Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s (HAL) commitment to order 99 GE F414 engines for India’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program in 2012 might possibly be left unfulfilled if France’s lucrative offer to invest EUR 1 billion in the indigenous ‘Kaveri’ jet engine project is taken up by the Indian government.
According to a report by Economic Times, France is seeking to revive India's combat jet engine project, proposing a joint development plan that could see the stalled 'Kaveri' gas turbine powering indigenous Tejas fighters by 2020. The investment will come as part of fulfilling offset requirement for the Rafale aircraft purchase in a fly-away condition.
India has already ordered and received 24 GE F 404 engines in February 2007 to power the prototypes and the first two aircraft which joined squadron service last week.
Due to urgent requirements for completing the home-grown LCA Tejas project, the Indian MoD had to stall the Kaveri engine project since the engine test-bed did not achieve the desired results. Instead, the prototype of the aircraft had to be fitted with American GE 404 engines. GE F414 engine features improved Full Authority Digital Electronic Control (FADEC), single Crystal blade design, single engine safety features and other electronic advances.
Last year in an interview with Defenseworld.net, Nalin Jain, CEO of GE Transportation and Aviation briefed on GE aviation’s contracts with the Indian government: “We had collaborated with Aeronautic Development Agency (ADA) for the demonstration program of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Tejas, started back in 1985”.
Safran is reportedly offering to develop the Kaveri engine technology for free. “India would not need to spend any more developmental money on the project and Safran would take on the investment, committing to make the Kaveri flight-worthy within 18 months,” ET reported.
French firm Safran, which developed the M88 engine that powers the Rafale fighter as well as the Shakti engine for Indian advanced light helicopters. The offer is under discussions with Indian authorities since January, the report said.
But it remains to see if India would take up the French offer and ditch the American engines for its indigenous LCA, considering that a new engine would have to go through the entire gamut of tests before it can be mounted onto the aircraft. This obviously means delay in the program and runs contrary to the Indian MoD’s commitment to induct as many Tejas aircraft as possible to replace the MiG-21s.
Meantime, Saab of Sweden has offered to manufacture its Gripen aircraft in India and is quite buoyed with the offer coming from the topmost. The aircraft comes equipped with the GE F414 engine. If India accepts this offer, then having one engine for both planes would mean economies of scale.