Explained | Why is the U.S.-India fighter jet deal important?

With General Electric and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited signing a memorandum of understanding to co-produce F414 engines in India, how will it boost IAF strength? Will the U.S. government and Congressional approvals come through for the deal?

Updated - June 25, 2023 11:29 am IST

Published - June 25, 2023 01:26 am IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 14th edition of Aero India 2023, in Bengaluru on February 13.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 14th edition of Aero India 2023, in Bengaluru on February 13. | Photo Credit: PTI

The story so far: Coinciding with Prime Minister Modi’s first state visit, India and the U.S. have announced a slew of deals in defence cooperation, space technology, AI and other areas. The U.S.-India joint statement mentions the “landmark” signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between General Electric (GE) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the manufacture of GE F414 jet engines in India, for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk2. A fact sheet issued by the U.S. said a manufacturing licence agreement has been submitted for Congressional notification.

What is the status of the deal?

A senior Defence Ministry official said it is an “almost done” deal with some commercial terms pending finalisation, in addition to the U.S. Congressional approval, while stating that there would be an 80% transfer of production technology which will see some critical technologies transferred to India.

“It will take three years for the first engine to roll out once the contract is signed. It will see 80% technology transfer to HAL. Such a thing has never occurred before in the history of India’s quest for high technology,” the official said. Except for a small component, the F414-INS6 engine will be entirely manufactured in India which also shows the trust India has evoked in the U.S., the official stated.

The U.S. has stringent export controls and licensing systems for sharing sensitive and niche technologies. The final deal can be concluded only after the U.S. Congress approves it, though with the bipartisan support for India at the Congress, officials on both sides have expressed confidence that it will go through.

Why is it significant?

If the deal goes through, it will mean transfer of almost the entire engine technology compared to the ‘Engine Development Agreement’ worked out in 2012 between GE and HAL for the F414 engine with 58% technology transfer, officials said. This heralds a major high technology cooperation between the oldest and largest democracies, which the U.S. has shared with only its closest allies.

While the most critical technologies of the engine will be off limits, Indian industry, both public and private, will get a chance to upgrade their capacities and skills as significant sourcing as well as manufacturing will be done in the country, with the technologies that GE has agreed to transfer.

What is the status of indigenous tech development?

Jet engine technology is the proprietary right of very few countries and is a closely guarded secret due to its extreme criticality in modern warfare. India made unsuccessful attempts in the past to develop an engine locally under the now shelved ‘Kaveri’ project. The Kaveri project was sanctioned by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in 1989, and over the course of 30 years before it was shut down it entailed an expenditure of ₹2035.56 crore which led to the development of nine full prototype engines and four core engines.

Where will the GE engines be fitted?

The F414 engines are meant to power the indigenous LCA-Mk2, a larger and more capable variant of the LCA currently in service, and also the initial version of the fifth generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) that is under development. The F414 is from the family of the F404 engine that powers the current LCA-Mk1 and also the LCA-Mk1A that the Indian Air Force (IAF) will start receiving early-2024 onwards. An F414 engine produces 98kN thrust compared to 84kN by the F404 engine.

Last August, the CCS approved the development of the LCA-Mk2 at a total development cost of ₹9,000 crore of which ₹2,500 crore has already been spent. The rollout of the LCA-Mk2 is targeted by 2024 and the plan is to complete the flight testing by 2027, officials from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had stated earlier. The CCS sanction for the AMCA is expected soon.

The LCA-Mk2 will feature enhanced range and endurance including an Onboard Oxygen Generation System which is being integrated for the first time; it will also have the ability to carry heavy weapons of the class of Scalp, Crystal Maze and Spice-2000. The Mk2 is 1,350mm longer than Mk1 featuring canards and can carry a payload of 6,500kgs compared to 3,500kgs by Mk1.

The F414 also powers the F/A-18 Super Hornet and Swedish Gripen among others. According to a GE data sheet, the F414 shares its basic design with the F404 engine; it stands on a foundation of over 5,600 F404/F414 engines built, and a combined 18 million engine flight hours. More than 1,600 F414 engines have been delivered, accumulating over five million engine flight hours, it stated. This deal makes GE the front runner for another Indian proposal to jointly produce a 110kN jet engine for the AMCA-Mk2 for which Safran of France and Rolls Royce of the U.K. are competing and have submitted detailed technology transfer proposals. In this regard, GE said it will continue to collaborate with the Indian government on the AMCA Mk2 engine programme.

What is the timeline for production and delivery?

According to GE, a total of 75 F404 engines have been delivered and another 99 are on order for the LCA Mk1A, while eight F414 engines have been delivered as part of an ongoing development programme for LCA Mk2.

The F414 engine has been long chosen to power the LCA Mk-2, which has been designed around the engine, making it a larger, heavier and more capable jet, equal to the Mirage-2000 in terms of capability, as stated by officials earlier. The IAF has ordered 40 LCA Mk1, most of which have been inducted, and 83 LCA-Mk1A, on order under a ₹47,000 crore deal with HAL. As per schedule, HAL is expected to deliver the first three Mk1A aircraft in 2024 and 16 aircraft per year for the subsequent five years completing the deal by 2028-29.

The LCA-Mk2 is a major fillip for the IAF to arrest the dwindling fighter squadron as several frontline fighters like Mirage-2000, Jaguars and MiG-29s will be phased out by the end of the decade. The three existing Mig-21 squadrons will also be phased out by end-2025. The strength of India’s fighter squadron is 31 now from a sanctioned strength of 42.

While the number of Mk2 jets are yet to be approved by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by the Defence Minister, it is expected to be between 120 and 130 fighters, according to officials. With the combined requirement, the number of F414 engines needed over the next two decades could be well over 200.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.