Monday, 1 June 2015

Ashton Carter to face Indian demand for engine technology

US defence secretary visits Vizag on Tuesday, meets Parrikar on Wednesday

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st June 15

The US-India defence relationship needs an engine to drive it, say leaders on both sides. But there are different perceptions on what that engine might be.

Americans believe the engine should be the “Defence Trade and Technology Initiative” (DTTI), a high-level committee of officials from both sides that moots projects for working together, and removes bureaucratic roadblocks. In January, when President Barack Obama met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, they “emphasized the ongoing importance of the (DTTI) in developing new areas of technology cooperation”, according to a joint statement issued at that time.

Indian officials are focused on another engine --- the General Electric Aviation (GE) F-414 jet engine that will power a more powerful version of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the Tejas Mark II. The Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) wants GE to help it up-rate the F-414 engine to power India’s futuristic Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which is still on the drawing board.

So central is engine technology to India’s high-technology expectations from the US, that it was specifically cited after the Obama-Modi talks. The joint statement said that, on January 22, the DTTI agreed to “form a working group to explore aircraft carrier technology sharing and design, and explore possible cooperation on development of jet engine technology.”

Yet, the US technology control regime, which guards cutting-edge knowhow tightly, continues to treat jet engine technologies as sensitive and commercially valuable. Washington readily sold India the GE-404IN engine that powers the Tejas Mark I with 83 KiloNewtons (KN) of thrust. It also permitted the more advanced F-414 --- which will provide the Tejas Mark II with 90 KN of thrust --- to be built near Pune after GE won a contract for 99 engines in September 2010.

But India wants cutting-edge. Defence ministry sources say they want GE to partner the DRDO in upgrading the F-414 to deliver 110 KN of peak power to the AMCA, allowing its twin-engines to deliver 220 KN of peak power to the fighter.

GE is sees enormous commercial benefits in this co-development, which would capture the engine market for 200 Tejas and 200 AMCA. Since a fighter engine’s life is about 1,500 hours and the aircraft itself lasts 5,000-6,000 hours, each fighter consumes 3.5 engines during its service life. GE is looking at supplying 700 engines for the Tejas and 1,400 for the AMCA over their service lives.

Yet, developing an advanced F-414 engine in India would require GE to part with valuable technologies, particularly in the high-melting-point alloys that make the combustion chamber. Engine designers say an output of 90 KN requires the combustion chamber to be built of materials that withstand temperatures of 1,800 degrees Kelvin. Achieving engine output of 110 KN would generate 2,000 degrees Kelvin in the combustion chamber. Washington remains reluctant to share these technologies, even after committing to jointly exploring cooperation.

“The DTTI should facilitate US permissions, especially with a working group in place for engine technology. But we are getting signals this may not happen”, says a top DRDO scientist.

Indian officials see advantage in dealing with GE through government-to-government channels, a more flexible and faster mechanism. There is also benefit in having GE as a single partner for Tejas Mark I, Mark II and AMCA engines, which GE keenly wants too. Even so, Indian officials say that US government foot-dragging might leave no choice but an international tender that brings in European companies like Snecma and Eurojet.

At stake here is the Indian military and civil aero engine market, which internal DRDO estimations reckon to be worth Rs 3,50,000 crore over coming decades.

“How the Americans react on Wednesday will tell us how serious they are about technology partnership with India”, says a top defence ministry bureaucrat.

“So far they have treated the DTTI as a channel to help American companies to bypass competitive procurement and multi-vendor tenders. But we will allow that only when there are clear technology benefits for India”, he added.

Before his meetings in New Delhi on Wednesday, Carter will be stopping at Visakhapatnam on Tuesday, on his way in from Singapore, where he will visit the navy’s Eastern Naval Command. With the “joint working group” also exploring US cooperation in building India’s next aircraft carrier, INS Vishal, Carter will listen keenly to his briefings on India’s operational doctrines.

Besides the two working groups, the DTTI has committed to US-India cooperation in developing and manufacturing four pieces of military equipment as “pathfinder projects”. These include the Cheel micro-drone that infantry platoons can launch to view the battlefield; roll-on, roll-off kits for the C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft, which are changeable interiors that allow the C-130J to be quickly configured for different missions, e.g. para-dropping, cargo-carrying, medical evacuation, etc; a mobile electric hybrid power source for various utilisations; and protective clothing for soldiers operating in a nuclear, chemical or biologically contaminated battlefield.

Carter played a leading role in establishing the DTTI when then Defence Secretary Leon Panetta proposed it in June 2012. He co-chaired the DTTI along with former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon. The DTTI is now cho-chaired by Frank Kendall, an Under Secretary of Defence; and India’s defence secretary, G Mohan Kumar.


Gagan said...

Is the IN planning on giving him a tour of the INS Arihant, since it is probably docked at Vizag?

One way for India to build trust hain ji?

Viv S said...

An interesting article that went completely wonky at "fighter engine’s life is about 1,500 hours".

You're thinking of Russian engines that have miserable service lives and MTBOs even for their latest products. In contrast, Western types have have been able to match and very often exceed the service life of the airframe, for decades now. The latest F135 engine (on the F-35) is guaranteed to an equivalent of 8,000hrs of operations (NATO AFs clock usage in engine cycles not hours).

Our Mirages are another apt example of that. Thirty years of operations on the same engine. With no re-engening included in the ongoing MLU, the engine will continue to run for another 15 years.

Ranjit Tiwary said...

Yes This technology is need of hour. Hope Americans agree. I think for them it makes perfect business sense.

Rajan said...

