India’s Engine Flameout

India’s Engine Flameout


The Indian government has effectively just handed one of the country’s flagship defense projects the pink slip.

The Kaveri aircraft engine was conceived in the 1980s as the power plant for the indigenously developed Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA). While New Delhi has pressed on with the Tejas, itself a troubled program dating back to the 1980s, it appears to have lost faith in the ability of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the state-run R&D outfit that designs much of India’s defense equipment, to deliver a working engine for the plane.

Instead, the government has finally decided to buy engines from U.S. firm General Electric, as Defense News reported over the weekend. GE has already supplied engines for the Tejas Mk I; the Mk II, an improved version of the Tejas which is still in the works, will now also be fitted with General Electric power plants.

The Kaveri may not be completely dead. As Defense Minister A.K. Antony explained in a written parliamentary response last month, the engine may eventually power some of the Tejas fleet, and be used in Indian drones and “marine applications.” However, for a program that has soaked up $560 million in funding over the years, according to Antony’s own estimate, it’s an awful outcome.

The story of Indian defense is strewn with the wreckage of projects like the Kaveri: wasteful endeavours that were allowed to drag on for far too long, leeching the national defense budget and ultimately failing to deliver a capability that the military had any confidence in.

Defense development is prone to dysfunction in all countries: this is unavoidable when building capabilities that are both experimental and expensive. China has also found aircraft engine development an expensive and time-consuming business. But India’s problems are more acute than most. Everyone is to blame. The government offers little leadership, is far too soft on the DRDO, and has failed to privatize the country’s flabby and underperforming defence complexes. The military does a poor job of communicating its needs to the government and the DRDO. The boffins at the DRDO appear to be in a world of their own, working on capabilities that the military doesn’t want and didn’t ask for, and with no concept of time or money. And no-one is ever held accountable when it all goes wrong.

It’s a pity that Antony only made half a decision when it came to the Kaveri: he sidelined the program, but then failed to cancel it. Pulling the plug altogether would have been bolder, and probably wiser. Millions more may now be spent, needlessly.

The Indian government is right to want to develop these capabilities itself. It just needs to be smarter about picking the right capabilities to build locally; and to be braver about axing programs that aren’t succeeding. As for the DRDO, there has surely never been an organisation more in need of performance-related pay.

Has New Delhi learned the lessons from the Kaveri/Tejas experience? The proof will be in how it handles its next big aviation program, the development of a medium combat aircraft (MCA). A feasibility study on the new MCA was due to be completed by the end of 2011; nothing about its progress has emerged so far. India’s defense leaders may not get this one right either. But at least they know in advance many of the ways to get it wrong.

August 31, 2013 at 21:32

 You do not know the real policies  of USA. USA will never allow India to  develop  defense equipments and nuclear equipments. To  know the secret of USA, kindly read  the book  “ The Confessions of  an Economic  Hit man”  This book is available in the net in pdf  form .  You may also  read the Wikipedia of S. Nambi Naeayanan an ISRO scientist. In 1994 a brilliant ISRO  scientist's career was cut short by implicating him in  an  espionage case using two Maldivian beauties. You do not know the real policies  of USA. USA will never allow India to  develop  defense equipments and nuclear equipments. To  know the secret of USA, kindly read  the book  “ The Confessions of  an Economic  Hit man”  This book is available in the net in pdf  form .  You may also  read the Wikipedia of S. Nambi Naeayanan an ISRO scientist. In 1994 a brilliant ISRO  scientist's career was cut short by implicating him in  an  espionage case using two Maldivian beauties.

August 31, 2013 at 20:26

We cannot fully blame only DRDO. Army  and IAF are  also  responsible for this state of affair. The Indian army didn’t even stand up its 1st Arjun armored regiment until May 2009, 35 years after the program began. To underscore the point, even that milestone followed a development that seemed to end the platform’s future. In July 2008, India had announced that production of the Arjun would be capped at the already-committed total of 124 vehicles. Instead, development would begin on a new next-generation tank, designed to survive and serve until 2040 or so.

That appeared to close the book on a failed project, but opinion in India was sharply split. Many observers cited this as the final failure. Other were noting the problems with the T-90s, and the Army’s refusal to conduct side-by-side tests, alongside recent test successes that began earning the Arun some military fans. In May 2010 desert trials alongside the T-90S, the Arjun did surprisingly well.” This was done during the tenure of  GEN. VK SINGH.

