SOURCE: GIRISH LINGANNA / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG.
One of the most intricate systems on board an aircraft is the engine. It has components with extremely high rotations per minute (RPM), which must perform flawlessly from sea level to near the stratosphere and from zero to high supersonic speeds. In India, the civilian aircraft engine is a big market, but the entire discussion is focused on military engines. The state corporation Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is India’s biggest talking point in the military engine market.
While everybody is focusing on the Indian market for the HAL engines, TATA Group is also preparing a Joint Venture with GE for aero engine components. They are already making the engine gauging. They are planning to make blades, pallets, etc.
Tata is trying to develop the market for the LEAP 1A engine. Tata is already doing LEAP 1V for Airbus, LEAP 1A for Boeing and LEAP 1C for Comet C919 in China.
GE plans to supply engines for 1,170 regional jets, 14,620 single aisles, 3,300 vast bodies and 485 freighters. The lion’s share will be single-aisle, accounting for 75% of the planned production, while 17% of the total will be a wide body. The total production will be around 20,000. In the coming years, the demand for freighters is going to increase by over 80%. According to Boeing, there will be 47,080 planes in the air by 2040.
Many Indian companies are interested in aerospace, such as Tata, Mahindra, Bharat Forge and Triveni.
The supersonic company Boom already has 60 supersonic jet orders, of which 40 are from American United Airlines and 20 from Japanese Airlines. Their first flight will be inducted in 2029, yet they have already booked the planes. Each plane requires four engines. Boom is working with GE to finalise the new engines.
The Defence engines
In the first week of July, Safran Group CEO Olivier Andries met defence minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi to discuss his company’s long-term ambition of jointly developing and producing revolutionary jet engines. Safran, a global OEM of military and commercial aircraft engines, makes Rafale engines. Snecma M88 engines in Indian Rafales have a maximum thrust of 75kN. (kilonewtons).
The Navy needs 30 carrier-based fighter jets while the IAF wants 114 multi-role fighters. Value? $20 billion. Assuming a spare ratio of 1.5 engines/installed engine, the IAF needs around 2,300 engines for 600 India-made fighters. In the future, the 282 Sukhoi planes will undergo engine refurbishment. All these engines will cost India a lot of foreign exchange.
Global aerospace companies are rushing jet engine technology to India for this massive business opportunity. US-France competition is sharpest. Foreign companies will sell or indigenize their products for India, but only with huge orders.
Only the US, France, the UK, and Russia have mastered combat aircraft engine production technologies. Due to the lack of thrust in its expensive WS-10 engines, China uses Russian engines for its J-20 aircraft. Nine Kaveri engine prototypes have failed to power an aircraft since 1986. In 2011, the Comptroller and Auditor General reported that the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) has been unable to deliver the Kaveri engine that could power the LCA despite a cost overrun of 642 per cent and a delay of about 13 years”.
The LCA Tejas and its successors, the Tejas Mk2 and AMCA, will use GE F414 engines. IAF needs 170 Tejas Mk2, six squadrons. It also inducted seven AMCA squadrons. GE, HAL, and other private companies will build F414 engines in India. The business will transfer manufacturing technology and production engines if the US government approves. The Super Hornet has two GE F414-400 afterburning turbofan engines while the Rafale-M will use Safran’s M88 engine. However, India’s military planners believe that since the government has been considering planes for 20 years, it must decide on engine manufacturing immediately.
The Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) chose GE F404 engines (90kN) for the Tejas, lowering its payload and range. A top IAF officer who worked in the LCA’s development team claims the GE F414 engine with 95-98kN power thrust planned for Tejas Mk2 is suboptimal for the IAF’s medium-weight fighter class of 15-18 tonnes, which requires a 5-tonne combat payload and 600 kilometres on internal fuel.
The AMCA Mk2, developed by the ADA, needs 110 kN thrust, which is not yet available worldwide, to meet supercruise criteria. Production is expected in 2035. The IAF’s 16 fighter squadrons—three Mirage 2000, five MiG-29, six Jaguar strike aircraft, and two MiG-21 Bison—will be replaced with the LCA Mk2. By 2040, IAF expects 40 squadrons.
After Kaveri failed, LCA builders had to use foreign engines. GTRE sought an international engine-house to co-develop a 90kN engine in 2005. The scheme failed. France proposed complete transfer of technology (ToT) in 2012 to modify and fix the Kaveri engine for the LCA Tejas. The agreement failed due to its excessive price.
The US has renewed its proposal for jet engine technology collaboration under the India-US Defence Trade and Technology Initiative, which was stopped in October 2019 due to American unwillingness to share technology. Tata makes civilian jet engine parts with GE.
Safran and HAL also collaborated on the helicopter Shakti engine. Safran proposed an engine technology transfer as part of the offset clause days after the Rafale purchase in 2015, but it failed. Rolls-Royce, partnered with HAL, wants to co-develop a 110 kN AMCA engine.
Safran’s ToT costs close to $5 billion. It will give engine manufacturing know-how and certification. Former Safran Aircraft Engines vice president Satish Kirtikar says India can only gain independence in aircraft engine technology by buying “knowhow and know-why” from a foreign OEM. ToT will be expensive.
Military planners must choose between AatmaNirbhar and reliance. Its ambitions will soar then.
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