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Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Kaveri engine to fly futuristic unmanned aircraft

The Kaveri undergoes testing at the GTRE

By Ajai Shukla
Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), Bangalore
Business Standard, 26th Dec 12

The Defence R&D Organisation’s (DRDO’s) faltering project to develop an indigenous jet engine has sparked into life again. With the Kaveri engine, born from this project, found short on power for the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the MoD has nominated the Kaveri to power the hush-hush Unmanned Strike Air Vehicle (USAV), a pilot-less bomber aircraft that the DRDO is developing.

The veil of secrecy surrounding the USAV project was thrown off on Dec 10, when the defence minister told parliament that, “(The) Kaveri spin-off engine can be used as propulsion system for (the) Indian Unmanned Strike Air Vehicle.”

Already drones, or unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), are changing the nature of air power with their ability to strike targets without endangering pilots lives. USAVs are bigger, 8-10 tonne drones, akin to strike fighters in their ability to carry heavy weaponry including bombs, rockets and missiles. Since they are piloted by remote control, they can be built lighter, stealthier, and sent on even the most risky missions.

The Indian USAV project is a lease of life for the Kaveri engine. Although India will import jet engines worth Rs 1,60,000 crore over the next decade (DRDO projections) none of these can be used for the USAV. The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) prohibits its 34 signatories --- including every major engine manufacturing country --- from selling engines for unmanned systems with ranges of over 300 kilometres.

An Indian jet engine, therefore, must power the USAV and the Kaveri is the only option. Although underpowered for fast-moving fighter aircraft, the DRDO believes the Kaveri is well suited for the USAV, which is lighter, flies slower and manoeuvres less sharply. 

Business Standard visited the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), the DRDO laboratory that is developing the Kaveri engine. It reached a key landmark last year, when a prototype Kaveri was flight-tested in Russia at the Gromov Flight Research Institute (GFRI). The engine’s performance was measured on a “flying test-bed”, a four-engine IL-76 transport aircraft that had one of its original engines replaced with a Kaveri.

During this test the Kaveri did well, generating 49.2 KiloNewtons (KN) of “dry thrust”, marginally less than its target of 51 KN. But there was a serious shortfall in “wet thrust”; the Kaveri generated just 70.4 KN, well short of the targeted 81 KN.

[“Dry thrust” refers to the standard output of an engine in routine flight. “Wet thrust” refers to the enhanced output that is generated when the fighter requires maximum power, e.g. during take-off or in aerial combat. Termed “lighting the afterburner”, this is achieved by pumping fuel into the engine’s exhaust.]

The Kaveri’s dry thrust is deemed adequate for the USAV, which does not require wet thrust since its survival depends on stealth (invisibility to radar) rather than on speed or manoeuvrability. The Kaveri will propel the USAV with dry thrust alone, eliminating the afterburner.

“Since the USAV will weigh less than 10 tonnes, the Kaveri’s 50 KN will suffice. And, with the afterburner removed, we would significantly reduce the weight of the Kaveri,” says a top DRDO scientist.

GTRE has a three-fold plan for perfecting the Kaveri for the USAV. First, it will remove the design flaws that were detecting during testing in Russia in 2010-11; then, after ground testing in Bangalore, the Kaveri will undergo a round of confirmatory tests in Russia; finally, it will be fitted on a Tejas fighter for flight tests.

Meanwhile, the Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), another DRDO laboratory, will develop the USAV. Four years from today, the Kaveri --- having proved itself on the Tejas --- will be mated with the USAV.

“After extensive ground testing at GTRE, the Kaveri will go back to Russia for flight-testing to ascertain that all the problems have been solved. This is essential for airworthiness certification. Finally, we will test the Kaveri in the single-engine Tejas fighter,” says Dr CP Ramnarayanan, Director, GTRE.

The Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which oversees the development of the Tejas, confirms that it will provide a Tejas prototype for flying with the Kaveri. It has even nominated an aircraft --- the first prototype, numbered PV-1 --- which is currently being used for flight-testing new systems.

