Context: During the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to USA there was landmark deal between General Electric of USA and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited of India to co-manufacture fighter jet engines in India. The manufacturing of jet engines will start with technology sharing of over 50% which will further increase over the production cycle.
About the GE-HAL fighter jet engine deal
- Under the deal, GE will transfer technology and manufacturing capabilities for F414 jet engine which has been used by US Navy aircraft for more than 30 years.
- More than 1400 such engines have been deployed and have clocked more than 5 million flight hours.
- The F414 jet engine currently or in future will power fighter jets in US, Sweden, Australia, Kuwait, Brazil, South Korea, India & Indonesia.
Current Engines Used in Tejas
- Currently, HAL’s Tejas uses GE’s F404 engine which is predecessor of F414.
- Tejas Mark 2 which is a more powerful fighter aircraft needs a bigger engine for which HAL plans to use F414 engine of GE.
- F414 will also be used for India’s next generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft.
India’s efforts to develop jet engines
- India has made great leaps in indigenous development of defence systems and platforms in developing a world class missiles, aircrafts, submarines and aircraft carriers.
- However, India has failed to develop a viable and functional jet engines for its fleet of fighter aircrafts.
- Kaveri aero engine was developed by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), under the DRDO, after a 30-year developmental period. This, however, was not found suitable for the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), as it was underpowered and overweight to meet the aircraft’s performance requirements.
- Challenges in developing
- Development of indigenous jet engines is complex, costly and time consuming process requiring
- Managing extreme engine temperatures
- Composites & Alloys: Jet engines use superalloys and composite materials which can withstand temperatures beyond 1800oC. Thus, there is a need to develop high-resistance materials like silicon carbide or ceramic matrix composites
Significance of Jet Engine deal for India
- Significant step forward in India-USA relations:
- This is the first instance when US will be sharing a cutting edge technology in its defence capabilities with a non-ally.
- This deal also marks the first time when there will be a co-production of jet engines of US with a country with which US does not have a treaty.
- Under the deal, US will be sharing a substantial share of sensitive jet engine technology with a provision of technology transfer ratio to increase. This is the most technology transfer the US has ever authorised.
- The deal would reduce India’s reliance of defence aircrafts offered by Russia to India and will expand the growing interoperability between US and Indian military.
- Entry into exclusive club: India will become the fifth country in the world to produce jet engines. Currently, only Russia, USA, France & UK have the capability to produce jet engines.
- Boost to defence capabilities: This deal is expected to boost and modernise India’s fighter jet capabilities as it will allow India to indigenously produce jet engines for its Tejas fleet with one of the most powerful and reliable engines. It will help India’s to replace its reliance on ageing Russian fleet which currently power its air force and naval aircrafts.
- Domestic manufacturing of jet engines will reduce cost of fighter jets in India.
- Reduce dependence on foreign suppliers for engines for India’s fighter aircrafts.
- Boost to defence manufacturing:
- Edge over China: The jet engines offered by US have more power and efficiency, longer life and need lower maintenance compared to jet engines currently manufactured by China. Thus, giving India an edge over China in terms of defence capabilities.
Concerns over the deal
- Not complete transfer of technology: Though the deal has a significant transfer of technology component. However, transfer of technology is not complete.
- Better jet engines are available as compared to F414 jet engines which is being offered to India. For ex. US has been developing advanced F136 jet engine for its F35 fighter aircrafts.
- Importance of Russia: US demands India to shun military ties with Russia to further boost its defence collaboration with Russia for the fear of its defence technology falling in Russian hands. However, India and Russia enjoy unparallel trust and collaboration in defence relations like Brahmos cruise missiles. Thus, India would not want to compromise its defence relations with Russia.
Way forward for Indigenous Jet Engine Development
- Focus on indigenous development of jet engines: Despite GE-HAL jet engine deal, India should try and develop its own engines for both civilian and fighter jets. India has a lot of engineering talent which could be harnessed for this. Government and Private sector should collaborate on this. This will result:
- Increasing India’s strategic autonomy.
- Reduce reliance on other countries.
- Reduce cost of manufacturing of fighter aircrafts.
- Increase India’s potential as a global supplier and exports of defence aircraft systems.
- HAL-BHEL Joint Venture for Jet Engines: The technology for development of jet engines and industrial gas turbines is similar with difference in weights and compression ratios, dealing with different levels of heat and oxygen availability. A joint venture can be explored between these to develop indigenous jet engines in India.