India’s negotiations with French firm Snecma for the development of a production version of the indigenous Kaveri engine to power military aircraft is in the final stage of cost negotiations, Defense Minister Arackaparambil Kurian Antony told the Indian Upper House of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha Wednesday.
Negotiations with Snecma are being conducted by a tender purchase committee with members from the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Indian Air Force (IAF), the Indian Navy and the Defense Finance Department.
“It is proposed to develop production version Kaveri (K10) engine on co-design and co-development basis with Snecma of France. The technical evaluation for this proposal has been completed. Tender purchase committee is negotiating the commercial aspects,” Antony said in a written reply during question hour.
He said so far, nine prototypes of Kaveri engines and four prototypes of Kaveri Core (Kabini) engines have been developed, and about 1,975 hours of testing have been conducted on Kaveri and its core engines at ground and altitude conditions.
Kaveri engine prototype (K9) was integrated with an IL-76 aircraft at Gromov Flight Research Institute in Russia. After adequate engine ground runs, the scientists had successfully completed the taxi trials and the maiden flight test of Kaveri engine with IL-76 aircraft for over an hour on Nov 3 last year, followed by three more flight tests.
“These flight tests covered a six km altitude and a speed of 0.6 mach (0.6 times the speed of sound),” he added.
India had sanctioned the Kaveri engine development project on March 30, 1989, with a probable date of completion in December, 1996 and a cost of INR 382.81 crore. The project cost was later revised to INR 2,839 crore.
Some of the major reasons for time and cost overruns are first-time development of an engine, lack of skilled manpower in engine manufacturing, enhancement in the scope of project during development, lack of infrastructure for engine manufacture testing and component/system level testing within the country.
“Flying test bed trials was not originally included as a milestone in the project. Engine and component failure during testing, which is inevitable in these kind(s) of projects, resulted in changes in design and material based on various reviews,” Antony said.
Foreign manufacturing agencies too showed less priority for the project in view of minimum order quantity, that is the production order quantity from other engine houses.
US sanctions imposed in 1998 (after India’s nuclear tests in Pokhran under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime) affected the delivery of critical systems and components, he added.
The Kaveri engine was originally intended to power India’s indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). Since the engine could not be developed for the LCA, the aircraft was powered by the GE-F404 engine. Newer makes of the aircraft will be powered by the GE F-414 engine, after the contract was awarded to General Electric last year.
Meanwhile, PS Subramanyam, program director at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA)has been quoted as saying that the Kaveri development program would be applied to the proposed Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA) project.