“(The PV-1) was originally built to support the Kaveri engine. While the engine, in its present form, would not suffice for the Tejas, a Kaveri “dry engine” could be used for one of the futuristic unmanned systems,” says PS Subramanyam, Director, ADA.

GTRE has asked the MoD for Rs 595 crore to develop the Kaveri dry engine for the USAV. This will fund the building of two new Kaveri engines, costing some Rs 50 crore each; and flight testing in Russia, which cost Rs 80 crore in 2010-11 and could cost significantly more now.

“We will take 48 months from the date we get clearance from the government, for completing 50 hours of testing the Kaveri on the Tejas LCA. During the last 12 months, we will actually fly the Tejas with the Kaveri,” says Ramnarayanan.

The defence minister told parliament this month that the Kaveri project was sanctioned in March 1989 at an estimated cost of Rs.382.81 crore, and was to be completed by December 1996. This was revised [in 2005] to December 2009, while the cost was enhanced to Rs 2,839 crore. So far, Rs 1,996 crore has been actually spent on the Kaveri.

Defending the cost escalation, GTRE points out that comparable engines --- such as the General Electric F-404 and the Russian Klimov RD-33 --- cost the equivalent of Rs 8,000 crore to build in the 1990s, and would cost Rs 12,000-14,000 crore today.


  1. atleast kaveri is coming to some use.

  2. look at the buckets.
    shame !

  3. @ turrebaz

    You have a problem with buckets? You'd prefer "containers"?

  4. I think GTRE needs to be closed and new engine deblopment should be handed over to a ADA or a brand new entity having best minds from our country and managed by an retired IAF Cheif.

  5. Thanks for the good news and the great photo.

  6. The info given to the author, is not only flawed, but also contradictory. The Kaveri engine designed for the Tejas was to be tested in Russia over a decade and a half ago on a Tu-16. Since the Kaveri was not ready, the Indian govt paid hefty sums to keep the Tu-16 fly worthy, till that was no longer feasible. Eventually, the IL-76 had to used, with no accountability for the millions of Dollars spent on the upkeep of the Tu-16. Has this expenditure been factored into the design and development costs? I suspect not.
    The inability to use this engine on the LCA was not only because of the unacceptable thrust developed, but the size of the engine required a redesign and modification of the Teja's airframe. The engine is also over-weight, which would add to the woes of the LCA. Now that GTRE proposes to use the LCA PV-1 as a test vehicle, it will be interesting to know if the airframe would be redeigned and more so, how would the aircraft take off in dry power, which is even below the design requirement for the LCA. After burners are always used for takeoff in fighter aircraft to ensure both take-off performance and safety. In exceptional cases if the aircraft is light (as with less fuel/no external tanks/armament) and the engine is very powerful (MiG-29) a 'dry' take off can be done. The figures given in the article belie any such performance.
    Finally the USAVs performance and armament carrying capacity will be a direct function of the engine weight and power. Unless both these are vastly improved, we will not get the UAV with the desired performance.

  7. howz derated kaveri... doing on FAC's... waiting for a detailed item... on the same...

  8. It's good news as it should have other uses since its being created. They must persevere with the original goal, but also make use of technology and knowledge it has gained to good use. What’s causing the shortfall in overall requirement is it design fault or non-availability of novel material in India? The designer must, for all future requirements, ascertain the requirement of the aircraft; design the engine with built in scalability, and then design the airframe around it. It looks like; the designers got it wrong from the beginning.

  9. Is engine development such a hard task when we can send rockets to space y is it so hard to develop an engine.can't we see others products and learn from it.pls explain ajay sir ?

  10. @ Parvez Khokhar

    I don't see where the contradiction lies.

    You're probably correct in assuming that the DRDO would not have factored into the Kaveri budget the cost of keeping the T-16 in service. But that's accounting jugglery, not a substantive issue to do with the Kaveri's performance.

