Two years after the announcement of the selection of the General Electric (GE) F414 engine over the EuroJet EJ-200 engine for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk II program, India has finally signed the contract for their procurement.
However, this order, placed in October-end, is only for eight engines meant for design, development and integration onto the Mk II airframe.
After media reports in the last year repeatedly declared the conclusion of a contract for the stipulated 99 engines to be imminent, the government has finally chosen to place the initial order.
Sources in the defense ministry say the delay has been largely due to uncertainty over the feasibility of the LCA Mk II aircraft, with questions over the possibility of the integration of a new engine into the aircraft, and also the schedule for the completion of a satisfactory naval variant, the first iteration of which was denied certification by the Center for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC), last March. Besides the integration of the new engine, the naval version will also require a more robust airframe and undercarriage, among other features.
“Why would we order engines only to have them gather dust in a warehouse, if it doesn’t work out?” asked one official, who also added, “You can’t just stick the new engine into the airframe.”
While the cost of the complete order for 99 engines was said to be around USD 600 million, the value of the order for the initial eight engines is not known.
This two-year delay in ordering the engines for the LCA Mk II is being seen as an indication of the confidence of the government in the LCA Mk II program.
The former chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik had referred to the LCA Mk I as a mere advancement on the MiG-21 in January, 2011. The Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) of the Mk I aircraft has been delayed to the third quarter of 2013 and the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) is expected only in 2015.
The stipulated period for design, development and integration of the new engine onto the Mk II aircraft is 48 months, or four years.
Also interestingly, the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) laboratory, Gas Turbine Research Establishment, (GTRE) is planning to integrate the indigenous Kaveri engine onto an Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) LCA Tejas Mk I test aircraft over the next year. Neither the purpose of this test integration, nor the costs involved are clear at this point.
DRDO has earlier proposed the engine for powering Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and trains.
As of March, 2012, India had budgeted INR 11845.20 crore (INR 118.45 billion or USD 2.1 billion) for the LCA program, of which INR 5051.46 crore (INR 50.5146 billion or USD 900 million) had been spent.