines.
WS-15 in Mass Production— David Wang (@Nickatgreat1220) March 26, 2023
One of Project Leader from State-owned AECC Group Disclosed(00:27) that the WS-15 Aeroengine Now in Mass Production during His Speech in a Material Contest Presentations
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Subtitles Added pic.twitter.com/jLTZMu0ija
Videos have surfaced where a Chinese Aerospace executive has hinted that both the WS-10 and WS-15 engines have gone under mass production.
The WS-15 reportedly produces a maximum thrust of 180 kN and will power the Chinese fifth-generation J-20 stealth aircraft, while the WS-10 engines powers the J-10C single-engine jet.
It is worth noting that, the Chinese had in 2015, stolen terabytes of data of the American F-35 program from its principal contractor Lockheed Martin.
The stolen data had design schematics of the F-35’s, Pratt and Whitney made F-135 jet engines. The F-135 engines is of the same class as the WS-15 engines that the Chinese have put into production.
5. What level of technology transfer is India receiving as part of the deal?
According to Indian Express, the agreement between GE and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will involve an impressive 80 per cent transfer of jet engine technology by value.
Under this India will get eleven "major manufacturing technologies" that were until now unavailable in India.
These technologies include:
Special coatings for corrosion, erosion and thermal barrier for hot end
Machining and coating for single crystal turbine blades
Machining and coating of nozzle guide vanes and other hot end parts
Complete tech transfer for blisk machining
Machining of powder metallurgy discs for turbine
Machining thin-walled titanium casing; friction/inertia welding for fan and afterburner
PMC (polymer matrix composites) for bypass duct
Machining and coating of CMC (ceramic matrix composites) for nozzle
Laser drilling technology for combustor and
Bottle boring of shafts.
Most of these technologies are so high-end that the US has, hitherto, not even shared, with its treaty allies like UK, France and Australia.
However, a report in the Hindustan Times by defense journalist Shishir Gupta claims that the deal involves 100 per cent transfer of technology (ToT), although this remains unconfirmed.
With the transfer of these high-end technologies, India hopes that it can design and develop its own jet engines in the future.
Editorial Associate at Swarajya. Writes on Indian Military and Defence.
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