Finally, a deadline for the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft's new engine - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 15 July 2008

Finally, a deadline for the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft's new engine

Part 1 of a two-part series on the Tejas LCA's engine)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th July 08

For years, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has argued bitterly with the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) --- which is developing India’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) --- over who is to blame for the LCA’s low engine power. The IAF accuses the ADA of failing to develop a suitable engine; the ADA retorts that the IAF’s demands for extra combat punch added two tons to the LCA’s original weight of 8 tons. The naval version of the LCA, with its strengthened undercarriage, will be even heavier.

And with the promised Kaveri engine nowhere in sight, the LCA makes do with the underpowered General Electric F-404 engine. An upgraded version, the IN-20, which will power the first two squadrons of the LCA, provides only marginally more thrust.

But now there’s a happy ending in sight. Business Standard has learned that the ADA has a deadline of October 2008 to choose between two foreign engines for powering the LCA. The final choice of engine, which will power several hundred Tejas fighters over the next three decades, is between Eurojet’s EJ200; and the General Electric F-414.

The current GE F-404 IN-20 engine delivers about 82-85 KiloNewtons of thrust, which is adequate for take off and even climbing rapidly, but falls short during combat manoeuvres when the fighter has to turn sharply to fire missiles at enemy aircraft. The EJ200 and the GE F-414 provide 90-95 KiloNewtons of thrust, which the IAF considers adequate.

Both engine manufacturers are lobbying intensively. Which engine is chosen could reverberate beyond the LCA, affecting the selection of the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), an $11 billion purchase for which bids have already been submitted. The Anglo-European Eurofighter, a leading contender, is powered by two EJ200 engines. A single GE F-414 engine powers the Swedish Grippen fighter. Both vendors believe that if their engine were selected for the LCA, that could open the door to the MMRCA contract.

The key factor in choosing an engine will be: which one fits into the LCA with the least re-engineering? Each engine has different dimensions and the inlet and exhaust ports are located differently; this means that the LCA airframe will need changes to accommodate the new engine. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Chairman, Ashok Baweja, explains that, “Any change in the basic structure of the aircraft will mean going through the test and evaluation process all over again. This is a time-consuming business.”

Selecting the engine will involve difficult choices. IAF sources say the EJ200 will demand less re-engineering; but the GE F-414 will give up to 5 KiloNewtons more of thrust.

Re-engineering the LCA to fit in the engine, and obtaining fresh operational clearances, could take up to three years. Meanwhile HAL will manufacture the first Tejas squadron of 20 fighters with the old GE F-404 IN-20 engine. Top MoD sources confirm to Business Standard that the IAF will shortly order a second squadron of Tejas, also with the GE F-404 IN-20. LCA number 41 onwards will be fitted with the new engine.

Comparison of EJ200 and GE F-414 engines:

                                   EJ 200                     GE F-414-400
Power on reheat        90-92 kNewtons             96-98 kNewtons
Inlet diameter            740 mm                          777.24 mm
Cross section              430.1 cm.sq                    474.4 cm.sq
Mass flow (Kg/sec)      74                                     78
Weight                       1040 kilos                       1110 kilos
Centre of gravity         Smaller shift                   Large shift
Design vintage             Late 1990s                      Late 1970s
Growth potential         Up to 30%                       Far less

(Tomorrow: Powering up the first 40 LCAs, with the IN-20 engine... HAL's plan)


  1. on comparison front the EJ200 looks a winner - nearly same thrust, smaller dimensions needing less fuselage mods, more growth potential being the first gen of its family...

  2. The option on the engine must be left to the customer. Here the IAF has selected the EJ 200 . So be it. Now the work on integrating the engine must start as soon as possible, so that after the first 40 is delivered, the IAF and IN gets the upgreaded lot of LCA's.

  3. your blog is the best thing to happen after Bharat Rakshak.... Your opinions have changed a lot on indigeneous projects after checking it out for yourself...better stuff coming out from sitting in the LCA cockpit/ arjun cabin than on the featherlite armchair!!.....keep it up.

    Kishore S

  4. "LCA number 41 onwards will be fitted with the new engine."

    what? No more Kaveri? There were rumours going around where GTRE officials claimed to have Kaveri 90% complete!

    Amen Kaveri!

  5. My commendations for writing good articles and also dealing with the queries/critics on your blog.

    Sir, may I say that this blog is perhaps in more ways than one, your continuing service to our nation.

