Saturday, October 9, 2010

Partnership Progress

India Advances LCA Engine, T-50 Fighter Programs
Aviation Week & Space Technology Oct 11 , 2010 , p. 29
Robert Wall
Neelam Mathews
New Delhi

Fighter and engine talks spotlight India’s multifaceted defense industrial policy

The Indian government’s commitment to buy 250-300 Russian T-50 fighters and its decision to acquire General Electric F414 engines for its ­Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) underscore its long-term plan to maintain a range of international partnerships.

Russia and India have been in talks about cooperative development and production of the T-50—also known as PAK FA—for some time, with Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony now saying there are no more roadblocks to a deal going forward. “Within the next few months, the agreement will be signed. We have sorted out all issues and have found satisfactory agreements,” he said following a meeting of the India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission.

A draft of the T-50 contract is underway, adds Anatoly Serdyukov, Russia’s defense minister. The deal has an estimated value of $25 billion or more, with Indian officials assuming a cost of $100 million per unit.

Sukhoi, which first flew its low-observable-design T-50 on Jan. 29, and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. would be the main industrial partners. Sukhoi projects the T-50 could be ready for operational use in Russia by 2015. Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Naik, the Indian air force leader, says the FGFA (fifth-generation fighter aircraft, as it is being called in India) could be fielded in 2017.

Even as India develops its domestic industrial capacity, it is joining with Russia on a second air force project—the Multirole Transport Aircraft. They reaffirmed their commitment to develop it during the talks last week. Last month, they completed the relevant joint venture agreement, with India planning to buy 45.

The T-50 deal is unrelated to India’s competition for a new fighter—the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA)—a program for which U.S., European and Russian manufacturers are squaring off to supply at least 126 aircraft.

Naik also insists that the decision to buy the F414 engine for the LCA “will not impact nor provide a financial advantage” in the MMRCA contest. The GE engine also powers the Boeing F/A-18E/F and Saab Gripen NG, both MMRCA competitors.

Nevertheless, others view the selection of the F414-GE-IN56 as key. India’s Aeronautical Development Agency selected the GE engine, a derivative of the F414-GE-400, over the Eurojet EJ200 on Oct. 1. Contract negotiations are expected to wrap up this fall.

Companies with strong ties to Indian industry are considered to have an advantage in meeting India’s demanding defense-contract offset requirements. Since the fighter’s powerplant represents 20% of its overall value, GE is seen as being in a strong situation to play up its connections to Indian industry established over the LCA as it relates to the MMRCA contest.

GE beat out Eurojet because of the former’s experience on the LCA Mk. 1 development, including selection of 17 F404 powerplants in 2004 for a limited series of operational production models and naval prototypes. In 2007, an additional 24 were ordered. GE’s engine package included increasing technical personnel based in India to help develop the Indian engine variant.

The -IN56’s thrust is to exceed the 22,000-lb. maximum power level of the -400, and it will be equipped with a full-authority digital engine control.

Indian industry and partners with a major presence in India expect to benefit from the GE win. Quest Global, an engineering consultancy with offices in India and eight other countries, signed a memorandum with GE in September to help provide assets for the engine.

“We see Quest supplying seals, casings and engine accessories” for fuel systems, says Nagabhushana Junjappa, vice president and head of strategy.

GE is to deliver 8-10 fly-away engines for LCA, with the rest to be shipped as kits to India. The engine maker is expected to tap some of the 24 Indian companies it has certified for engine work. “Deliveries will depend on when the development phase of the LCA is over,” says a company official.

One issue still to be fully resolved relates to technology transfer. “The requirement and conditions were not clear,” says an official with knowledge of the contract.

Technology transfers will be governed by U.S. law. Noting restrictions placed on transfers related to technology used in the active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that is available on both the F/A-18 and Lockheed Martin F-16 competing for the multirole fighter contract, one analyst says India will not have access to proprietary technology on the engines. “We can almost be sure that there will be no transfer of crystal blades [for] the F414,” he says.

The LCA Mk. 2 is slated for production by 2014, but that date is considered optimistic since its fuselage has yet to be certified and components have not begun armament tests.

GE’s engine is technically only the alternate offering for the LCA. The Indian Defense Research and Development Organization is overseeing the GTRE GTX-35VS Kaveri for the fighter. But continued development snags with the Kaveri opened the door to an offshore supplier. The engine is underpowered and over weight, with its status uncertain. However, discussions about improving it were held last week with Snecma.

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