    More relevant is your point about fitting the Kaveri into the Tejas. I am told by ADA that PV-1 was built to cater for the Kaveri... and that there are existing modifications for the Kaveri that are already built and kept. They will need to be fitted to accommodate the Kaveri.

    As for how it will take off only with dry power... no, it won't. The Kaveri being tested on the Tejas will have dry and wet power, but the dry power part will be tested with the USAV in mind.

    And whether the Kaveri would be sufficient for the USAV... if the DRDO says it would, I'll take their word because I doubt whether they would endanger a project as large and prestigious as the USAF, just to provide a rationale for the Kaveri.

  11. The DRDO is flagging a dead horse to get funds it doesn't deserve any longer. Any other competent organisation would have delivered the engine by now. We need to have a system of accountability built into any project given to the white elephants posing as our defence PSUs.

  12. In addition to agreement with Anon@12:39 and Parvez Khokhar, I am puzzled at the timeline of over 4 years for development of such a project. If engines are the "heart" of the aircraft, then I would have imagined, a lot of effort and the best of minds, to be dedicated to its development, with multiple teams working round-the-clock to ensure success within a years time. Unless its a politically motivated brownie-point scheme, I feel Indians lack a sense of urgency. Time does not seem to be of essence to Indian defense R&D orgs and their managements. No wonder, nobody takes Indians seriously, including Indians themselves. As long as this culture of "chalta-hai" and lack of urgency is tolerated, Indians cannot hope for Greatness and be assured of perpetual misery and degradation. Shameful conduct on part of GTRE, is all I can say.

  13. A good news and a good charted plan for testing on Tejas and USAV.

  14. Col.Shukla - Any word on the proposed marinisation of the Kaveri via KMGT project?

  15. The existing organizational structures of Indian defense R&D is outdated. Indians need to rethink freshly how to better manage strategic projects. We need organizations like Pentagon and secured establishments like Area-51 with Boeing skunk-works type development approach. Indian defense R&D orgs are heavily bureaucratic in nature and thus inhibit aspiring young talent from flourishing, thus causing brain drain. This "babu" mentality and hierarchy in decision making needs to be dismantled for Indian R&D to take-off. I am sure, there must not be any type of brain-storming sessions happening in these close-cocooned organizations to solve their bottle-necks. Hence we see repeated delays and the constant excuses of "Technology denial". It is shameful for scientist and engineers to even utter words such as "Technology denial", what worth is their scientific PhD and engineering degrees, if they can't design and develop their own systems from scratch. That's why I am sure, the existing defense scientist's are useless, for them their work is just a job, not a passion.

  16. Rahul Samanta(Kolkata)26 December 2012 at 18:19

    Ajai ji, again you are committing the same mistake, i.e., giving unnecessary media space to these quota system output scientists...These guys are making a fool of us and we are allowing ourselves to be fooled....

    A case in example is the HAL response(some idiot Gopal 'bhagvan', again a product ofthe quota system) to your articles which criticized HAL....Could you make out anything from the response that was supposed to answer the criticisms that you had labelled against them?? Frankly, I did not and I am sorry for that...I may have to go to school again for learning English so that I could make sense of what he said...

    I am making a humble request to you. If you have the contact details(email) for this Gopal baniya or the other baniyas ofHAL, plz let me know....These guys need to get a piece of our mind...They need to be told that enough is enough; the Indian public has woken up and is now questioning your capabilities.....

  17. I don't understand why people criticize Kaveri, and DRDO. It has no basis.

    To see how excruciatingly difficult it really is to develop a fighter engine, consider these:

    a) There are only 5 nations in the world that have the technology to manufacture fighter engines: US, UK, France, Russia and EU.

    b) China's efforts at developing their own fighter engines have failed badly. Their WS-13 engine for the JF-17 flopped. It uses a Russian RD-93 now. Their flagship J-10 and J-20 fighters also use Russian engines, because their local WS-10 engines also flopped.

    c) All 5 nations that have the ability to develop fighter engines have been in the business for nearly 80-90 years. In contrast, India started out with the Kaveri in only the 1980s.

    d) While SAAB gor unfettered access to designs of GE's F-404 to tinker around (for its Gripen), DRDO got sanctioned after the nuclear tests. In any case, nuke tests or not, DRDO never got any ToT from GE or any other manufacturer. Even the negotiations with France's Snecma are stalled because they're unwilling to part with the technology of the engine core.

