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US Revives Offer To Co-develop AMCA Fighter Jet Engine With India

American turnaround overrides “export control” concerns which aborted an earlier bid for collaboration on jet engine technology through DTTI in 2019

Photo Credit : ADA

1656342275_bxXXZu_AMCA_1.jpeg

A graphic illustration of India’s futuristic Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA)

The US has revived an offer to cooperate with India on the development of jet engine technology which could be used to power India’s futuristic Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). 

General Electric (GE) of the US, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of jet engines, has submitted a proposal for the co-development of a 110 kn thrust engine with Indian agencies. 

Top military sources have confirmed to BW Businessworld that GE is being considered along with Safran of France and Rolls Royce of the UK for collaboration on the AMCA engine. 

“The options for a tie-up are open from among the three contenders. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is the lead agency and a private Indian entity is also likely to be involved in the programme,” sources disclosed.

The revival of US interest in the fighter engine programme is significant. An earlier proposal for collaboration on jet engine technology under the India-US Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) was suspended in October 2019 on account of American reluctance to share core or hot engine technology. A joint working group on jet engine technology under the DTTI framework was thereafter disbanded.

The suspension of cooperation on jet engines was announced in New Delhi by Ellen Lord, the then US Under Secretary of Defence for Acquisition and Sustainment who was the co-chair of the India-US DTTI. 

“We did run into challenges in terms of US export controls,” she had then acknowledged. Lord said the two sides could not come to an understanding of what exportable technologies would be useful to India. 

There’s been simultaneous interest expressed by Safran and Rolls Royce for the engine co-development programme. These bids are energetically supported by their respective Governments.

Industry watchers read the US turnaround as a bid to retain its lead in powering India’s indigenous fighter jet programme, a position it does not wish to cede to European engine makers. The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas is powered by the GE-F404 engine, which has an 85 kn thrust. India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA)’s plans for the LCA Tejas Mk-2, AMCA Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft and the Twin Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF) are also closely woven around the 98 kn thrust GE-F414 engine. Several hundred of these aircraft will be produced. 

Only when the AMCA programme matures to the Mk-2 level does the ADA envisage switching from a GE-F414 to an indigenous engine with a higher 110 kn thrust. It is for the development of that engine that India is seeking foreign collaboration. The AMCA Mk-2 production timelines commence around 2035. ADA also plans powering subsequent batches of the 26-ton TEDBF with the same indigenous engine as the AMCA’s.

The revival of the GE bid to co-develop the AMCA engine coincides with the development of an "Enhanced Performance Engine" or "EPE" variant of the GE-F414 for the US Navy. "The Enhanced Performance Engine includes a new core and a redesigned fan and compressor. It offers up to a 20 per cent thrust boost, increasing it to 26,400 pounds (120 kN), giving an almost 11:1 thrust/weight ratio,” it’s been stated. This matches or slightly exceeds the requirement for the AMCA Mk-2. Hence, GE will be ready with technologies required for a 110 kn engine required by India.

Sources also disclosed that the EPE will have the same dimensions as the original GE-F414 variant. Hence, no modifications will be required to the air frame for fitment or retro-fitment on the initial variants of the AMCA, the TEDBF and even the Tejas Mk-2. India, of course, doesn’t seek a hand-me-down solution but wants to gain knowhow and know why through this programme to design, develop and produce jet engines on its own in the future.