Well, Carter may/may not agree to share the engine technology. It shouldn't be taken with such intense expectation. As it is, there are many engine manufacturers which are salivating at this prospect of nearly 60 billion usd market. GE's loss would be their fortune. So let it become an open tender because that's how you come to know that F-18 is inferior to Rafale. Let the best engine and better firm win the engine contracts too.

Girish said...

Its silly to expect this, it will never happen. Indians will have to stand on their own feet.

Anonymous said...

Submarines and jets are game changers, so they need to be the highest tech available. German and Japanese subs are the among the best available and US jets or the tech are the best options. India should get these weapons for its defense.

kulari94 said...

stupid idea

Abhiman said...


Seriously, are we fooling ourselves ? Why should we expect the US to just give away their top-secret technologies to India ? They've spent decades and many billions of dollars in perfecting this technology. They have the absolute right to keep the cards close to their chests, and only export the finished product i.e. the GE-F414 engine.

If India thinks it will threaten the spectre of deteriorating relations, were engine tech. not be handed over to them, its dead wrong. Keeping your top-secret technology -- for which you've laboured hard -- is your right, and gives your nation a well-deserved technological and military edge.

The US can read the riot act to India, and tell it to bugger off.


What will eventually happen is what happened in case of the older GE-F404. US will only export these to India (without Tech. transfer) for its Tejas Mk.2; American engineers will help in their integration on a new fighter jet. There won't be any issue over spare parts though, unlike in case of Russian hardware, which was a nightmare (pun intended).

Parthasarathi said...

According to the website of GE. ( they have aleatory developed a 116 KN. thrust class F414 engine. Named F 414 enhanced engine ! So they have the technology but whether they will share it with us or not is another question ! Just for a info. Gripen's engine is licence built. ( Swedish Volvo licence make) So technology sharing is nothing new to GE.
Another point " fighter engine’s life is about 1,500 hours" that may be true for Russians engines like RD 33 ( Mig 29 ) but not so sure about the western engines ! It is just assumption. Though the TBO. of of western engines is around 1000 Hrs. But they overhaul the engine not changing !

Anonymous said...

Totally wrong on the Engine life. The F414 requires overhauls at 4000 hours (aprox) now.

Anonymous said...

Mr Shukla, a nice article as always but you have a glaring mistake in your assessment of modern western engine life. The General Electric F414 engine has a long turbine life that is designed around the airframe itself. The overhauls for the existing of the shelf General Electric F414s has been set at approximately 4000 cycles, which translates to between 3000 and 4000 hours of average fighter use. A cycle can be anywhere between 1 hour to 1.5 hour depending how many throttle movements are performed etc. Once the engine is overhauled it is inspected again at 6000 cycles (or an additional 1500-2000 hours of usage), and then overhauled as and when required. The west has long required jet engines for high end combat aircraft to have a life that tracks well with the airframe design life.

Early in this Century, GE developed a new compressor for the GE F414 family that would have extended the overhaul period from 4000 cycles to 6000 cycles (approximately 5000-6000 hours of use) and have been offering this as the Enhanced Durability upgrade option for existing GE F414 engines. The larger engines for the F-15 and F-16 family have already been upgraded to 6000 hour overhaul.

The higher thrust engine that India is seeking, will reduce the overhaul from 4000 hours to 2000 hours since the thrust increase from 22 thousand to 26 thousand is achieved partly because if higher temperatures in the core, however the overall life of the engine should remain unchanged (just more maintenance would be added because of higher performance).

Abhiman said...

Mr. Parthasarathi, licence-production is not the same as technology transfer. It only means GE taught Volvo how to 'fix the screws' in a GE-F414 engine.

Anonymous said...

Few corrections in this article

- MTBO of a GE 414 engine is 2000+ hours and several programs are under-way (EDE) to increase this to 4000 hours and beyond.
- Wet Thrust rating of the F414-GE-INS6 (LCA Mk2 power plant) will be in the high nineties KN range. Dry thrust will be near 68 KN.
- GE has already developed an EPE (Enhanced Performance Engine) version of GE 414 which provides 20% thrust increase (80 KN Dry & 114 KN Wet Thrust) by using a two stage blade-disk fan. The other option is to increase MTBO in lieu of the increased thrust. There was also an earlier version called the EDE (Enhanced Durability Engine) which provided a 15% thrust increase.

Also, Wet thrust is not a very useful concept as it is only used upon emergency. Fuel consumption for producing Wet Thrust is on an average 6-8X over Dry thrust. Not sure why Indian website salivate over wet thrust.

Can you share what happened to the Indian jet program (Kaveri)? Last i heard, it was producing lesser-than-designed-thrust and was overweight by 150 kgs but India had developed certain key jet engine technologies!!! Why isn't the Kaveri being put on a Mig 29 and tested big time??

Anonymous said...

India always aspired to get technology from abroad for defence equipment. The expectations appears to be more from western countries including US. During last decade, a majority of defence contracts have been finalized with American companies especially Boeing & Lockheed with 30% Offset. A lot of contracts also have been signed on Govt to Govt basis. Govt of India pays 15-20% extra for Offsets. Insignificant technology or work has come to India in the name of Offsets. These should be investigated. It's high time Indian Govt should start dictating its terms and conditions to get technology and work in the areas we need. China has done it for commercial aircraft and developed its own regional jets.

DRDO bureaucracy is highly irresponsible and has done very little. LCA, LCH, ALH should be inducted in armed forces immediately on topmost priority. HAL and other defence PSU's should be put under administrative and functional control of Armed forces. Export of Steel, Aluminum and Titanium ores should be stopped and only finished state of material vis Rods, sheets, plates etc should be exported. Govt should create infrastructure to set up production facility for high grade materials required to produce high tech equipment.

We need some strategic planning and decision for make in India.