Amid the ongoing U.S. visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, engine manufacturer GE Aerospace on June 22 announced that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to produce fighter jet engines for the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). The proposal needs authorisation from the U.S. Congress before an agreement can be concluded.
“The agreement includes the potential joint production of GE Aerospace’s F414 engines in India, and GE Aerospace continues to work with the U.S. government to receive the necessary export authorisation for this. The effort is part of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) LCA Mk2 programme,” a statement from GE Aerospace said. “Today’s agreement will advance GE Aerospace’s earlier commitment to build 99 engines for the IAF as part of the LCA Mk2 programme.”
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Further, GE noted that this puts the company in a strong position to create a family of products in India, including the F404 engine that currently powers the LCA Mk1 and LCA Mk1A aircraft and GE Aerospace’s selection for the “prototype development, testing and certification of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) programme with our F414-INS6 engine.” In addition, GE will continue to collaborate with Indian government on the AMCA Mk2 engine program, it stated.
The LCA MK1 and MK1A, 83 of which are on order, are powered by the F404 engine while the LCA-MK2 will be a larger and more capable jet and will be powered by the F414 engine.
Terming it a historic agreement, H. Lawrence Culp, Jr., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of GE and CEO of GE Aerospace said, “Our F414 engines are unmatched and will offer important economic and national security benefits for both countries as we help our customers produce the highest quality engines to meet the needs of their military fleet.”
In 1986, GE began working with the Aeronautical Development Agency and HAL with its F404 engines for the LCA programme. “In total, 75 F404 engines have been delivered and another 99 are on order for LCA Mk1A. Eight F414 engines have been delivered as part of an ongoing development program for LCA Mk2,” GE stated.
The MK2 development received sanction from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in end-August 2022 at a total cost of ₹9,000 crore. DRDO officials had stated that the Prototype is expected to roll out by 2024-25 and be ready for production by 2027. The fifth generation AMCA is awaiting CCS sanction, the development of which would take 10 years after that, as reported by The Hindu earlier. The project cost of AMCA is estimated to be around ₹15,000 crore.
For AMCA-MK2, India is looking at a more powerful engine that it plans to co-develop with an international partner. The F414 deal, if it materialises, puts GE in the lead for which Rolls Royce of the U.K. and Safran of France are also competing.
With more than five million flight hours and eight nations with F414-powered aircraft in operation or on order, the F414 continues to exceed goals for reliability and time on the wing. To date, more than 1,600 F414 engines have been delivered globally.
The statement added that GE’s presence in India includes its research and technology centre, the John F Welch Technology Centre at Bengaluru, which opened in 2000 and its Multi-modal Factory at Pune, which opened in 2015.
Coinciding with Mr. Modi’s visit, the India-United States Defence Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X) was launched at an event co-organised by Innovations for Defence Excellence and the U.S. Department of Defence and hosted by U.S.-India Business Council.
“The event saw a first-of-its-kind joint showcasing by Indian and U.S. start-ups. 15 Indian start-ups and 10 U.S. start-ups, from multiple domains of maritime, AI, autonomous systems, and space, showcased their technologies to Indian and U.S. stakeholders,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement.
Speaking at the event, Frank Kendall, U.S. Secretary of the Air Force, noted that there is enormous potential for start-ups of both nations to collaborate in deep-tech innovations, especially in the Space and AI domain. INDUS-X is meant as a platform for Indian and U.S. start-ups and tech companies to collaborate for the co-development and co-production of advanced technologies.