NEW DELHI — The Indian government has “underestimated” the future demand for fighter, drone and cruise missile engines, with the small engine gas turbine market expected to reach about 610 billion rupees (U.S. $8 billion) over the next 20 years, according to the findings from an industrial simulation.
In response, the government should engage the local private sector and academia to bridge technological gaps and improve self-reliance on domestic capabilities, New Delhi-based Insighteon Consulting said in its report.
The simulation, which took place Aug. 23-25, was an attempt to create a road map for the development of a local aero engine ecosystem. It involved retired defense scientists and officers, leaders of state-run and private defense companies, bureaucrats, diplomats, and members of various think tanks.
“India will be spending more of its defence budget on UAVs and low cost cruise missiles, which will complement more and more activities in military operations,” the report read.
Currently, that engine demand is met by foreign imports and by state-run defense companies working under license. India presently lacks a dedicated test facility for gas turbine aero engines.
“In the past one of India’s enduring challenges in military and civil aviation has been the inability of Indian industry and research agencies to design and produce an indigenous jet engine. Indian civil aviation industry fully imports its aircraft, and on the military side, our indigenous program to build fighter jets is having to make to do with foreign engines,” the consultancy said.
In response, experts recommended the government establish a National Commission for Aero Engine Development responsible for planning aero engine requirements and testing, designing and developing aero engines, and managing technological development and production in this area.
“The first indigenous fighter aircraft Marut that was developed by [Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.] was plagued by aero engine issues. Few decades later the ‘Kaveri’ engine story followed a similar tale of failure to harness this difficult yet critical technology,” the consultancy said. “However, in the last five years, Indian public and private sector companies have embarked on a number of small/medium aero engine development programs, which has placed the nation on the threshold of achieving success.”
The simulation found that India will require 1,000 turbine engines for fighter aircraft over two decades; 1,000 replacement engines for fighters; 700 for trainer aircraft; 4,000 for 3- to 6-ton-class helicopters; 1,000 for 10- to 13-ton-class helicopters; and 3,000 for combat drones. The government could introduce a special purpose vehicle model to help, the experts said.
Under the SPV model, private sector companies would be shortlisted according to experience, capabilities, competencies and financials, and would share risk and revenue with partners, according to Rajiv Chib, a partner with Insighteon Consulting.
“The SPV could work under the overall guidance of a proposed body — [the National Commission for Aero Engine Development] — and even foreign original equipment manufacturers can be part of the SPV,” he added. “Aero engine R&D remains a monopoly of the public sector, and there is a trust deficit in involving the private industry or academia. We must provide a more enabling environment so that private players can come up with competing solutions.”
The simulation also found India will require 2,000 turbine engines for 2-ton medium-altitude, long-endurance drones; 3,000 for cruise missiles; and 2,000 for target drones.
“We are focused on [indigenous] design and development of turbofan and turbojet aero engines for UAVs and cruise missiles, and [will] hopefully start bulk production in the next three years,” said Raghu Adla, founder of defense startup Paninian India.
Alda noted that small, homegrown aero engines will not have export restrictions and are therefore a better alternative in terms of overall value proposition compared to original equipment manufacturers such as NPO Saturn of Russia, Microturbo of France and Williams International of the United States.
Currently, the state-run business Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. is developing the 25 kN HTSE-1200 turboshaft engine for multiple types of helicopters; the 25 kN HTFE-25 turbofan engine for trainer jets and combat drones; and a 130-kilowatt engine for long-endurance drones.
Likewise, the Gas Turbine Research Establishment is developing a 46 kN Kaveri dry engine for combat UAVs, expected by 2030.
Another DRDO laboratory, the Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Establishment, is developing a 1 kN turbojet engine for target drones; a 2.7 kN turbojet engine for air-to-surface missiles; and the 4.4 kN Manik small turbofan engine for cruise missiles.
Hyderabad-based Research Centre Imarat, a DRDO unit that collaborates with the state-run National Aerospace Laboratories, is developing a 275 kilogram-force thrust small gas turbine engine for the homegrown Rustom II tactical drone.
And private sector business Bharat Forge is developing 120 KgF, 160 KgF, 200 KgF, 300 KgF and 400 KgF miniature and small turbojet engines.
Additionally, the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay established the Centre of Propulsion Technology with funding from DRDO.
The government’s Make in India initiative has helped the Defence Ministry save more than $12.6 billion from leaving the country’s economy in last five years, the simulation report said, noting that the local production of gas turbine engines will help the ministry save $37.8 billion in 20 years.
“The challenge now lies in how to give this an impetus by harnessing these diverse capabilities in various thrust ranges and [channeling] them towards the end goal of achieving self reliance,” the consultancy said.
Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.