IAF;-The spat started after HAL stated that it was presented with unrealistic requirements over HTT-40s, while the IAF later diluted the same for the Pilatus. HAL sources have noted that 12 provisions were diluted in the Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements (PSQRs) provided to HAL on February 6, 2008 to design and develop trainer aircraft

August 31, 2013 at 19:48

Majority of educated people do not know the functioning of the public sector production units, except those who have worked there. HAL is also not different from other units. So far as my knowledge goes all the trouble started after the disintegration of Soviet Union.In majority of the cases failures are occurring due to O rings, oil seal , springs and filters. Due to non- availability of spares from Russia. HAL might have started using indigenously manufactured items. From my experience it is not easy to get good vendors who can manufacture quality material. This is more relevant in rubber components. We will not get the same life like imported ones. In that case we have to replace after some working hours. No foreign company is willing to part with the technology of these small components which are causing more than any other parts. Apollo 13 failed due to O ring. In order to keep up the production target, HAL might have overhauled engines with indigenous components.

August 31, 2013 at 19:43

 When Soviet  Union  put  the first  Sputnik  in to orbit in Oct.1957, it  was a shock  for  USA. So USA  took  immediate  action and they put Explorer 1  to orbit within 84 days. That was the spirit and determination of    other  countries.  The problem in India is that the Govt. and  the politicians  have no accountability. and the media are  also not  honest watch-dogs, who  expose the traitors. It is  of paramount importance to give  encouragement / motivation to our engineers and  scientists.   Majority of the Govt. officials and staff know that  whether they work or not,  they will get their  salary and they will not lose the job.  

Mig -21 plane is being operated by a single pilot. Majority of fighter planes in the world are operated by only one pilot, except Rafael and Euro fighter Typhoon. Russians are operating Sukhoi planes with single pilot. But IAF had asked the Russians to modify the plane and make it suitable for two pilots. The exact reason for this request is not known. Perhaps the idea is to by -pass Swedish- make Gripen . The person who asked for two seater Plane has no consideration for human life. Americans have started using Drones to minimize loss of human life. It is easy to get fighter planes, but training a pilot is time consuming. This will create shortage of pilots in the long run. So  over a period  of time there will be enough planes but  there will be shortage  of  pilots. 

 Swedish Gripen fighter planes are the best replacement for Mig-21.Its specification matches with Mig-21. Its operating cost is the lowest in the world ( $ 3000 per hour), where as Rafael’ s operating cost is $.17000. Another advantage is that Gripen was using the same GE engine which we are using in Tejas. Swedish company Volvo has developed a suitable engine for Gripen as a replacement for GE engine. The financial condition of Gripen is not sound. So Govt. of India should have tried to acquire the company(Gripen) like Tatas acquired Corus instead  of  spending  on Rafael planes.  This could have solved two problems – one is a suitable replacement for Mig-21 and the other is a suitable engine for Tejas. We cannot depend on USA. They can impose sanction at any time.

December 22, 2012 at 15:26

We should admire Joseph Stalin who brought Russia up in Aircraft Industry. Tupolev was sent to Siberia for not producing Quality fighter jets like Germany. Later when he got the technology he worked hard produced top quality aircrafts. Thus Stalin structured Russia’s Aircraft industry. India is a democratic country. So Kaveri team gets good salary, allowances, food & enjoys life. Kaveri engine is going to be used power bicycle?!! poor Indian Tax payer!! The strong pressure should be there from the Defense Minister & Prime Minister. OtherwiseKaveri Team will be idle & fat!!

True Warrior
November 6, 2012 at 20:59

This article is the height of stupidity in journalism.Author has no idea how much a fighter jet engine cost .A typical commercial jet engine development costs 600 million $ for rolls royce .Just imagine a fighter which is far more complex and closely gaurded would cost for the same company,and considering that DRDO has no experience in  engine development like rolls royce did for last 50 years ,560millin $ is peanuts for engine development and still our guys were able to make an engine that works even through it underperfoms(65 kn instead of 90kn) is a great achievement .Instead of encouraging those did put a lot of hardwork we are disouraging them with our comment sand crap immature  articles like these.Decide your self ?

July 12, 2012 at 06:44

Asoka, based on your raving and ranting, apparently India is also…….. Lunatics Superpower!

June 26, 2012 at 16:34

Maybe India should send an expedition east to discover North America? But be careful not to fall off the map!
You could lead India to all sorts of new discoveries I bet! Start with looking at the mirror!

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