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The Defense Research and Development Organization’s (DRDO) Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) is gearing up to spearhead two critical engine development programs crucial for India’s defence capabilities. These initiatives include the creation of a homegrown Dry Kaveri engine for Unmanned Remotely Piloted Strike Aircraft and a new 110kN engine for India’s ambitious 5th generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) fighter jet program.

However, despite the progress in engine development, GTRE faces a significant hurdle—the lack of a flying Testbed essential for conducting in-flight trials of these engines. The proposed solution to this challenge has been met with innovation and resourcefulness.

GTRE had initially proposed the purchase of a Russian IL-76 Transporter to serve as the flying Testbed. However, this plan did not materialize. In response, GTRE has turned to the Indian Air Force (IAF) for assistance. The organization has sought the possibility of utilizing in-service IL-76 aircraft operated by the IAF to serve as the flying Testbed for both engine development programs.

The proposal entails utilizing the IL-76 not only for the Dry Kaveri program but also for the proposed Kaveri engine with an afterburner section designed for the LCA-Tejas Mk1A aircraft, in addition to the AMCA fighter jet program. The utilization of in-service IL-76 aircraft offers a practical and cost-effective solution to GTRE’s testing needs.

The request to repurpose in-service IL-76 aircraft for engine development between DRDO and the IAF in advancing indigenous defence capabilities is still in talks, but GTRE’s prior experience with Russia’s Gromov Flight Research Institute, which provides special purpose and research variants of the Ilyushin Il-76 as test-bed aeroplanes for engine prototype flight testing, lends credence to this proposal.

The proposal holds strategic significance for both GTRE and the IAF. Engine development programs play a pivotal role in enhancing India’s defence capabilities, ensuring self-reliance, and reducing dependency on foreign technology. By leveraging in-service IL-76 aircraft, GTRE can expedite engine testing processes and streamline development timelines.

As discussions progress between GTRE and the IAF regarding the feasibility of repurposing in-service IL-76 aircraft, stakeholders remain optimistic about the potential benefits of this collaborative endeavour. The utilization of indigenous resources and expertise reflects India’s determination to achieve self-sufficiency in defence technology and propel its aerospace industry to new heights.

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