Bangalore: India has sought bids from General Electric Co. and Eurojet Turbo GmbH to supply an engine for Tejas, the country’s first light combat aircraft, after an almost two-decade effort to develop a local version failed to deliver a sufficiently powerful engine.
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The Aeronautical Development Agency, or ADA, the jet’s designer, will evaluate the EJ200 engine built by Eurojet, a consortium that includes Rolls-Royce Group Plc., and General Electric’s GE 414 for the Mark II version of Tejas. The EJ200 is fitted in the Eurofighter and the GE 414 in Boeing Co.’s F-18 jets.
“The delay in the indigenous engine availability is what has driven us to go for an alternative engine,” said P.S. Subramanyam, director at ADA, the fighter development wing of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, or DRDO. “Probably, in another six months, we will complete all the proceedings (for the new engine).”
Tejas is a tailless single-engine supersonic fighter with delta wings—shaped like a triangle—which uses fly-by-wire technology that enables pilots to control the plane electronically through on-board computers.
The plane is undergoing development trials with a GE 404 engine, but this falls short of the thrust it requires in operational conditions.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has so far placed orders with state-owned plane maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) for 28 Tejas jets powered by the GE 404 engines, and has committed to buying 140 more of these planes, comprising seven squadrons, with higher powered engines.
The tender stipulates transferring at least 60% of the engine technology to HAL to produce the engines locally, said Hubertus von Schoenfeldt, spokesman for Eurojet in India. “We are willing to give more than 60% of the technology...if we become partners,” he added.
GE did not respond to an email sent on Friday.
New attempt: P.S. Subramanyam of ADA, which designed Tejas. Hemant Mishra / Mint
India’s Gas Turbine and Research Establishment, or GTRE, a DRDO unit in Bangalore, has been working on an indigenous engine, named Kaveri, for the Tejas for nearly two decades but it fell short of the thrust required for flying.
GTRE now plans to partner with France’s Snecma SA to develop a high-powered engine and is awaiting approval from the Union government. The Indian Air Force, Tejas’ main customer,?had resisted the proposal on grounds that it would the delay induction of the plane and suggested an alternative engine supplier be tapped. “Now the engine development is not linked with the progress of Tejas,” a DRDO spokesman said. He didn’t want to be named.
India began building a home-grown engine for Tejas after HF-Marut, the country’s first indigenously built supersonic jet, flopped in the 1960s because it could not get a suitable engine.
A few companies such as GE, Snecma and Russia’s NPO Saturn make engines for fighter jets, but they seldom share the technology, which typically changes every two years.
GTRE will continue developing an engine for fighter planes but it has to play catch-up and master the technology by overcoming snags.
“With the delay in development of Kaveri, it is a correct decision to go for a tested and proven engine,” said A.K. Saxena, managing director of Navv Avia Technologies, an aviation consultancy firm.
Tejas, which in Sanskrit means radiance, first flew in January 2001. Since then, test pilots have flown nearly 1,150 sorties on seven Tejas jets. The aircraft needs to complete 400 more flights by 2010 for an initial operational clearance (IOC), the minimum standard set for the plane, said Subramanyam.
“Tejas is approaching IOC. It is (the) right time for (taking a) final call on the engine,” said Saxena, a former managing director of HAL’s Bangalore complex, where Tejas is being produced.
ADA is also designing a naval version and a twin-seater trainer version of Tejas, said Subramanyam. “The (Tejas) programme has a very good (defined) road map—up to 2018. Funds are coming,” he said.