    On issue at hand I think EJ200 will offer latest tech and better tech transfer.

    Lastly GE has given offical interviews that G414 enhanced by 25% is contemplated.

    I wonder why GE does not further develop 404 which will obviate lot of problems.

    IMHO EJ200 enchanced by 30% with TVC may be good option for indian FGFA

  6. Ajay,

    thanks for that cockpit view :)


  7. Dear Ajay,
    very informative article.
    can we expect to see more news on FGFA? what will be HALs role will it be development manufacturing or design - development - manufacturing?

  8. First of all thanks for the LCA cockpit pictures. It looks awesome. Could you clarify what you meant by weight increase of 2 tons? Since LCA uses 70 % composites by weight I find it difficult to believe that the empty weight has increased from 4.5 tonne to 6.5 tonne. That would not reflect well on ADA. Do you mean the MTOW (maximum take off weight) has increased by 2 tonnes? Which would bring the MTOW to 14.5 tonnes. In which case the total payload of LCA should have gone up from 4 tonnes to 5-6 tonnes. Thanks

  9. ajai,

    thanks for the article. might have been nice to also add the f404in20 specs for comparison to the other two.

    hopefully you'll be able to shine a little light on what is happening on the kaveri front in the 2nd part of this article.

    i also echo kishore's sentiment. our def scientists deserve the kudos; they seem to amaze me every day. working on peanuts and still producing cutting edge tech is only possible out of love for the motherland.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Just to clarify the weight issue for Figher: the LCA was orignially conceived as a 7.8 ton aircraft. Today, the version which will get Initial Operational Clearance weighs in at 10.5 tons. The naval version will push 11 tons.

    The GE F-404 would have been a perfectly adequate engine, had the weight been kept at 7.8 tons. The problem is that ambitious role expansion by everyone concerned caused the weight to go up... and the GE F-404 gradually found itself running short of power.

    The IN-20 makes up some of that power shortfall. But not enough to give the LCA a sustained turn rate that would be acceptable in today's aerial battlefield.

  12. Interesting article, thanks for it but som of it are bit confusing. Correct F-414 is bigger than Ej-200 but is not bigger than F-404 LCA is using today. It is a little heavier but if the rest of LCA has gotten bigger it might just balance the CoG.

  13. HI ajai

    Thanks for the quick reply. I think the weight you are talking about is the empty weight + internal fuel load. I believe it was to be 5.5 tonne + 2.4 tonne (fuel) = 7.9 tonne for the aircraft. How did it end up at 10.5 tonne? Was the internal fuel load increased? Otherwise the empty weight is 8 tonnes which is heavier than the all metal Mirage2000 and about the same as F-16 blk 30??

  14. i think that only under full load conditions will the present engine of LCA be inadequate to make complex attack maneuvers. But if the weight is reduced by sending the fighter on strict mission specific roles like air to air combat or just ground attack etc.the fighter would come out very strong. All i seek ajayji is to know how are the electronic and weapon system being integrated into the LCA in terms of quality. Further what are the proposed weapons that can be carried under limited loading to maintain better thrust..i think the latter two inputs would settle a lot of doubts on how tejas would finally come out as a fighter. Thank you for this lovely article. take care

  15. I hope atleast the Kaveri marine engine project is still alive. It is disheartening to see the engine project die especially at the last lap. It will be even more difficult to start something like this after a gap.

    There was a piece of information about the engine not being able to reach the final mile is due to non availability of single crystal blades. There is not even a single foreign vendor who wants to share this piece and we are awarding the very same people with a 11 bn dollar worth of fighter contract and few more billions for a new engine for LCA. This is our taxpayers' money. It will not return back to us unlike the investment in our own R&D.

    Also consider me as a novice in this one: 2 tons worth of extra equipments in the standard airframe sounds unrealistic. I don't think there is any space to fit in all of them. I wonder what these additional instruments are.

  16. Hello Shukla ji, its good information. EJ200 looks better choice & dont have risk of sanctions; but further development of EJ200 should start earliest in India(if chosen), otherwise again we will be left behind again. Thanks, Puneet shukla.

  17. Hey Ajai, great article on the Tejas.

    One of the questions that is still left unanswered is what is causing the significant weight growth. Is the Tejas going to get more hardpoints, fuel load, or etc? What is driving the weight growth?

    Thanks for your effort.

