Conceptual design of 4.5 KN turbojet engine

New Delhi: In good news for the Indian defence sector, a private start-up is inching closer to developing an indigenous engine to power cruise missiles and larger unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), that could stop the country’s dependence on foreign firms.

The Hyderabad-headquartered Paninian India Private Limited, has completed the “conceptual validation” of its 4.5 KN Turbojet Engine and the prototype development has started.

“We are not doing reverse engineering but we are creating an entire family of aero engines that will be able to power everything from cruise missiles to large UAVs,” Paninian founder Raghu Adla said.

The engine is further being developed into a new family in the range of 3-12 kilonewtons (kN) thrust, along with Artificial Intelligence (AI) augmented digital twin companions.

AI augmented Digital Twins are meant for legacy engine performance modelling and prognostics for supporting mission performance and life extension efforts for aircraft like Jaguar, Sukhoi and Mirage 2000 of the Indian Air Force.

“This can now serve as a tool to study the extension of engines and greatly assist the IAF and CEMILAC [Centre for Military Airworthiness & Certification] in their study of performance degradation,” Adla, a first generation entrepreneur, said.

Such Digital Twins — required for cutting-edge prognostics, engine health and performance monitoring — have been conceived entirely from scratch in the country by Indian engineers, he said, adding that India can carry out life extension of engines locally and accurately without resorting to foreign assistance.

While Paninin has started setting up an actual test bed for its engine, the plan ahead is for the individual parts of the engine to undergo 2,000 hours of testing at the National Aerospace Laboratory.

Adla decided to work on the project following the 2019 Balakot strike and the subsequent skirmish between the Indian and Pakistani air forces.

For the start-up, he hired Gantayata Gouda, a former senior scientist and programme director in DRDO, along with others who have worked in propulsion and structural engineering with leading global engine manufacturers like General Electrics and Rolls Royce.

Adla emphasised on the need for the public sector to support such start up efforts by providing grants and access to laboratories for clearing the difficulties faced in bringing out an Indian origin jet engine.

He added that Paninian is seeking potential collaborations from both public and private players to help scale the effort further to successfully take this to the end users in the shortest time possible.

This innovation could go a long way in the “Make in India” programme to make the country “Atmanirbhar” in the strategic field of aero engines, he said.

Incidentally, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has been working on an aero engine in the 4.5kN category, which industry sources say is a reverse engineering of the Russian NPO Saturn 36 MT engine which is used by India.

Industry experts, however, said the effort by the DRDO is not scalable or cannot be modularised to create a family of engines.