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The US has resurfaced with its 2019 proposal to collaborate with India to develop the AMCA jet engine, allaying fears about “export control.”

One of the top jet engine producers in the world, General Electric (GE) of the US, has proposed developing a 110 kN thrust engine for the stealth fighter in collaboration with Indian agencies.

A proposal from the US to work with India on the creation of jet engine technology that might be utilised to power the MK-2 version of India’s futuristic Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft has been revived (AMCA).

One of the top jet engine producers in the world, General Electric (GE) of the US, has proposed developing a 110 kN thrust engine for the stealth fighter in collaboration with Indian agencies.

The foundation of this offer of collaboration will be technologies created for a 116 kN thrust derivative of the F414 engine from GE, according to Youngje Kim, vice president of GE Aviation’s Military Systems Operation for the Asia-Pacific Region.

“All technologies previously asked for by the government of India will be offered,” Kim announced. India had earlier sought the core engine or hot section technology for jet engines under the India-US Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) but was turned down.

Export Regulation Worries

After the US alleged export control problems in transmitting this technology, that endeavour was unsuccessful. Following that, in October 2019, a collaborative working group on jet engine technology under the DTTI framework was dissolved.

The US has completed its turnaround, which is timed to coincide with two ongoing Indian purchases of fighter jets from the international market and the beginning of indigenous development and manufacturing of hundreds of fighter jets over the next two decades.

So, what drove the US capitulation? “The defence relationship with India is strategically important for the US. Things have changed,” said Kim, while indicating that cutting-edge capability of GE’s Jack Welch Technology Centre at Bangalore could be leveraged for the AMCA jet engine program.

Industry observers interpret the US’s about-face as a move to maintain its control over the engines that power India’s domestic fighter aircraft programme, a position it does not want to relinquish to European engine manufacturers. The GE-F404 engine, with an 85kN thrust, powers the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) TEJAS. The 98kN thrust GE-F414 engine is a key component of India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) designs for the TEJAS MK-2, AMCA Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, and the Twin Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF). There will be many hundred of these aircraft built.

The ADA does not see transitioning from a GE-F414 to an indigenous engine with a greater 110kn thrust until the AMCA programme reaches the MK-2 level of maturity. India is looking for international cooperation to develop that engine. Around 2035 is when the AMCA MK-2 production schedules start. The same homegrown engine as the AMCA’s will also power following batches of the 26-ton TEDBF, according to ADA.

The GE-F414 “Enhanced Performance Engine” or “EPE” type is being developed for the US Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler fleet at the same time that the company is reviving its effort to co-develop the AMCA engine. The EPE increases the thrust by 18% to 116kN thanks to a new core, modified fan, and compressor. This complies with or surpasses the specifications for the AMCA Mk-2.

The EPE will be the same size as the original GE-F414 model, according to sources as well. Therefore, no alterations to the air frame are necessary for the original iterations of the AMCA, TEDBF, or even TEJAS MK-2 to be fitted or retrofitted. Of course, India doesn’t want a hand-me-down answer; instead, it wants to learn how and why through this programme in order to one day design, develop, and manufacture jet engines independently.

A Deal Is Being Made

GE’s development has been consistent. Kim stated, “We anticipate signing a contract for almost 100 F414-GE-INS6 very soon. This comes after the recent TEJAS MK-2 programme government approval. The engine manufacturer and Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) agreed to a $716 million deal in 2021 for 99 F404 engines to power the 83 MK-1A variants of the in-house fighter that the IAF had purchased in 2021. Earlier, the first two TEJAS MK-1 squadrons ordered at least 41 F404 engines between 2004 and 2007.

Leading military sources have stated that GE, Safran of France, and Rolls Royce of the UK are being considered for a partnership on the AMCA engine. These bids are receiving active support from their respective governments.

“The options for a tie-up are open from among the three contenders. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is the lead agency and a private Indian entity is also likely to be involved in the program,” sources disclosed.

Industry is clear about the priorities. “The objective of this collaboration must be to develop capability to design and build engines on our own in future,” says industry veteran Commodore Anil Jai Singh (Retired). He also sees merit in standardising the engine inventory for military jets and wants economies of scale leveraged for better price. “If there’s a big inventory for GE engines, it makes sense sticking to it, if the condition for meaningful transfer of technology is met,” says Singh.

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