NEW DELHI: India’s quest to develop its own multi-role supersonic fighter, the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), continues to falter even after25 years. Its heart also needs a foreign transplant surgery now to function properly.
The defence ministry has asked two leading aeroengine manufacturers, General Electric (US) and Eurojet Turbo GmbH, to submit their bids within three months to supply 99 engines, with an option for 49 more, for the Mark-II version of Tejas.
With GE F-414 INS5 and EJ-200 being the engines in contention, eight will be bought off-the-shelf, while the other 91 will be manufactured in India under transfer of technology in an estimated $600 million contract.
This comes after the indigenous Kaveri engine failed to pass muster even after two decades of development at a cost of Rs 2,839 crore. While the first 20 Tejas will be powered by GE-404 engines, the next six Tejas Mark-II squadrons (16-18 jets in each) will have the new more powerful engines.
Sounding the death knell for Kaveri, IAF has shot down the offer of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to co-develop and co-produce the “90kN thrust class of upgraded Kaveri engine” with French company Snecma to meet Tejas’ operational requirements, defence minister A K Antony told Parliament on Monday.
DRDO contended the modified Kaveri engine would provide “comparable thrust throughout the flight envelope of Tejas”. Moreover, it would require minimum changes in airframe to integrate this engine without affecting the weight and configuration of the single-seater fighter.
“IAF, however, has suggested a proven engine that is already in production and flight-worthy for meeting immediate requirements. The RFP (request for proposal) has been issued to reputed engine manufacturers,” said Antony.
Incidentally, the GE-414 and EJ-200 engines power the American F/A-18 and Eurofighter, respectively, two of the six jets in the race to bag IAF’s $10.4 billion project to acquire 126 “medium” multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).
IAF, incidentally, has ordered only 20 Tejas till now, apprehensive as it is of its capabilities since the fighter’s final operational clearance (FOC) will come only in December 2012 at the earliest.
Antony declared that high-level reviews of the Tejas project were being conducted regularly by IAF chief and deputy chief to ensure it’s completed in time.
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Aeronautical Development Agency and DRDO have, of course, faced a lot of flak for the huge delays.
Initiated as far back as 1983 at a cost of Rs 560 crore to replace ageing MiG-21s, the LCA project costs have now jumped to Rs 5,489 crore. The figure may well cross the Rs 10,000-crore mark by the time the fighter is fully ready.
IAF is certainly keeping its fingers crossed, grappling as it is with a depleting number of fighter squadrons, down to just 32 from a sanctioned strength of 39.5.
The force is banking upon the “air dominance” Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, with 230 of them being contracted from Russia in deals worth around $8.5 billion, to fulfil its need for “heavy-weight” fighters. The MMRCA will take care of the medium-weight category. Tejas, in turn, is slated to plug the light-weight fighter gap in the combat fleet.