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Significance of India’s jet engine deal with the US

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Bilateral Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

 

Source: TH

 Context: A mega defence deal for the manufacture of fighter jet engines in India is expected to dominate the agenda of the Indian PM’s ongoing official State Visit to the US.

 

About the deal:

  • It will allow American manufacturing company General Electric (GE) Aerospace to share critical technology with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
  • This will help in the joint production of GE-F414 jet engines that will power indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk-II.
  • According to media reports, the U.S. has agreed to transfer ~80% of the tech value to India, which is unprecedented.

 

Need for the deal:

  • India has seen substantial accomplishments in various defence and space programmes and has also designed and built a fighter jet – LCA Tejas.
  • However, India hasn’t achieved much success in producing engines to power these aircraft.

 

India’s quest for indigenous aero-engines:

  • The quest began in the 1960s with the country’s first indigenous fighter, HF-24 Marut – a supersonic jet, which failed to achieve its potential for want of a suitable engine.
  • The Kaveri programme developed an indigenous military gas turbine engine for the ambitious LCA project in 1986.
    • The programme incurred an expenditure of over ₹2,000 crore, however, it failed to meet the necessary technical requirements.
  • With Kaveri still a work in progress, India shortlisted American GE-F404 engines for LCA Tejas Mark-1 as an interim measure.
  • In 2010, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) selected the more powerful F414 engines to power Tejas Mark-2. The deal did not materialise due to US domestic legislation and regulatory hindrances.

 

What led to the finalisation of the recent deal?

  • With an eye on China, the U.S. recognised India as a major defence partner in 2016, which paved the way for sharing of critical military equipment and technology.
  • It sought to put India on par with NATO member countries.
  • A new framework to strengthen strategic technology partnerships put the focus back on the GE-HAL deal at the inaugural meeting of the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET).

 

What are the features of the F414 engine?

  • It is a fully digital electronic system to control different aspects of the engine, known as the Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC).
  • It is added with single-engine safety features customised to meet the country’s defence requirements.
  • The engines power several advanced, next-generation combat aircraft (Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet and Saab’s JAS 39-Gripen) around the globe.
  • India will become the 5th country in the world to produce jet engines once the deal is sealed, joining the U.S., Russia, France and the U.K.

 

Significance of the deal for India:

  • Challenges faced by India: Dual-threat along its borders and maintaining strategic autonomy in the emerging world order.
    • Therefore, self-reliance and technological transformation in the defence sector is the necessity for India.
  • The proposed deal –
    • Will be a significant step for bilateral defence and high-tech cooperation amid China’s growing influence and global technological dominance.
    • Will boost India’s military capabilities at the time of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
    • Will help replace the fleet of ageing Russian fighters with indigenously produced fighters.
    • Will save decades of research and development costs.
    • Overall, it will have a transformative impact on the aerospace and defence manufacturing industry.

 

Conclusion: The deal may elevate the U.S. as an alternative to India’s traditional dependence on Russian hardware, particularly amid rising concerns about Russia’s strategic embrace of China.

 

Insta Links:

India-US Defence Agreement

  

Mains Links:

What is the significance of Indo-US defence deals over Indo-Russian defence deals? Discuss with reference to stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (UPSC 2020)