NEW DELHI — India has refocused its homegrown Kaveri engine project, originally intended for its Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), to power developmental unmanned attack aircraft, according to a Defence Ministry source.
One reason the Kaveri was shifted to power an unmanned strike air vehicle (USAV) was that Missile Technology Control Regime restrictions prevent foreign suppliers from selling India engines that could give unmanned aerial systems a range greater than 300 kilometers, the MoD source said.
The engine also would be used in an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) under development.
The Defence Ministry has not publicly abandoned the Kaveri for the LCA, but the aircraft’s prototype is being powered by the General Electric F404 engine, and a higher-thrust GE-F414 engine has been selected to power the Mark-2 model of LCA.
A scientist with India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which is undertaking the USAV and Kaveri projects, said the knowledge acquired during development of the Kaveri can be used in other aerospace applications, including propulsion of the USAV.
However, the scientist did not say whether the Kaveri engine will be used only for the USAV, nor would he confirm that the MoD had formally approved the Kaveri’s new role.
The Kaveri was conceived in 1989 to power the indigenous LCA, but it has been hampered by technical problems.
“In case the Kaveri engine is formally abandoned for the LCA, then India will need to buy all its requirements of engines for LCA Mark-2 from the overseas market,” said Nitin Mehta, a New Delhi-based defense analyst based here.
The total Air Force requirement for the LCA Mark-2 is estimated at about 200.
The Kaveri engine has sufficient thrust to power the USAV, which weighs about 10 tons, but not to power the LCA, the MoD source said. The LCA also weighs about 10 tons, but it needs greater thrust to perform various aerial maneuvers.
While no MoD official would publicly say if the Kaveri engine has been abandoned for LCA, MoD sources have quietly said the Kaveri will henceforth power only the USAV and the UCAV under development by DRDO. The UCAV will need a higher-thrust engine than the USAV, however, so the Kaveri project will be split into phases, one for the USAV and an upgraded version for the UCAV.
India’s USAV is being developed by Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Agency, a DRDO laboratory under the Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft (AURA) project, which also has been assigned the task of developing a stealthy unmanned combat aircraft.
The AURA project is being assisted by other DRDO laboratories, including the Dehradun-based Defence Electronics Application Lab, and the Defence Avionics Research Establishment and Gas Turbine Research Establishment, both based in Bangalore. Gas Turbine has been developing the Kaveri engine.
The USAV is a 10-ton UAV that would deliver unguided bombs to enemy targets and return, while the UCAV is a stealthy system, weighing 15 tons, that will carry precision-guided munitions and missiles.