Ravi Sharma

BANGALORE: In a move that will significantly affect two of India’s most ambitious aerospace endeavours, the Kaveri engine and Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programmes are to be delinked from one another.

The projected development costs of the two programmes presently totals around Rs. 9,000 crores.

Launched specifically as the engine for the LCA, the developers of the Kaveri - the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) – have, despite spending almost 20 years and Rs. 2,000 crore, not been unable to come up with a workable product.

And more crucially even if the Kaveri does materialise in the years to come its present design configuration will not be able to satisfactorily power an overweight Tejas.

Relief

The delinking of the two programmes will bring relief to the customers of the Tejas, the Air Force, since it was they who had indicated over a year ago that the Kaveri with its present design configuration will not be able to power an overweight Tejas, to air staff requirements (ASRs).

The Air Force also indicated that they would place substantial orders for the LCA only if it meets their ASRs.

Dual path

Given the scenario of a long delayed Kaveri engine jeopardising the LCA programme, the top echelons of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) have decided to pursue a dual path. The delinking now allows the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the designers of the Tejas, to go ahead in issuing a request for proposal (RFP) for a more powerful engine that can produce a thrust of around 95 kilo Newtons (kN).

The thrust that the Air Force has projected will be needed if the overweight (by 1.5 tonnes) Tejas is to be powered to meet ASRs.

The RFP is likely to be sent out to two global engine houses - the European consortium Eurojet Turbo for their EJ200 and General Electric for the GE F414.

French assistance

The delinking though is not the end of the road for the Kaveri. A committee headed by Air Vice Marshal M. Matheswaran, has been asked by Air Headquarters to scrutinise an offer made by the French engine house Snecma to co-develop and co-produce an engine along with the GTRE.

Snecma will have to convince the committee that they can indeed co-develop with the GTRE, an engine with a thrust of around 95 kilo kN. Crucial aspects like the transfer of technology to GTRE, number of engines to be produced and costs involved will be studied by the committee.

The delinking will mean that the Tejas will get a ready made engine in the immediate future, while an indigenous GTRE-Snecma developed Kaveri could fructify in five or six years.

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