Months after United States’s defence giant GE Aeronautics signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the US Congress has given clearance to the deal for manufacturing F414 jet engines in India for HAL’s Light Combat Aircraft Tejas Mark 2. The MoU was signed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a two-day state visit to the US in June this year.
The US Congress has now given the Biden-led government approval to pursue the GE jet engine deal with India, making the way for the execution of the agreement with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which includes unprecedented technology transfer, jet engine manufacturing in India, along with licencing arrangements.
It is pertinent to note that with India and the US signing this deal, India became the fifth country in the world to produce jet engines, joining the United States, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom. The deal will not only bolster India’s military capabilities and expand defence production, the deal will also assist in replacing India’s ageing fighter fleet.
As reported earlier, GE Aerospace would transfer 80% of its technology to India for the manufacture of F414 fighter jet engines under this agreement. Under the Transfer of Technology (ToT) provision, both the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, which is now under construction and will have twin engines, and the LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) Mark II will be powered by the India-specific GE-F414 INS6 engine, which will be introduced by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) early next year and enter service by the end of 2024.
Although the MoU was signed when PM Modi was in the US in June itself, however, according to the process, the State Department notified the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 28. If, for 30 days after the notification, no Congressional representative or Senator objects, it is treated as assent. Quoting an anonymous source close to the development, the Hindustan Times reported that there has been no objection to the deal. “The administration can go ahead with the next steps.”
Following the signing of the MoU in June this year, GE Aerospace issued a statement giving details of the momentous deal. “Today’s agreement will advance GE Aerospace’s earlier commitment to build 99 engines for the Indian Air Force as part of the LCA Mk2 program. It puts the company in a strong position to create a family of products in India, including the F404 engine that currently powers the LCA Mk1 and LCA Mk1A aircraft and GE Aerospace’s selection for the prototype development, testing and certification of the AMCA program with our F414-INS6 engine, the release stated.
Both countries are anticipated to discuss the next steps in moving the deal forward during President Joe Biden’s visit to India for the G20 conference in September.
The 4.5 generation Mark II Tejas, which would replace the Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 aircraft and carry roughly 6.5 tonnes of missiles and munitions, will be powered by the GE-F414 engine in place of the 4+ generation LCA Tejas Mark I’s GE-404 engine. A replacement for the MiG-21, the LAC Mark I can only carry 3.5 tonnes of missiles and ammunition and has half the operational range and warfighting capability of the Mark II.
For the Indian Air Force, India intends to construct more than six squadrons (each squadron has 18 aircraft), and it also intends to export the fighters to other interested nations.
The twin-engine Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) being developed by ADA, the nodal agency under DRDO for the development of LCAs, will likewise be powered by the GE-F414 engine. The aircraft’s carrier-based navy version of the fighter is anticipated to take to the skies by the end of this decade.
Some other fighter planes powered by the F414 engine include Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Boeing E/A-18G Growler and Saab JAS 39E/F Gripen NG.
India is using the American engine for the indigenous aircraft after the setbacks in developing an indigenous jet engine, with the project to develop the Kaveri engine not giving the expected results. However, a version of the Kaveri engine is being used to power the Ghatak drone.
Apart from this, India has also decided to develop a jet engine in collaboration with France. France company Safran and DRDO will be working jointly in this project.