  18. By the way, there is a new version of the F414 in the works called F414-EDE.

    "the F414 EDE offers up to 20% thrust increase over today's F414-400 engine, or up to three times the life of today`'s hot section at current thrust levels. The ongoing demonstrator program also includes research into high-cycle-fatigue reduction technologies, and foreign object damage-tolerant fan and compressor airfoil designs."

  19. Everyone acknowledges that EJ200 is a better engine. And it really is.

    Viewing it politically, by forcing India to to take the 414, US can push the LCA program back by 3 years. They get to sell more planes and more engines.

    Regarding weight increase, per IAF requirement, LCA had to carry much heavier bombs and missiles. Hardpoints and structure had to be strengthened.

    Let Kaveri be 10% or 90% complete, we should continue investing time and money into it. At some point, we may be able able replace the engines of MMRCA crafts with our own!

  20. "The Anglo-European Eurofighter, a leading contender, is powered by two EJ200 engines. A single GE F-414 engine powers the Swedish Grippen fighter."

    Also to be noted that 2XGE-F414 powers the super hornet, also a contender for the MRCA.

    The current Gripen is powered by a variant of the F404. F414 powers the new generation Gripen (Gripen NG) which is still under development.

  21. Though you are clearing lot of misconception related to LCA with your articles,your pictures are putting HAL in poor light regarding appearance of HAL personnel. i have read many comments regarding the uniform is not good, ppl are not wearing protective helemts, no signs indicating FOD free zones, alomonard fans ,dust..etc.. etc...Your camera work needs improvement,which you have already confessed. please tell HAL personnel, about posting of the photos in your blog ,which will be watched by many and see that HAL is not portaryed poorly wrt to the above issues.its a wonderful job and keep it up!

  22. ^^^
    Man, things people find to gripe about.

  23. Though Tejas has taken lot of time, it is good to hear that at last these things are coming to an end. Let it fly with foreign engine be it ge414 or EJ200 (but I feel EJ200 would be a better option). We should keep developing Kaveri engine, even with foreign help. It is now clear that even Kaveri is developed, with current thrust it would not be able to fulfill the requirments.
    Kaveri is a nice engine and everyone has understood this fact & its development should go as earlier. It should be made a technological demonstrator to develop further engines, may be for the MCA.

  24. Ajaiji, thank you for the amazing pics and info that you've been providing us for a while now. I was hoping to see that LCA with the green nose cone (must be a TD, or PV-1, because I recall seeing this one without the RAM intake at the base of the fin when I was in B'lore in February) and at least its there in the background of one of your images. Do you have any better images of it?

    Also, you'd do all of India's aviation industry a favour if you told them that they are very much in the limelight- a lot of people are watching them, and disinformation spreads very rapidly. So, if they could provide interviews where they give latest specs, and clarifications on lies being spread through general media with malafide intent, it would do the program a great deal of good in the public eye.

    Regarding the weight issue, could you please clarify on the empty weight with no fuel, with full fuel load and the actual reasons for growth in weight? avionics and mission equipment seems one reason, but what about structural reinforcements based on flight test data? has that been done?

    Another very important aspect is that there is a great deal of ambiguity over the radar..are they using the Elta E-2032 now and then later for the production batches they'll switch to MMR with some 2032 components? What is the future plan for incorporating an AESA radar on the Tejas- Elta 2052? it will again increase the weight due to its cooling requirements. If you could give info on this, it would be greatly appreciated. Also, what about the IRST? not seen any developments on that as yet.

    I hope you realise that being one of the only conduits of actual information from HAL, we all expect a lot from you. Thank you once again.

  25. Ajaiji, can u clarify about the status of Kaveri... has it been shelved or are the JV plans still hanging fire??

  26. Hi Ajai,
    Thanks for all the info that you put up on your blog. Most of the readers and myself are interested in knowing about the status of the kaveri engine. Any info regarding the JV with either Rrench / Russian.

  27. More pictures please. They speak more than a thousand words.

  28. Is the LCA in the background in the 2nd pic N-LCA? It seems to have smaller and lowered nose cone.

  29. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  30. Saab choose the F414G for the gripen NG because of
    better grooth potential(+30% thust and more relieabiliy already in development)
    more thust to begin with
    more commonalitys with F404
    and better suited for a single engine craft(relieability, birdstrike etc.)

    If EJ200 is choosen its only for political reason...and maybe for MMRCA(EF2000)

  31. The development of the F414 started in 1998, not in the 1970:s!


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