Indian combat jet with indigenous engine further delayed

February 3rd, 2009 - 10:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Feb 3 (IANS) The Indian Air Force (IAF) may have to wait for over a decade to fly a home-grown combat jet powered by an indigenous engine as its full development and flight testing has been further delayed, a top defence official said Tuesday.”The first two LCA (light combat aircraft) squadrons consisting of 20 jets each will be fitted with General Electric (GE) engines. The subsequent squadrons (third, fourth and fifth) could fly with an upgraded version of (the indigenous) Kaveri engine,” Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Secretary M. Natarajan told reporters here.

The Kaveri engine is to be co-developed by state-owned Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) and French aeroengine manufacturer Snecma, which was short-listed in 2006. However, a formal agreement is yet to be signed for joint development, testing, transfer of technology and manufacturing.

“Discussions with Snecma have been going on for two years. Instead of going through the cycle of development all over again, we will float an RFP (Request For Proposal) to jointly develop an upgraded version of the Kaveri engine with Snecma. Development and flight testing of the new engine will take at least five-six years,” Natarajan, who is also the scientific advisor to the defence minister, admitted.

Though GTRE initiated the ambitious Kaveri project in 1989 and is estimated to have spent a whopping Rs.20 billion (Rs.2,000 crore/$408 million) over the last two decades on its design and development, insufficient thrust and excess weight have dogged its tests on the ground and in flying conditions.

The IAF, which has placed an order for 20 LCAs with the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), has expressed concerns over the low heat thrust of the GTRE-developed engine and sought its weight reduction to 1,050 kg from 1,250 kg.

“It is true that the air force is concerned with the thrust factor and excess weight of the Kaveri engine. A team of air force engineers is working with GTRE and ADA (Aeronautical Development Agency) in addressing the issues. As an on-going project, the air force will be involved at the point of integrating the upgraded version of the engine with the aircraft,” Natarajan affirmed.

Clarifying that the Kaveri project would not be shelved, Natarajan said DRDO and its associated agencies such as ADA, ADE and GTRE would work on developing a fully indigenous version for mass production of engines that would be required for the LCA project as trainer and naval versions.

“The prototypes of Tejas have already completed 1,000 flight trials. We expect initial operational clearance by December 2010. Weapon trials will begin soon. The first eight aircraft, to be manufactured by HAL in limited series production, are slated to be inducted into IAF fleet by 2011-12,” Natrajan said.

Natarajan was in the city to brief the media about an international seminar on “Aerospace - Perspectives and Trends in Technologies” to be held Feb 9-11, as part of the Aero India-2009 international air show Feb 11-15. DRDO is organising the four-day seminar in association with the Aeronautical Society of India (ASI).

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