The indigenous Kaveri aero engine, conceived to power home-built fighter plane Tejas but generally written off as a 25-year, Rs. 2,100-crore drain on resources, now looks set to resume where it left off two years ago and complete the last lap of its development.
A surprisingly strong nudge from the government and prospects of good funds in recent months have given tailwinds to the engine programme; a revised proposal has been made on the government’s advice for the remaining part of the Kaveri activity, according to DRDO Director General (Aero) K. Tamilmani and Director, Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) C.P. Ramanarayanan. They did not elaborate on what the proposals are.
The Kaveri’s last big activity was in 2011, when it took a flight test in Russia fitted on the Il-76 transport plane. Although 90 per cent of the flight envelop was covered, at least five problems showed up, according to scientists.
Since then, the GTRE has worked on the nagging issues and would take Kaveri to its logical conclusion up to certification, Dr. Tamilmani said on Tuesday while announcing an upcoming conference of the organisation.
Next year, the GTRE plans to show the engine’s performance first on an Il-76 plane and then as the second engine fitted on a twin-engined fighter like MiG-29. It would be tuned to certification standards.
“When we do that, we will have the first indigenous [aero]engine with proven and certified performance for exploitation” — meaning it would be rendered suitable for fitting on future Indian-made military or passenger aircraft — Dr. Ramanarayanan told The Hindu later.
Dr. Tamilmani said a ready engine would precede an indigenous aircraft programme, a model followed worldwide.
The aero engine has been a vital but missing link in the country’s military aviation, which has to buy them from foreign makers at huge costs. Each aircraft needs to replace its engines three or four times during its lifetime.
In 2008, Kaveri was de-linked from its original platform, the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). Earlier this year, senior scientists said it would be used to fly unmanned air vehicles of the armed forces. Its derivatives could go into powering ships, too.
The Ministry of Defence is buying 99 GE F414 engines for the LCA from global engines major GE for Rs. 3,000 crore.
The DRDO has missed the LCA mandate but still hopes to achieve the final objective, possibly for other equally important projects, Dr. Ramanarayanan said.
A 2011 survey by the GTRE estimated that this decade, India could spend Rs. 1.8 lakh crore to buy engines plus another Rs. 4 lakh crore for their upkeep. The DRDO scientists admit to slip-ups and lost opportunities.
In a separate activity, military plane maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd is developing engines for its helicopters and trainer aircraft by 2018.