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Defence Diary: Rajnath Singh-Safran CEO Meeting is a Step Towards India’s Search For Indigenous Fighter Jet Engines

Story Highlights
  • According to the Safran website, more than 250 units of the engine are currently in use and are supplied to all new-generation HAL rotorcraft.
  • The jet engine's turbine blades, which experience extremely high temperatures while the aircraft is in flight, are a crucial part of the jet engine

India wants to become self-reliant in a crucial area of the defence industry, and the meeting between Safran Group CEO Olivier Andries and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday indicated progress in that direction.

Andries not only disclosed the French company’s plans to establish an MRO facility in India to repair and overhaul LEAP-1A and LEAP-1B engines for domestic and international commercial airlines, but it also appeared that “significant progress” had been made in getting Safran to transfer the technology needed to produce the engines for India’s advanced 6.5-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which was promised as part of Rafale offset contracts. Over the past few decades, India has failed to develop an indigenous combat aircraft engine.

Safran is one of the major original equipment manufacturers of cutting-edge jet engines for combat and commercial aircraft. Since 2016, there have been negotiations between the two nations to purchase the jet engine technology.

The CEO of Safran briefly described his company’s long-term goal for “co-development and co-production of advanced jet engines and transfer of technology as per the existing policy of Government of India,” according to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry. Rajnath Singh encouraged Safran for additional co-development and co-production projects in India, noting the significance India places on the strategic alliance with France.

Safran has offered to transfer the technology for aeroplane engines using offset credits from the Rafale contract. According to insiders, the price talks between the two parties over the technology transfer for a 110-kN (kilo Newton) engine will last for a while longer, but the meeting on Tuesday was a precursor to this and there was a lot of “forward progress” on this front.

If the agreement is finalised, this will represent India’s “Aatmanirbharta” in the crucial field of aircraft engine development. It will also serve as further evidence of India and France’s expanding defence partnership, as very few nations would consent to the transfer of such a vital technology.

The fact that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and the Safran group previously collaborated to develop the Shakti engine, which powers the Dhruv and Light Combat Helicopters used by the Indian Army and Indian Air Force, also contributes to the trust.

According to the Safran website, more than 250 units of the engine are currently in use and are supplied to all new-generation HAL rotorcraft.

Why getting aircraft engine technology will be a game-changer

In the recent decades, India has struggled to produce a combat aircraft engine. The General Electric F404 engine powers India’s domestic light combat jet, the Tejas Mark 1A, while the Tejas Mark 2 will use the more powerful General Electric F-414 engine.

India is not by itself. Only a small number of nations, including China, produce cutting-edge aeroplane engines. Quality issues, however, have even affected Chinese aircraft engines.

According to aviation specialists, France continues to be the world’s leading engine producer and has proven its capabilities in a variety of environments, including glaciers and deserts.

Manufacturing aircraft engines is a very specialised job, and perhaps that’s why so few countries have been able to develop it, according to an aviation specialist who chose to maintain his anonymity.

The jet engine’s turbine blades, which experience extremely high temperatures while the aircraft is in flight, are a crucial part of the jet engine. This necessitates the use of turbine blades made of premium materials that can maintain their structural integrity at such high temperatures, the engineer stated.

The ambitious Kaveri jet engine programme in India was also unable to get off the ground due to metallurgical problems and the difficultly in producing the engines. These engines are currently being modified for use in drone testing. However, cryogenic rocket engines have been successfully developed by India.

Steps towards self-reliance in defence

India has made important strides toward creating “Aatmatnirbharta” in the field of defence. A number of virtually finalised Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) agreements and contracts have being reviewed to see if they can be acquired domestically instead. Additionally, India raised its goal for domestic purchases to 68% of the capital expenditure given for the current fiscal year.

The three services are making serious efforts to become independent. Vice Admiral SN Ghormade, the vice chief of the naval staff, reaffirmed the Navy’s commitment to Aatmanirbhar Bharat on Tuesday. Among other things, he said that the contract for the long-delayed carrier-based fighter jets will strive to assist the ecosystem of the Indian defence sector.

The Army has also been trying to buy from Indian suppliers the majority of the time. The Army issued two Requests for Interest (RFIs) in the past week to find domestic suppliers for sniper rifles and light armoured multipurpose vehicles. The majority of its emergency purchases over the past two years have come from local suppliers.

There is no doubting that, notwithstanding the campaign for “Aatmanirbharta,” the signing of the agreement by India to acquire aircraft engine technology to domestically produce engines would be a game-changer. The accomplishment will change the course of India’s defense-related self-reliance and shine a focus on its accomplishment.

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