DRDO ties up with Snecma to revive gas turbine engine for Tejas

India’s defence research agency has signed a deal with French engine maker Snecma to revive and certify the Kaveri engine, before powering a flight of Tejas light combat aircraft prototype by 2018.

Snecma, as part of the offsets deal for the 36 Rafale jets India bought for its air force, would handhold the Gas turbine and research establishment (GTRE), which has designed Kaveri, to fix gaps in its performance, address safety concerns, certify and fly it on a Tejas light combat aircraft. The Rs 600 odd crore expense for Snecma, which powers the Rafale jets, would be adjusted against the 50 per cent offsets that it is mandated to spend in India.

The Kaveri project has been on the backburner for nearly a decade after GTRE, an agency of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), struggled to reduce its weight and improve its performance needed to power the fighter. So far, the government has spent Rs 2,100 crore on the engine that has tested on ground for over 3,000 hours and around 30 hours on a IL-76 transport plane in Russia. It has a marine variant that the Navy is testing and it is in talks with Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd and the Indian Railways to power rail engines.

“Once the engine houses make it a flightworthy engine, we have numerous programmes coming up and there is more than one place for it to be fitted. The question is whether we will be able to fit it into only the LCA or will we be able to get it into the (GE) 414 with the higher power is a point that we are raising,” said C P Ramanarayanan, DRDO Director General for Aeronautics cluster said.

The Indian Air Force has ordered for over 120 single engine Tejas fighters powered by a General Electric 404 engine, the powerplant the aircraft first flew in January 2001. So far the Tejas has flown nearly 3,300 sorties, which includes sorties by IAF chief Arup Raha and the air chief of Turkmenistan.

An upgraded Mark-2 aircraft of Tejas is being designed for a more heavier GE-414 engine by 2025, and the DRDO hopes that the upgraded Kaveri would qualify for the plane by then.

If not, the Kaveri would power other programmes such as Ghatak, the unmanned combat aircraft vehicle of UCAV, for which studies have begun by the research agency.

“So we have Ghatak in our hand, we have so many other programmes coming up. Anyway we have to have indigenous engine development also. All that we are trying to do is trying to allocate one of the prototype for this and make use of some of the offset for this hand holding if possible,” said Ramnarayanan.

India is among the few countries in the world such as Russia, Britain, US and France to have capabilities to build a gas turbine engine.

The chief of Aeronautical Development Agency Commodore C D Balaji said that the agency expects around 40 aircraft of the 123 planes ordered by the IAF would be delivered by 2020 and the remaining 83 by 2025. He said the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd is doubling its production of Tejas to 16 from eight.

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