India’s Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO) has confirmed that it has abandoned plans to jointly develop and produce the Kaveri military aircraft engine solely with France’s Snecma. The change in plan has come after India ordered 99 of General Electric’s F-414 engines—in preference to the Eurojet 2000 engine—for its indigenous Light Combat Aircraft Mark II program, for which the Kaveri is supposed to be an alternative powerplant. “We still need an overseas partner, but it will not be Snecma on a single-vendor basis,” CP Ramnarayanan, director of the DRDO’s Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) recently told Indian reporters. “We will select our partner through competitive bidding.”
A DRDO official told AIN on condition of anonymity that if the Kaveri partnership is retendered the contenders will be Snecma and Russia’s Saturn. “Today’s [engine] technology requires the same weight ratio to have much more power with low maintenance costs. The Russian philosophy is to make it cheaper and let maintenance be somebody else’s headache,” he commented.
However, some analysts have described the decision as a wise one given that GTRE will already get some access to technology for Snecma’s M88 engine that powers Dassault Aviation’s Rafale multirole fighter that India has selected. From an Indian perspective, this lessened the case for cooperating with Snecma on the Kaveri engine. However, according to a government defense official speaking on condition of anonymity, India will have to wait much longer for crystal blade technology, metallurgy and a full understanding of the hot section under the terms of its existing transfer of technology agreement.
What remains to be seen is whether India may now pursue an alternative Russian-led option for developing the Kaveri engine. In 2010, Russia’s Central Institute for Aviation Motors (TsIAM) conducted flight testing of a Kaveri turbofan on an Ilyushin Il-76 test bed. This research into how to achieve the desired performance was presented to the Indians, who in theory could now opt to reconsider a Russian partnership for the program.