The Joe Biden administration has given the go-ahead for GE, a global leader in military jet engines, to collaborate with India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and a commercial defence equipment manufacturer to produce GE-414 engines with a thrust of 98 kilonewtons in India. The LCA Mark II, which will be introduced by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) at the beginning of next year and enter service by the end of 2024, and the twin-engine Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft now in development will both be powered by the India-specific GE-414 INS6 engine.
While the Narendra Modi government is remaining tight-lipped about the entire project, HT has learned that the GE-414 engine will be manufactured under terms that include 100% transfer of technology (ToT), with the deal likely to be sealed during the ongoing visit of the high-level delegation led by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to the US. Doval will be meeting with US NSA Jake Sullivan for a bilateral dialogue on “Critical and Emerging Technologies.” Accompanying Doval will be the DRDO chief Samir V Kamat, the principal scientific adviser Ajay Sood, and the secretary (telecom) K Rajaram.
At a dinner held by Indian Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu and attended by high-ranking US officials like Sullivan one Monday evening, Doval stressed the importance of turning lofty goals and ideals into concrete, measurable results through the implementation of strategic, time-bound action items.
Satheesh Reddy, then-head of the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), met with Heidi Shyu, the US undersecretary of defence for research and engineering, and Terry Emmert, the principal deputy chief technology officer for mission capabilities, in May 2022, at the direction of NSA Doval.
While the 4+ generation LCA Tejas Mark I is powered by a GE-404 engine, the 4.5 generation Mark II Tejas will be powered by a GE-414 engine. The Mark II Tejas will be able to carry roughly 6.5 tonnes of missiles and ammunition, making it a suitable replacement for the Mirage 2000 and MiG-29. As a substitute for the MiG-21, the LAC Mark I has only half the operational range and war fighting capability of the Mark II and can only carry 3.5 tonnes of missiles and ammunition.
More than six squadrons’ worth of Mark II aircraft (each squadron consists of 18 aircraft) are planned for production in India for the Indian Air Force, and the country also intends to export the fighter to other countries.
ADA, the nodal organisation under DRDO for the development of LCAs, is also working on a twin-engine advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) that will be powered by the GE-414. The fighter’s naval variant, to be used by aircraft carriers, is slated to enter service by the end of the decade.
The Biden administration’s approval of GE’s request for 100% manufacturing TOT paves the way for the two countries to collaborate in the future on the design, development, and production of high-powered engines with a thrust more than 110 KN. Not only will this highlight Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Atamanirbhar Bharat” initiative, but it would also position India as a global leader in both civilian and military aircraft production.