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India To Acquire Fighter Jet Engine Technology & JV With Foreign OEM Soon: IAF Chief RKS Bhadauria

During his annual press conference on 5 September, Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria indicated the possibility of a Joint Venture(JV) in developing fighter jet aero-engine in India that will potentially set forth a new era of aerospace in India. He put his trust on home grown LCA Tejas MK1A & 5th Gen AMCA for IAF over foreign fighter jets.

Photo Credit : manish


Interacting with BW Businessworld, on the recent CAG report on the failure of Rafale Offsets and subsequent delays of the transfer of technology (TOT) for aero engine, Chief of the Indian Air Force RKS Bhadauria hinted a possible deal soon.  

There is a lot of ambiguity in this regard. What are the issue on the TOTs as French partner Safran has not been able to transfer engine technology under the offset agreement so far? Where we are now at the moment as far as engine technology is concerned?

Chief RKS Bhadauria said: “In military aerospace zone, I think the engine is the biggest problem today and that is area that we must address. DRDO has been at it as we had numerous discussion. This engine issue is a complex issue. Technology involved is complex. DRDO and all concerned be it-- Safran, Rolls Royce and others-- they have been in discussion.” Further on the CAG report and upon the question raised by the author, Chief remarked: “As you asked specifically about Safran, the technology transfer did not materialize between DRDO & Safran and that is why it is not part of Offset as yet. Should it get firmed up between the two it will become part of the offset. So our understanding on that should be clear. It is from both side. If they firm up the commitment to take the transfer of technology, and sort out the negotiations with DRDO thereafter it will become part of the offset. Offsets contracts cater for such a possibility.”

When asked whether we are building upon Kaveri engine or DRDO is developing all together new engine capability, Chief said: “In terms of what is happening on the engine, what I am aware of is that there is a concerted effort to form a JV. Kaveri (Engine) came a long way but now it is not possible to assimilate it in AMCA kind of project. So JV is what we are looking at. We will see soon that the contours of JV get fructified.”

“It is not that Kaveri has failed. Part of Kaveri has been quite successful. In terms of design and manufacturing we will of course leverage the Kaveri Know how down the line and even assimilate in future JV for aero engine,” Chief further explained the past effort of DRDO.  

“So, there will be technology that will be part of our plan and there needed technology to be built up. Since we have a tight timeline and how much should be capacity and on all that DRDO has to be finalized Chief elaborated on the sheer efforts and expertise gained such elusive technology that only very countries have been able to develop and master,” Chief said. 

Are we not leveraging on international partnership for jointly develop aero engine for fighter jets as lot many countries –  French Safran and UK’s Rolly Royce among others are offering though none has been fructified so far? So any concrete result will happen this year?  Replying on such possibilities Chief said: yes- sooner or later. “But I have been hoping for a long time,” Chief said at last, knowing the complexity and the unwillingness of foreign OEMs to transfer such coveted technology to India. 

On the multi-role fighter aircraft (MRFA)and Rafale, Chief made it clear that the IAF has placed the trust in the LCA. In the next five years we will commence induction of 83 LCA Mk1A. We are supportive of DRDO and HAL’s effort at their indigenous production and you will soon see the contract of HTT 40 and LCH in this area CAS Bhadauria said.

“At the moment, we are concentrating on 83 LCA Mk 1A. After that, the follow-up planned is MRFA (multi-role fighter aircraft), which is ‘Make in India’ and the other line is on LCA versions, and Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA),” said the IAF chief.

On India- china standoff at LAC in the Indian territory of ladakh, Chief said: “China can’t get the better of India in any conflict and the air force, with its capability and intent serving as a deterrent for the adversary, is ready to handle any contingency, whilst he acknowledged the strengths of the Chinese air force and gave a broad overview of how the IAF would counter it.”

The IAF chief said there was no question of underestimating the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) as it had made huge investments in “technology, systems and numbers”. He also spoke about the IAF’s assessment of the Chinese J-20 fifth-generation fighter aircraft, calling it “work in progress”.

Asked if the IAF had come close to launching airstrikes against Chinese targets after the June 15 Galwan Valley skirmish in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed, Bhadauria said, “No. But we were prepared for it.”

On China using air bases in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, including Skardu, and the possibility of a two-front war, the IAF chief said, “Whether China will use Skardu is an open-ended question. But if China needs Pakistan’s help to confront us, I have nothing to say. If Skardu gets used by China and we are in conflict with China, then it’s a collusive threat. And we will deal with it accordingly,” IAF chief said. He said:"We have full capability for a two-front war."

Chief also talked about the new dimensions of aerial warfare and the role of UAVs in the conflict. Chief said: “Firstly, drones are important part for ISR and gathering of reconnaissance. It is very important. Their role in the initial conflict us very important. Once the conflict starts they do become susceptible to enemy action. But you can’t win a war by sending Drones or even arms Drones. In terms of cost of Drones, it is an issue and it depends on capability. That increase in capability has its own cost. We know some system are costlier and some are not. So when we go head these will factor in final assessment. As attack weapon they have been very successful but they will be always limitation.There is combination of such asset that you need to have. We are aware of what kind of mix we should have.”

Chief said: Direct energy is in our wish list. Now we are talking about 5th generation. DRDO is working on this. By the time, we will have 5th generation fighter jets, we should aim for 6th generation technology as far as Direct Energy is concerned. This will be the best outcome in our indigenous effort.

Asked on US deployment of B-2 bomber in Indian Ocean region and if it worked as deterrent to China in restraining, IAF Chief said: “American military deployment is from their own perspectives. When we prepare we don’t plan it from our perspective. Their deployment is according to their strategic thinking. The American deployment took place without our coordination. Nobody will fight our war- we will have to fight ourselves."

Chief said India will have 450 air combat platforms.On how it builds up to Chief said: “It is not exact math but if you start counting from the current plan of action, we are acquiring 83 LCA Tejas Mk1a; 106 HTT 40, 100 LCA next generation; AMCA 7 squadrons and helicopters among others. He said the time line for LCA Tejas Mk 1a is about 4 years. AMCA is being progressed. 

“Within a decade, we will be able to get them. By 2027 we are expecting AMCA by DRDO. Another 114 MMRCA addition will take place. For some of them approvals have not happened so this is the plan of action, but if start counting number will even go beyond 450. That is a huge numbers. I don’t think anybody has committed such numbers anywhere in the world," CAS explained.

"This is the time for private sector and public sector to come together and supported by DRDO" Chief remarked on the building robust aerospace ecosystem in India as the result of such possibilities. 

On the assimilation of  indigenous technology Chief said a leading Indian IT firm has developed for IAF an electronic Maintenance Management System (e-MMS), which has all our flying platforms on it. Virtually this is the world’s largest such maintenance monitoring system and this has been a huge achievement with the private sector. "Virtually this is the world’s largest such maintenance monitoring system and this has been a huge achievement with the private sector," he said.

Despite many such platforms and indigenous effort whether IAF will be catch up to formidable number of 42 squadron? “Even we move at the fastest pace we cannot touch 40 squadron in a decade. If we get to 36 to 37 by the end of this decade, it will be good achievement” Chief said. But that is good number with our indigenous effort and technology.