Ravi Sharma

Talks with Snecma could start early next year: GTRE officials

BANGALORE: The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has been given the go-ahead by the government to take up an offer of French firm Snecma to ‘partner’ with the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) for jointly developing the Kaveri aero engine.

Senior GTRE officials told The Hindu that talks with Snecma “could start early next year.” The Kaveri’s eventual user, the Indian Air Force now appears to have softened its opposition to the tie-up, they said.

The Rs. 2,839-crore Kaveri engine programme was launched in 1989, specifically to power the Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas, now under development at the DRDO’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA). In 2005, the GTRE indicated that it would not be able to develop the Kaveri engine on its own.

Interestingly, the government’s nod, which is expected to cost the exchequer at least Rs 1,000 crore, comes nine months after a team, headed by Air Vice-Marshal M. Matheswaran and comprising officials from the ADA, the IAF and the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, submitted a report that stated that an engine developed jointly by Snecma and the GTRE would not meet the IAF’s performance requirements. The IAF also wanted the Kaveri project delinked from Tejas programme.

According to informed sources, members of the Matheswaran team were critical of the French passing off their existing and fully developed ‘Eco’ engine core. This, the team felt, would not give India the engine core design knowledge or even control over it. It also pointed out that the design technology being handed out would take years to come.

Based on the report, the French offer was put on the backburner with even officials from Snecma stating that the “chapter was closed.” But the IAF for reasons not yet clear, appear to have reversed its stand.

Snecma, which indicated that an engine run of at least 250 is required to make their offer economically viable, agrees that an existing core would be at the heart of the Snecma – GTRE Kaveri engine. It, however, denies it would take years for handing over the design technology. It will take at least five years before the first production engine comes out.

Snecma chairman and chief executive officer Philippe Petitcolin told The Hindu: “Yes we first stated a 15-year period to hand over the design technology, but now we have indicated that the technology can be given as fast as the Indians can assimilate it.”

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