US to help India develop engine for Gen-5 fighter, AMCA likely to be powered by GE's Enhanced F-414 engine - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 11 December 2015

US to help India develop engine for Gen-5 fighter, AMCA likely to be powered by GE's Enhanced F-414 engine

US cites “strengthening relationship” with India to clear engine technology release

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th Dec 15

On Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s first official visit to the United States from December 7-10, Washington has signalled its willingness to co-develop with India an aircraft engine for India’s indigenous fifth-generation fighter that is called the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

India’s Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) believes it essential to work with US company, General Electric Aviation (GE), in up-rating its F-414S6 engine into the so-called F-414 Enhanced Engine, which would power the futuristic AMCA.

As Business Standard earlier reported (June 1, “Carter to face Indian demand for engine technology”) GE has been eager to partner the DRDO in this lucrative project. But the US government had earlier stood in the way, reluctant to transfer to India strategic technologies, such as the high-melting-point alloys needed to build the gas turbine.

During Parrikar’s visit, Washington signalled that it has changed its mind.

“Secretary [of Defense Ashton] Carter informed Minister Parrikar that in light of the strengthening relationship between the United States and India, the [US Department of Defense] has updated its policy on gas turbine engine technology transfer to India. As a result of this policy update, the Secretary is confident that the United States will be able to expand cooperation in production and design of jet engine components”, says the joint statement issued on Friday by the Indian Embassy in Washington.

That opens the doors for GE and DRDO to work together in uprating the F-414S6 engine, which India has already selected for the indigenous Tejas Mark II. This will enhance the current engine’s peak power of 90 KiloNewtons (KN), delivering 110 KN of thrust. The AMCA’s twin F-414 Enhanced Engine will thus deliver an awesome 220 KM of peak power.

The green signal for co-developing this engine appears to have been given, with the joint statement saying: “Secretary Carter and Minister Parrikar look forward to U.S. companies working with their Indian counterparts to submit transfer requests that will benefit from this updated policy.”

For GE, this could be a commercial windfall, providing it an assured market for all India’s indigenous fighters. This would include 100 F-404 engines for the Tejas Mark I, another 100 F-414 engines for the Tejas Mark II; and 400 F-414 Enhanced Engines for a planned 200 AMCAs.

Since an aero engine’s life is about 1,500 hours, each fighter --- with a service life of 5,000-6,000 hours --- consumes 3.5 engines. That means GE could be supplying 700 engines for the Tejas Marks I and II, and 1,400 engines for the AMCA over their service lives.

This is a sizeable share of the Indian aero engine market, which the DRDO estimates to be worth Rs 3,50,000 crore over coming decades.

Given this massive requirement, India put jet engine technology, along with aircraft carrier design, at the core of its high-technology expectations from Washington.

The joint statement issued on January 22, after President Barack Obama met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi, agreed to “form a working group to explore aircraft carrier technology sharing and design, and explore possible cooperation on development of jet engine technology.”

During his visit, Parrikar’s counterpart, Ashton Carter, accompanied him on a visit to the aircraft carrier, USS Dwight D Eisenhower. Parrikar is the first Indian defence minister to visit an American carrier.

With India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, likely to be commissioned in 2018, the navy is focused on designing a second, larger, indigenous carrier that could include advanced American knowhow and technologies.

Business Standard understands the navy is opting for indigenous nuclear reactors to power the second carrier. However, the admirals are keen to incorporate an American-designed catapult launch system.

A catapult allows a carrier to launch larger aircraft, more quickly, than the ski-jump that equips contemporary Indian carriers. This would allow Indian aircraft carrier battle groups to launch not just heavier fighters, but airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft, fitting with radars, that monitor and control the aerial battle space.

“Minister Parrikar and Secretary Carter commended positive discussions at the Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation (JWGACTC), especially in the area of Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE), and look forward to continued progress to be achieved at the second meeting of the JWGACTC in February 2016 in India”, said the joint statement.

Ashton Carter, during his visit to the Eastern Naval Command in Visakhapatnam earlier this year, became the first US defense secretary to visit an operational military command in India. With that gesture reciprocated by Carter, Parrikar became the first Indian defense minister to visit the US Pacific Command in Hawaii en route to Washington.

According to the Pentagon website, Parrikar and Carter “also discussed the importance of India’s participation in US military exercises such as Malabar, Rim of the Pacific, and for the first time in eight years for India, participation in Red Flag, which Carter called ‘the premier air-to-air combat exercise’.”


  1. Since an aero engine’s life is about 1,500 hours, each fighter --- with a service life of 5,000-6,000 hours --- consumes 3.5 engines.

    Oh for heaven sake! Only Russian (and presumably) Chinese engines are rated for 1,500-2,000 hours (a ridiculous 300 hrs for the IJT's Al-55I).

    All western engines in contrast have long service lives (which they sensibly measure in terms of 'cycles' rather than 'hours') that equal the life of the aircraft. The IAF's Mirages for example, bought in 1984-85, are still running on their original engines (though they have gone through multiple overhauls).

