Thursday, October 7, 2010

Price Talks Imminent On GE F414 Engine For Indian LCA

Programs

Aerospace Daily & Defense Report Oct 07 , 2010 , p. 02
Neelam Mathews

NEW DELHI — Price negotiations will begin soon for 99 General Electric F414 fighter jet engines selected to power the Mk II version of the Indian Air Force’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).

India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) awarded the contract on Oct. 1, and it is expected to be signed in a few months (Aerospace DAILY, Oct. 1).

The F414 engine was in the running along with the EuroJet EJ-200. The contract’s value cannot be confirmed until it is finalized, a Defense Research Development Organization spokesman says. “We could always go for more [engines],” he adds.

The selection follows earlier GE engine buys for the Indian Air Force (IAF). In 2007, India purchased 24 F404 GE engines, and in 2004 the country bought 17 F404 engines to power a limited series of operational production aircraft and LCA naval prototypes.

The F414-GE-INS6 is the highest-thrust F414 model. It boasts Full Authority Digital Electronic Control (FADEC) and additional single-engine safety features. “GE keeps infusing the latest technology,” a company official says. “If, for instance, we have a version 12 of the blade, the customer gets just that.”

Helping seal the deal was GE’s offer to provide increased technical manpower and base workers in India to help develop the engine, officials said.

The contract requires 8-10 engines to be provided in fly-away condition, with the rest to be delivered in semi-knocked-down condition and assembled in India. The agreement also contains a 30% offset clause and will tap some of the 24 Indian companies that GE has certified. “The deliveries will depend on when the development phase of the LCA is over,” and official says.

A remaining point of contention is the technology transfer clause.

“The requirement and conditions were not clear,” an engine manufacturer says. “You cannot offer a product unless you know how it will be used. Besides, you need to consider which of the two technologies are more advanced.”

GE requires U.S. government clearance for transfer of technology. “We can almost be sure there will be no transfer of crystal blades of the F414,” an analyst says.

India has expressed interest in the F/A-18 and F-16 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), which can carry an active electronically scanned array radar.

There is speculation that the F414 decision is a sign that either the Gripen or F/A-18 — both contenders in India’s program for 126 MMRCAs — will gain a competitive edge. But since the engine comprises 20% of the total aircraft order’s cost, “this will not impact nor provide a financial advantage.

The two contracts are not connected with each other at all,” IAF chief V.K. Naik says.

Indian industry says it is looking forward to working with GE in honoring its offset requirements. Quest Global signed an memorandum of understanding with GE a month ago to source assets for the F414.

The company says it hopes to be involved in the project by using its current capability in engine design and components manufacturing.

“GE has a strong sourcing strategy ... and we are a part of it. We see Quest supplying seals, casings and engine accessories [for fuel systems] to GE,” says Nagabhushana Junjappa, Quest’s vp for strategy.

While the LCA Mk2 has been slated for production by 2014, that is seen as a distant dream, an analyst says. The new aircraft’s fuselage and components need to be modified and put through armament tests, and the behavioral patterns of the aircraft will change accordingly. The LCA Mk 2 also will need to undergo at least four technology demonstrators that will delay military commissioning beyond 2014, the analyst said.

India also has been in discussions to develop Kaveri, an indigenous engine, for the LCA. Technology and assistance discussions were held with Snecma last week. The Kaveri requires greater thrust and a reduction in weight, a spokesman says.

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