    When uninformed newspapers -- ala Times of India and The Indian Expresss criticize DRDO for its Kaveri engine, only one thing comes to mind:

    Why don't you make an engine ? Tie up with the Tatas the L&Ts and all and sundry.

    Let's see how will the tatas and Mahindras -- companies that haven't yet made a propeller engine -- design and develop a fighter engine.

  18. Please inform the status of marine kaveri engine. It was declared successfully developed. It must be deployed for sea trail. The marine kaveri engine need to be assigned to some Pvt / Public sector company for commercial manufacturing. DRDO must bring out Marine Kaveri Mark II. This is the way equipments are developed and improved.
    High speed flight testing of the Kaveri aero-engine also should be taken up. This engine must be installed on a few LCA for testing purpose. Is there any twin engine aircraft in the world for which LCA with its current power output is suitable. India must buy a few such aircrafts.

  19. It can be excepted that Kaveri will improve further over the period of 4 years.

  20. I am all for any indigenous effort and local R&D to develop jet engines for fighters as well as for transport aircraft. But letting the GTRE to flog a dead horse (kaveri) to make it capable of powering the LCA and that too in about 4 years time is being foolish.

    The GTRE wallahs should just refine the Kaveri for marine and other not too demanding vehicles. GTRE is credited with creating the Kaveri from scratch. Can't they use the lessons learned from it to design and develop (even if they resort to reverse engineering to get the cutting edge know-how) a brand new jet engine within 4 to 5 years? Nothing is possible if Indian scientists and engineers put their mind and heart into it as a national project. Since they already have the knowledge for a working jet engine, all they need is more R&D on design, materials and the need to bring down the weight and size of the engine.

    It would be easier to design, develop and test a new engine rather than flogging the same Kaveri because those who were behind it are already in a rut. It would be asking for the moon to get the same guys to think out of the box.

    I am not saying that the entire team should be sacked but use them in a new team(s) under the leadership of an innovative, dynamic and charismatic scientific leader aka Shri Abdul Kalam.

    Such an approach might just be the answer for the Indian aeronautical industry.

  21. Is there any plan for having all desired engine/turbofan test facilities (including flying) at home?

  22. Mr Ajai , this blog is controlled by you. In a blog which is controlled and comments are scrutinised the racial comments made by Mr Rahul is surprising. Mr Rahul Samanta has problems with Quota / caste, he also has problem with English written by others and also he has problem with HAL. If he has so much problems it is better he take US citizenship. I want to request all the readers of this blog to please express their comments against the nonsense

  23. Please make the identity of Mr Rahul public. We are annoyed . These blogs are not for such low graded discussions.


  25. Mr Col are you hearing......

  26. Shuklaji can you please tell the dry weight of Kaveri. If we compare the 'dry thrust' of Kaveri with RD-33, both are nearly the same i.e 49.2 KN for kaveri & 50 KN for RD-33. The dry weight of the Russian engine is 1055 kg.

  27. Originally PV-1 was equipped with F404-F2J3 engine which has 49 KN dry and roughly about 80 KN wet. So comparatively Kaveri is tie in dry and 10 KN short in wet.

    Considering LCA takes-off in about 400 m, Kaveri on PV-1 won't add much trouble except adding few hundred meters to take-off roll.

  28. Chk the blog of this Rahul of 27th dec. this is unlawful. Many of my friends has written against that but genuine posts are not published, this blog is sham.
    If the owner of blog is actually controlling the blog please ask google to make all comments public else we will take it with google and also with law enforcement agencies.


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