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The Indian Air Force’s ambition to expand its fleet of Tejas Mark 1A fighter jets may face turbulence due to a bottleneck in engine production. While GE Aerospace has resumed manufacturing the F404-GE-IN20 engines that power these jets, their capped production of 20 units per year could significantly hamper HAL’s ambitious production goals.

HAL plans to ramp up production of Tejas Mk1A jets from the current 8 per year to 16 by 2025-26 and eventually reach 24 per year with a new production line. However, GE Aerospace’s limited engine output throws a wrench in these plans. With only 20 engines available annually, achieving the desired production targets seems challenging.

GE Aerospace’s decision to cap production at 20 engines per year comes as a surprise, particularly in light of the IAF’s recent interest in procuring over 97 Tejas Mk1A jets, requiring around 120 engines. This sudden surge in demand appears to have caught GE off guard, exposing a potential mismatch between HAL’s production aspirations and engine availability.

Several factors contribute to GE’s cautious approach. The low sales projection for the Tejas Mk1A, coupled with the lack of other fighter programs using the F404 engine, led GE to shut down the production line initially. Additionally, India’s alleged failure to effectively communicate its long-term engine needs and the absence of a local production plan for the F404 might have further contributed to GE’s decision to limit output.

With a capped engine supply, HAL’s ambitious production plans face a serious hurdle. Maintaining the current 16 jets per year pace might be feasible, but achieving the targeted 24 jets annually seems unlikely without a significant increase in engine availability. This raises concerns about potential delays in meeting the IAF’s requirements and the overall cost-effectiveness of the Tejas program.

Several potential solutions could address this engine bottleneck. India could negotiate with GE to increase production capacity, explore alternative F-404 engine manufacturing options for the Tejas, or expedite the development of an indigenous engine program. Additionally, improved communication and collaboration between HAL, the IAF, and GE Aerospace are crucial to ensure alignment and avoid future bottlenecks.

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