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GE 414 to power India's Light Combat Aircraft

Published: October 2010

New Delhi. GE Aviation has won its first significant engine contract to power fighter jets for India.


Th US company's GE 414 pipped the European consortium Eurojet's EJ 200 in their bid to sell 99 engines for India's indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (Mark-II), which will be flown both by the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy (IN). There is an option for 50 engines.

GE was officially announced as the winner Sept 30 after the examination of their technical and commercial bids in Bangalore by the Price Negotiating Committee (PNC) of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) headed by Dr Prahlada, Chief Controller & Distinguished Scientist of the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO).

Although GE had initially quoted US$ 822 for 99 engines as against US$ 666 million by Eurojet for EJ 200, the latter is reported not to have factored in Transfer of Technology and tooling costs. Clarifications were sought from both the companies, and after considering them, the Committee decided on the GE 414 "as the lowest bidder."

Exact financial details were not available but Eurojet sources conceded that they had lost by a narrow margin.

It may be recalled that in the case of another aircraft acquired in the recent years, some ToT and tooling costs were factored in later, and India had to suffer both in terms of time and added price.

Eurojet sources also said that "the EJ 200 is a new generation and better engine, and indeed after ToT and other aspects, it would be more expensive than the competition but worth the futuristic technology."

A statement released to the press by Eurojet said: "We respect the decision taken by the Price Negotiating Committee. However, we regret that the Committee has decided against most capable and latest generation engine on offer for the LCA-Tejas. Together with our consortium partner companies and their respective governments we will carefully study the decision and its implications. We expect further details from Indian authorities and more information about the process leading to the announced selection."

September 30 had been set as the date for the decision well in advance, and both the companies had been invited to send their representatives. The announcement was first made to them, and later communicated to the press.

IAF sources told India Strategic that the selection of the GE engine for the LCA, which is going to be produced in not large numbers - approximately 150 - had no bearing on the selection process for thr 126-plus Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA) which is now in its final stages.

GE 414 is used at present in the US Navy's Boeing F/A 18 E/F Super Hornet and is on board the F 18 IN, the version on offer to India. It is also the engine of choice for the next generation Swedish Gripen, which is again in the MMRCA competition against the 4-nation Eurofighter - which uses EJ 200 - Russia Mig 35, French Rafale and another US fighter, Lockheed Martin's F 16 IN Super Viper.

Eurojet also reiterated that it was firmly in the MMRCA contest with its partner Eurofighter. Its statement on the GE 414 choice added: "This decision does not affect our strong committment to India. We will continue to explore true and trusted partnerships here which will support the development of a strong Indian aerospace and defence industry.

GE will supply 18 units of the latest version of the engine beginning 2014, with improved Full Authority Digital Electronic Control (FADEC), single Crystal blade design, single engine safety features, and other electronic advances. The basic engine design, as it is used now for instance on the US Navy's F/A 18 E/F Super Hornets, would stay the same but as new innovations are developed and adopted, they would also be passed on to India.

Notably, GE has offered to upgrade the engine in future with newer innovations for better thrust and optimum fuel utilization also for the US Navy, which has just placed a new US$ 5.297 billion order with Boeing for 66 F 18 E/F Super Hornets and 58 E/A 18 G (Electronic Attack Super Hornets designated Growlers) for delivery from 2012 through 2015.

The final price for the GE 414 for LCA (Mk-II) and the roadmap for technology transer is yet to be worked out. It may be noted that it is a general practice to seek the best possible rates or technical advantages even after a winner has been declared the lowest bidder to fine-tune requirement and supply arrangements.

An official statement issued September 30 said that the Government would finalize the contract with GE after "further price negotiations."

The Committee included representatives from the MoD, Defence Finance, Aeronautical Development Authority (ADA), Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., IAF and IN. Representatives of the two companies were present at the announcement.

LCA, designed and developed indigenously using a high component of composite materials to make it light, is powered at present by GE 404, an older engine which has a thrust of 80-85 kilo newtons as against the requirement of 95 to 100 kilo newtons, being offered by the GE 414. The weapons payload on the initial batch of 40 LCAs so far ordered by the IAF accordingly would be less than desired but the LCA Mark-II would have the required thrust of at least 95 kilo newtons.

The Navy, which would use the LCA on its carriers, had straightaway asked only for higher thrust engines for shipboard role.

Indications are that some of these would also be used for training in future.

In a recent interview, IAF's Chief of Staff Air Chief Marshal P V Naik told India Strategic that the LCA could be categorized as a Mig 21++, saying that its role would be crucial.

Nonetheless, IAF's frontline aircraft in the coming years would be upgraded SU 30 MKIs, MMRCA's, and the Fifth Generation Aircraft (FGFA) that India is set to induct from 2017 in a co-production and development finance arrangement with Russia.

The full press statement issued on behalf of the PNC said:

"The Price Negotiating Committee for the Alternate Engine for LCA Mk-2 has finalized the Comparative Statement of Tenders. The committee had its representations from Ministry of Defence, Defence Finance, ADA, DRDO, HAL, Indian Air Force, and Indian Navy. After evaluation and acceptance of the Tehcnical offer provided by both Eurojet and GE Aviation, the commercial quotes were compared in detail and GE Aviation was declared as the lowest bidder. Further price negotiations and contract finalization will follow."

It may be noted that GE is already providing gas turbine LM 2500 engines for India's indigenous aircraft carrier. The US Government had lifted the restriction on the export of this engine for India a couple of years back.

The US Government will also have to lift some more restrictions to facilitate the flow of engine technology to India, but given the recent statements coming from the US Administration in the buildup to President Barack Obama's visit to New Delhi in November, there should be no problem.

In fact, US Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy had recently told a panel of defence analysts in New Delhi at India's premier think tank Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), where this writer was present, that the US Department of Defense had already cleared some 90 per cent of the restrictions on export of defence technologies to India and that more were in the process of being lifted. The Department of Commerce, which deals with dual use technologies, was also considering the needful, she had indicated.

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