  2. With this new engine contract India's entire indigenous fighter fleet will be dependent on GE for engines. Once again we managed to put our head in Americas guillotine. Let's just cross our fingers & hope they don't release the blade. Head, meet desk.

    India almost developed a gas turbine engine once with GTRE Kaveri. Why not scale up that effort and put it on a war footing ?

    LCA Tejas Mk 1 - GE F-404
    LCA Tejas Mk 2 - GE F-414
    AMCA - GE F-414 Enhanced Engine

    Why not use the F-404 & F-414 as a temporary fixes and work on a replacement to those engines ? Like somebody said, "Innovation is 99% failure". If we give up the first time we fail then are we really trying ?

    Also, what is this business of not trusting our own defense establishments. Could either US or Russia be the pioneers they are if they didn't trust their domestic talent ? What if DRDO believes it is essential to work with a US company, can't the minister give DRDO give them a stare and tell them no, you have to give us a new engine in five years by the time AMCA is ready ?

    Why choose to surrender to multi-nationals which are pawns of their governments ? Why not instead try and attract foreign talent to Indian shores ? After all, the biggest asset for the US is brain gain. Isn't there something India can learn from that ?

  3. India should bargain hard to get maximum critical engine tech transfer as have huge requirement.

  4. Working for US defence company for more than a decade and half I can tell you such Technology Transfer for 5th Gen engine program wont be possible , There are strict laws on such transfer and it has to be regulated via US Congress with I and Dots to negotiate, We wont be transferring technology for the 80's era GE404 even to our closest allay.

    India can outright purchase GE414 or Enhanced Version of the engine and use in its AMCA program , Our engine program is miles ahead of what Russians and French or Europeans can offer you but dont expect us to share or sell technology thats not going to happen euphoria apart.

    EML is something India can use on its next generation carrier program.

  5. India procures huge amount of Military hardwares from USA and Russia. Both these countries are benefitting from Indian procurements. What is the need of the Defense Minister of India to visit the sellers premises.
    The present Defense Minister has not given anything positive to the nation till date. Despite so much talk about 'Make In India', he has not increased production in the factories of OFB.
    There is no reason for the delay in issuance of FOC for LCA and LCH; but this is not happening. Production capacity of ALH, Dhruv is not being increased despite huge supply backlog. Is it transparent operation. Present Defence Minister has not shown any serious intention to export Indian Defence hardwares. When are we going to freeze the specifications of Dhruv Mark 5. What happened to Marine Kaveri.
    When shall we become a transparent country.

  6. Completely second Venkat's comment.

  7. hahaha..dream on Colonel. The policy has only been updated, means we will think about potential cooperation in engine sector. If you think that tomorrow they will start transferring single crystal blade tech to Indian companies, that's completely foolish. No wonder that IAF has kept Eurojet in the loop and Klimov for the TVC !!!!

  8. I'd go with Venkat on this one. Plus, there's no guarantee that the Americans will allow transfer of critical technology. If the Russians didn't part with it during the Brahmos Project, there is no reason that the Americans should. They will want the Indians to be dependent on their technology and products in the long run. So we might end up fabricating the non-critical, unsophisticated parts and integrating them with the imported parts in an Indian facility. Does it make the engine indigenous? No. Tighten the screws on the R & D effort and support it extensively by upping the funding and securing for it transfer of oblique or dual-use technologies that may help the scientists stumble upon the Eureka moment.

  9. While a catapult launch system for the second carrier makes sense, a nuclear powered carrier for India running into 2-3 billion $ makes no sense at all. Hopefully that idea will die.

  10. Please reach out General Electric to get a proper figure for Turbine life. It should not be very hard to do.

  11. Luckily the Kaveri engine development is still continuing to produce an engine for the DRDO AURA.
    It is too early to lose hope entirely, but yes your major point of much more money, in the billions at least to support engine development is well made.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Hi Ajai Shukla,

    How are you? Miss your analyzed articles, this article looks more like a reporting piece. Would love to see an article on the implications of this decision to go with US engines. However, there are some lingering questions, Why is the Govt opening up the GE 414 family when there is The F110-GE-132 turbofan engine which produces ~145 KN. Why GE? Why not Pratt and Whitney? Why not go with the Russian, they have Saturn-Lyulka 117S producing 142 or Saturn AL-31M with 132 KN.
    The above questions assumes that the AMCA final design is still not completed with any engine in mind but a preliminary design to check what needs to be developed in house and what can be procured from outside. Some engines listed are heavy, but they do produce more thrust. So, I understand they is some balance to be made. However, the question still remains my GE 414 family and why not Saturn engines?


  14. Came to correct you on the jet engine life comment but yeah that essentially changes your comments on the economic windfall of this. :D
    Western engines have a TBO of 6k hours typically. I am sure these do as well.


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