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The Gas Turbine Research Establishment’s (GTRE) plan to develop the Kaveri 2.0 engine for the Tejas Mk1A fighter jet raises questions about its strategic rationale. With a targeted thrust output of 90kN, the Kaveri 2.0 seems like a logical upgrade for the Tejas Mk1A, which currently uses American F404 engines. However, the bigger picture paints a more complex story.

Looming large is the upcoming Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) program. This 5th generation fighter requires a much more powerful engine, with estimates suggesting a thrust requirement of around 110kN. Furthermore, reports indicate that GTRE might collaborate with an international partner for the AMCA engine, potentially leading to a core capable of generating a mighty 130kN thrust. This future-proof engine could even be adapted for India’s potential 6th generation fighter program.

Here’s where the Kaveri 2.0’s purpose gets murky. People familiar with the program told that the AMCA engine if designed with modularity in mind, could be “detuned” – essentially reducing its thrust output – to power the Tejas Mk1A during its Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) expected two decades from now. This approach, exemplified by the F110-GE-100/400 engine family with varying thrust outputs, offers advantages in terms of cost reduction due to parts commonality and simplified logistics.

Kaveri with AF section might meet a thrust output of 73kN, it might take GTRE a decade to increase its output to 90kN and an investment worth crores to develop Kaveri 2.0 when the same can be done at a fraction of the cost.

So, why develop the Kaveri 2.0 at all? Here are some arguments for it.

The Kaveri 2.0 could serve as a stepping stone towards the AMCA engine, providing valuable experience for Indian engineers. Developing an indigenous engine might be attractive for reasons of national security and self-reliance. A successful Kaveri 2.0 could find buyers in other countries operating similar fighter jets.

Whether GTRE will prioritize the Kaveri 2.0 or explore a detuned AMCA engine for the Tejas Mk1A MLU remains unclear. Defence Analyst Ranesh Rajan told that Developing a new engine like the Kaveri 2.0 takes time, which could be better spent on refining the AMCA engine and its detuning capabilities. Kaveri 2.0 won’t be any superior to the 5th gen AMCA engine anyway so why have a separate program for it asks Rajan.

Rajan argues “The idea should be to develop variants of AMCA engines that can be used for Future Stealth UCAVs, Transporter Aircraft, Locally developed Commercial Plane, Martine Gas Turbine engines and one that can be used for 6th gen platforms also”.

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