Monday, January 31, 2011

Price negotiations for JV for fighter engine in advanced stage

India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) expects to close price negotiations in a month for a joint venture (JV) with French engine maker Snecma to develop gas turbine engines that would power the Indian Air Force’s light combat aircraft (LCA).The move to partner Snecma follows DRDO’s failure to develop sufficiently powerful engines on its own after spending Rs.2,880 crore over two decades on the project.
While Snecma will bring in critical technology for the hot engine core, DRDO’s Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) will work on the cold sections around it.
“GTRE will have 50% technology work-share and Snecma will have the other half. We will be closing price negotiations within a month,” said Prahlada, chief controller, research and development, DRDO, who goes by one name.
GTRE will obtain complete know-how and intellectual property rights for the engine, Prahlada added. After the closure and approval from the cabinet committee on security, work will begin in three months and the engine will be designed and built in four years, another GTRE official said, requesting anonymity.
The Kaveri engine, developed by GTRE, is undergoing trials in Russia and is nowhere near developing the level of thrust needed to power the LCA. The Kaveri has a thrust of around 65 kilo newton (kN), while 90 kN or more is required to power the LCA for optimal performance. The engine is also much heavier than specified. Nonetheless, some of the technologies and components developed for the Kaveri will be used in the JV.
Because of the delay in developing the Kaveri, India opted for American GE-404 engines. The current Mk-I LCAs are flying with the GE-404 IN20, although even these do not meet original requirement specifications for levels of thrust for the LCA. In October, DRDO selected the more powerful GE-414 as the alternative engine for LCA Mk-II.
Prahlada declined to reveal the estimated cost of the Snecma-GTRE project, but said the new engine will be comparable in pricing and performance to the GE-414. DRDO plans to replace the GE engines on the LCA Mk-I with the Snecma-GTRE engine. “We have plans to fit the engine on all platforms, including the proposed advanced medium combat aircraft and unmanned combat air vehicle,” Prahlada said.
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd will manufacture the engines in India. Prahlada said the agreement is to make 100 engines in the first batch.
Ratan Shrivastava, director for aerospace and defence practice for South and West, Frost and Sullivan, said the project’s value lay in the fact that India will finally have a flying fighter engine of its own, albeit with a foreign partner.

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