Ahead of PM Modi’s visit, France offers to co-develop engine for combat jets

By, New Delhi
Jul 02, 2023 10:31 AM IST

The Emmanuel Macron government gave green signal to Safran to jointly design, develop, test, manufacture and certify an engine that will power India’s AMCA.

Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Paris, one of India’s closest allies France made an offer many steps ahead of the path-breaking GE-414 engine deal with the US, people familiar with the matter said on Saturday.

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Prime Minister Narendra Modi before a meeting at the Chateau of Chantilly, near Paris, France in August 2019(REUTERS)
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Prime Minister Narendra Modi before a meeting at the Chateau of Chantilly, near Paris, France in August 2019(REUTERS)

The Emmanuel Macron government has given the green signal to defence major Safran to jointly design, develop, test, manufacture and finally certify an engine that will power India’s twin engine advanced multi-role combat aircraft (AMCA) and the twin engine deck-based fighter for Indian aircraft carriers.

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While the government is tight-lipped about the deal, authoritative sources have confirmed that the 100% transfer of technology offered by the French Safran is free from US International Trade in Arms Regulation (ITAR) and the proposed 110 kilo newton engine will be fully “Made in India”.

DRDO chief Dr Samir V Kamat paid a special visit to the Safran engine factory and the R&D centre near Paris on the sidelines of the recently concluded 2023 Paris Air Show. The engine proposal has been under discussion under the defence minister and NSA-led strategic dialogue with France.

PM Narendra Modi will arrive in Paris on July 13 afternoon to attend the Bastille Day celebrations the next day. He is expected to hold bilateral talks with President Macron on July 13. The Indian Air force’s Rafale fighter will be participating in the Bastille Day fly-past on July 14.

The French offer includes a completely new engine, new materials, new architecture, stealth compliance with full supply chains and ancillary manufacturing based in India. While the price of the jet engine deal will be extremely competitive per engine in US dollar terms, the total process from designing to certification of the manufactured engine will take 10 years from the date of signing. The offer also includes Safran setting up a centre of excellence in gas turbine technology in India with full design and metallurgical precision software tools.

Despite the DRDO's best efforts since 1996, it could not deliver on the Kaveri jet engine due to issues with metallurgical tools, rotating parts, single crystal blade technology and high-pressure engine core. The French offer is synchronised with Safran’s facility coming up in Hyderabad to maintain repair and overhaul (MRO) LEAP engines for the A320 and Boeing 737 aircraft and will also be developed as MRO for the M-88 engine, which powers the Rafale fighter.

Air India alone requires some 800 LEAP engines for its massive aircraft purchase from Airbus and Boeing. It is understood that the Safran offer covers the full hot section of the engine including the rotating parts, most crucial single crystal blade technology and high-pressure compressor.

While the M-88 engine of the existing Rafale fighter with IAF has a thrust of 75-80 kilo newton, the French offer, which includes tying up with Indian defence PSUs and local private players, will produce higher thrust engine as required by the AMCA or TEDBF being developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) under the DRDO. Safran is already working on a 125 KN engine for the French next generation fighter. Safran engines power the helicopters made by HAL and the two companies are reported to have agreed to jointly develop the engine for Indian multi-role helicopters.

Safran has also developed sourcing in India for engine parts for LEAP and M-88 at its own facilities in India and ancillary units, such as a Lucknow-based company that is making titanium alloy parts for the LEAP and Rafale engines.

While the investment in the entire process from design to flight involves several billion euros, the French claim that the offer is most competitive by international standards and the advantage is that it will create a 360-degree capability and ownership of full engine technology by India.

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    Author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (2011, Hachette) and Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and Indian Riposte (2014, Hachette). Awarded K Subrahmanyam Prize for Strategic Studies in 2015 by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the 2011 Ben Gurion Prize by Israel.

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