The Kaveri Story

Kaveri engine development is an indigenous effort of Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) for mastering one of the most complex technologies. Altitude Testing and Flying Test Bed trials have been completed which are major milestones in any gas turbine engine development. The other development problems are addressed to make the engine flight worthy through indigenous as well with assistance from a foreign engine house.

Not long back, DRDO was in discussion with Safran (then Snecma) on how to take forward the development of Kaveri with the most advanced technological elements. As per Strategic Affairs Magazine, the negotiations, with the French engine major for co-developing Kaveri engine was however called off in early 2013 after DRDO came to the conclusion that Safran instead agreeing to transfer latest genre engine technology to India had just offered the replacement of Kaveri’s Kabini core with Safran Eco Core which is at the heart of the M-88, the engine which powers the Rafale. Rightly, this was not acceptable to India which was keen on mastering the latest genre engine technologies.

Kaveri engine was originally envisaged to serve as the power plant for the home grown supersonic fighter jet TEJAS Light Combat Aircraft. However, the Kaveri engine program now stands delinked from the TEJAS fighter aircraft project and it is planned to use an upgraded version of Kaveri to meet the needs of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) that is now being developed as a follow up to TEJAS by the Bangalore based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) of DRDO.

This implies that the Kaveri turbofan should be upgraded to generate 110-kN wet and 75-kN dry thrust. But then an engine of this capability will need to incorporate single crystal blade technology, integrated rotor disk and blades and super alloys of nickel and cobalt. Kaveri engine in its present form uses directionally solidified blade technology which is rather an old hat. The 20-tonne class AMCA designed with stealth features and super cruise capability is planned to be powered by two GTX Kaveri engines. Significantly, the Kaveri engine has been custom built to operate in the demanding Indian environment that ranges from the hot desert to the freezing mountain heights.

New Issues

The noise the five engines specimens make in high throttle regimes is a key issue being placed before France’s Safran for the remaining path to certification. Apart from the noise in the high throttle spectrum, scientists have also been grappling with a flicker, indicating inconsistent combustion or fuel transmission, when the afterburners are engaged. (LiveFistDefence)
On Jan 3 this year, the Safran Group advertised for the new position of Director for the Kaveri engine program. As per LiveFistDefence portal, the good news for the program is that the DRDO has been given a virtual carte blanche to channelize offsets from the Indian Rafale deal to resurrect the Kaveri. Safran, a partner in the Rafale program, builds the Rafale’s twin M-88 turbofan engines. Under the terms of the partnership finalized late last year, Safran is working to modify, certify and integrate the Kaveri on a Light Combat Aircraft air frame before 2020. A later phase in the partnership will involve modifications on the Kaveri for a twin configuration on India’s AMCA fifth generation fighter concept and an altered non-reheat version for the Ghatak UCAV. It is not clear if the Safran partnership will stretch to the concept Manik mini-turbofan being developed for UAVs and cruise missiles.

The Bangalore based GTRE (Gas Turbine Research Establishment) a constituent of DRDO, which is the lead agency for the development of Kaveri, is now hopeful of upgrading the Kaveri engine to meet the needs of AMCA in the context of the vastly improved industrial support base in the country that the Aero engine development program had helped create. The biggest challenge ahead of GTRE would be how to enhance the power of Kaveri without increasing its size and weight and through incorporating the single crystal turbine blade technology. But the reality is that GTRE is now nowhere close to developing single crystal blade technology. However efforts are now on to sharpen the expertise level in the country for developing the high performance nickel and cobalt super alloys for Kaveri.

China on its part is also struggling to develop a reliable turbofan and that country is making all out efforts to realize a range of advanced power plants to propel its military aircraft. The demands placed on an engine of a military aircraft are far more complex and challenging in comparison to the engine of a commercial aircraft. High strength materials and super alloys along with composites are used in the power plants deployed on board combat aircraft so that they can easily withstand high temperature ranges in addition to meeting the needs for speed and manoeuvre. Future fighter aircraft are expected to feature an advanced type of power plant, a variable cycle turbine that can operate in two specific modes-one for higher speed and one for fuel efficiency.

Involvement of Private Aerospace Industries

Bharat Forge

Bharat Forge, Mumbai has developed the Bharat 52, a long range artillery gun developed by the company. The company has extensive experience and core knowledge in — material, material transformation, forging, machining, assembly and sub-systems etc,.

The company has also entered into a joint venture with SAAB for air defense systems and a plant is coming up near Hyderabad. By building the artillery gun, the company has demonstrated its engineering capabilities.

The group is building jet engines, small ones, not as big as those by Rolls-Royce, Safran, GE, P&W and others, for helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles. The UAV engine are indigenously built. the Chairman has mandated his engineers in Pune that he wants to see the development of the engine in one year.

Apart from this crucial indigenous development the company is also involved in four other procurement programs namely the towed gun, conversion of the 130 mm to 155 mm caliber, ultra-light howitzer, and the mounted gun. Bharat Forge is participating in all the four programs and is sure of winning at least two.

The general agreement is that no Indian company can do everything by itself, there is involvement of electronics, radar, metallurgy and all other kind of advanced technologies which the companies have to master.

The company's strategy is to create building blocks for guns, air defense, Aero engines and components, it is confident that it can make Artillery guns on its own. As far as air defense systems are concerned, it is creating a hub in Hyderabad. In Aero engines, it is making components for Rolls-Royce, Boeing and others.

Poeir Jets Private Limited

Having developed its first jet engine the successful certification of which will put India in the elite group countries that boast of jet engine development. 

Poeir Jets Private Limited, an R&D firm under city-based Intech DMLS, has earmarked Rs 20 crore for the project, of which about Rs 9 crore has been spent. Leveraging its rich experience from tie-ups with firms such as HAL and Bharat Forge the company decided to make its own gas turbine engine two years ago.

The engine was fired for the first time on February 8, 2017, and it was a success. Some other tests are going on, and the company is confident that it will be ready to be presented for certification in 18-24 weeks.

The MJE-20 is a gas-turbine engine which can power Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs). Weighing 2.16 kg and providing an uninstalled thrust of 20 kg, the engine will not be able to power UAVs of military grade. But the success has pushed Poeir to develop bigger engines. They have the MJE-40 and MJE-100, which will be able to power bigger UAVs. Given that they are gas turbine engines, they will give longer flying hours.

The firm has there other variant, the SJE-350, which it believes can power bigger planes of strategic importance, weighs 48.36 kg and provides an uninstalled thrust of 350 kgf. However, experts said more thrust would be required to power fighter jets but the SJE-350 in a twin-engine configuration can power a fighter. It was also reported that the company is working on turboshaft technology which will power light to medium weight helicopters.

The Aero engine has been a vital missing link in India’s military aviation. Clearly and apparently, developing and producing Aero engines indigenously could imply a big leap forward for the Indian aerospace sector that would in addition free India from its costly and continued dependence on global engine majors. At any rate, things are certainly looking up for India's indigenous military engine technology development. The mastery of Aero engine technology cannot but be a win-win development for India.

Admin - IDN