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SOURCE:  JATIN RAM / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG

Earlier this week, the United states officially kicked out Turkey from its F-35 program for buying Russian S-400 missiles in 2017. India ordered the same system in 2018 and later this year it will start receiving it and it is expected it will go active by April next year. While Biden administration has still not confirmed if India will be getting wavier but India’s refusal to procure NASAM-II Air Defence system nor clearing multibillion-dollar deals to procure American made fighter jets like F-21, F-18 or its latest offering of F-15EX means, threats of sanctions might remain, and present Biden administration might try to hurt India where it will hurts it the most rather then denying spares and supplies to the present American systems.

India’s homegrown Tejas Mk1 fighter jets are fully dependent on the American GE’s F-404 engines and even Tejas Mk2 will again be powered by Ge’s F414 engines which can seriously derail both the programs if sanctions are placed or supply of further batches of this engine to India are restricted. IAF recently placed fresh orders for 83 Tejas Mk1 and fresh contracts for the supply of the next batch of engines with GE are yet to be made.

It’s not the first time the US administration has disturbed the supply of engines to India. 8 F404-F2J3 engines were initially supplied by GE for the Tejas TD program, but sanctions were imposed on India after India’s Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998. GE was restricted to supply engine components to India that included spares and other supplies, due to which 3 engines that to be used as spares till the sanctions were lifted after the first Tejas TD1 had flown in 2001.

In 2004, India purchased 17 F404-GE-IN20 engines to power a limited series of operational production aircraft and naval prototypes and followed up with 24 more F404-GE-IN20 afterburning engines to power the first operational squadron of Tejas fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force in 2007. In 2010, India selected F414-INS6 (98 kN) to power the Tejas Mk2 program, and 99 engines were contracted and around 8-12 were delivered to India to be used on the first 2 pre-production units that are to make its first flight by 2023.

While they are some suggestions that the French M88 engine that is used to power the Dassault Rafale fighter jet should be considered to power India’s Tejas Mk1A fleet if the Biden administration does go ahead and imposes sanctions and curtails the supply of GE engines, but M-88, as seen in the above chart, are grossly underpowered by 9kN of thrust when engines are engaged with Afterburners that will affect Mk1s weapons and fuel load carrying capacity, while it will save some on weight front to compensate for the loss of thrust it still won’t solve other problem that will affect the Tejas Mk2 program.

India has few F414-INS6 that can be used for the first few units for flight testing and developmental phase but M-88 will again grossly be underpowered for a 17.5-ton aircraft. Safran had demonstrated an M88-4E ECO technology demonstrator in 2011, that had confirmed that the M88’s thrust could be increased to the 90kN of thrust with afterburner, but that never entered production and expecting French to offer this engine without adding the developmental cost of the program on India will be absurd and even bigger absurd if additional Rafale orders are not placed by India for local assembly option to take place. It is not sure if France will be able to supply M88-4E ECO engines before Tejas Mk2 enters production.

Now this leaves one more option for India, that is Rolls-Royce-MTU developed EJ-200 engines that were favorites of the Indian Air force to power the Tejas Mk2 program but lost out to GE’s F414-INS6 on cost as GE emerged as the L1 bidder after a fierce contest between both engines. EJ-200 engines are not underpowered like M88-3 will provide the aircraft with additional power, but for Tejas Mk2 it will be underpowered by a 9kN class of thrust with an afterburner but not a drop in power of 23kN with Afterburner if it is powered by an M88-3 engine.

Procuring Rolls-Royce-MTU developed EJ-200 engines also will work in India’s favor since DRDO is collaborating on the development of a new 110kN thrust class of engines for the AMCA program and if India can license manufacture EJ-200 engines it can develop some of the supply lines for this engine from the private sector that will come handy and as a base for the new engine that both companies plan to develop. DRDO Chief already has confirmed that Tejas Mk2 program will be getting new 110kN thrust class of engine that will be developed for the AMCA Mk2 program at later stage so EJ-200 could come as perfect fit for both the program in the off the shelf deals with local assembly options.

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