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India’s quest for self-reliance in fighter jet technology takes another step forward with the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) advocating for a domestically-developed Flying Test Bed (FTB) to test the new 6th generation engine for the 5th gen AMCA program. This proposal comes after previous attempts to acquire international platforms faced roadblocks.

In the mid-2000s, GTRE sought a modified IL-76 from Russia for the Kaveri engine program but eventually used a Russian-owned IL-76 for testing due to refusal from the supplier. Later, a proposal for a MiG-29A as a test bed for the original Kaveri engine was rejected by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) due to safety concerns and the engine’s unpreparedness for testing on a twin-engine platform.

With the success of the Dry Kaveri engine and plans for further testing on the LCA-Tejas, GTRE renewed its FTB efforts. This time, they proposed using a Su-30MKI, a fighter jet already in service with the Indian Air Force (IAF). This proposal, however, is still pending approval from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

Adding another layer of complexity, international Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) like Safran and Rolls-Royce have also thrown their hat into the ring. Safran has offered its company-owned Rafale as a potential FTB, while Rolls-Royce has its Boeing 747-200 flying testbed.

Each option presents its own set of challenges and considerations. Modifying the Su-30MKI would require accommodating the smaller Kaveri or AMCA engine in its engine bay and integrating additional monitoring equipment. The Rafale and Boeing 747-200, while readily available, lack the necessary modifications and would need extensive integration work.

The decision on the FTB will have a significant impact on the timeline and cost of the AMCA engine development program. MoD and HAL face a complex task of weighing the technical and financial merits of each option, while considering factors like national security and self-reliance.

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