Can LCA Tejas Be Turned Into Rafale Jets If All Goes Well Between Indian & French Tech Giants?

Despite India inching ahead in its drive to build an indigenous fifth-generation fighter jet, the DRDO has continued to suffer setbacks in a critical technology that could make India one of very players to develop a fully indigenous fighter jet.

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The biggest challenge that India faces in the development of a fighter jet engine or even the acquisition of the technology due to the absence of foreign partners.

However, India could soon be able to solve the conundrum, according to India’s Chief of Air Staff, RKS Bhadauria, who said that the country’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has been in negotiations with France’s Safran and Britain’s Rolls Royce among many.

In a report tabled in the Indian Parliament last month, the country’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) stated that under the offset contract related to the $8.7 billion deal for 36 Rafale jets, French aerospace major Dassault Aviation and European missile maker MBDA have till date “not confirmed” the transfer of technology for the indigenous development of an engine for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) by DRDO.

     “It is not clear if this technology transfer will take place, and there is need for MoD/DRDO to identify and acquire the right technologies in order to comply with the directions of Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) given in September 2016,” said CAG’s report.

With India currently embroiled in a conflict in Eastern Ladakh with China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for lesser dependence on foreign nations by supporting the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ (Self-Reliant India) and ‘Make in India’ mission, having seen Beijing sail ahead with the development of indigenously produced fighters.

Under the initiative, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has rolled out plans to build an advanced multi-role fighter which would be powered by a new indigenously produced engine and home developed weapon systems.

HAL Tejas | Until formally named the Tejas, the project was … | Flickr
HAL Tejas

While the plans have been stalled due to the failure of Rafale Offsets and subsequent delays of the transfer of technology (TOT) for the aero engine, Bhaduaria has said the program could yet kick off soon.

      “In the military aerospace zone, I think the engine is the biggest problem today and that is an area that we must address. DRDO has been at it as we had numerous discussions. This engine issue is a complex issue. The technology involved is complex. DRDO and all concerned be it– Safran, Rolls Royce and others– they have been in discussion.” said Bhadauria.

The Indian Air Chief, while speaking about French multinational aircraft engine developers, Safran’s role, said,

      “As you asked specifically about Safran, the technology transfer did not materialize between DRDO & Safran and that is why it is not part of Offset as yet. Should it get firmed up between the two it will become part of the offset. So our understanding on that should be clear,”

         It is from both sides. If they firm up the commitment to take the transfer of technology and sort out the negotiations with DRDO thereafter it will become part of the offset. Offsets contracts cater to such a possibility.”

Bhadauria also clarified concerns over the revival of the stalled Kaveri engine programme, stating that efforts are underway to look for a joint venture.

       “In terms of what is happening on the engine, what I am aware of is that there is a concerted effort to form a JV. Kaveri (Engine) came a long way but now it is not possible to assimilate it in AMCA kind of project. So JV is what we are looking at. We will see soon that the contours of JV get fructified,”

          It is not that Kaveri has failed. Part of Kaveri has been quite successful. In terms of design and manufacturing, we will of course leverage the Kaveri know-how down the line and even assimilate in future JV for aero engine,”

           So, there will be technology that will be part of our plan and there needed technology to be built up. Since we have a tight timeline and how much should be the capacity and on all that DRDO has to be finalized Chief elaborated on the sheer efforts and expertise gained such elusive technology that only very countries have been able to develop and master.” said Bhadauria.

French engine manufacturer Safran is expected to offer complete technology transfer to develop the engine and to use the offset credits from the French Dassault Rafale deal. It is also looking to accept a deal with HAL for the transfer of manufacturing technology for high-end engines.

The new engines will equip the future squadrons of the Indian Air Force, so essentially Indian AMCA (fifth-gen fighters) or even the advanced versions of LCA Tejas could be equipped with equally potent engines like what the latest jets like Rafales or Mirages are using, a defence expert told the EurAsian Times.