The Dawn of Jet Engine indigenization in India :: KAVERI



In 1986, the Indian Defence Ministry’s Defence Research and Development Organisation was authorized to launch a programme to develop an indigenous power plant for the Light Combat Aircraft. The project for development of Kaveri Engine was sanctioned in 1989 with probable date of completion of 1996, which was extended to 2009. The government has spent Rs2,101 Cr so far on the development of the indigenous Kaveri Engine.

The major reasons for non-completion of project within the time-schedule were technological difficulties faced due to complexities of engine system, non-availability of raw materials, critical components, lack of infrastructure, manufacturing and test facilities within the country.

However, DRDO for the first time ventured to initiate development of aero-engine technology, which only few developed countries in the world possess.

There are some of the major milestones achieved in this programme ::

Successful completion of 73 hours High Altitude testing and 57hours trial on Flying Test Bed have proved level of technological capability and maturity, Full Authority Digital Engine Control System has been designed, developed and qualified indigenously, Twelve materials have been indigenously developed and type certified, Total of 9 Kaveri prototypes and 4 Kabini Engine prototypes have been developed and accumulated more than 2550 hours of engine testing, Tacit knowledge acquired by the scientists are being applied in aerospace technology and other disciplines.

The Kaveri engine program now stands delinked from the Tejas fighter aircraft project and it is planned to use an upgraded version of Kaveri – K9+ and K10 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. K9+ Program is a program to prove concept of complete design and gain hand-on experience of aircraft engine integration and flight trials to cover a defined truncated flight envelope prior to the launch of production version of K10 Standard engine. While K 10 Program is a Joint Venture partnership with a foreign engine manufacturer. K 10 program engine will be final production standard Kaveri engine and shall have less weight and more reheat thrust along with certain other changes to meet the original design intent.

India needs to keep building on the Kaveri program for newer programs like the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) project. 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. The 20-tonne class AMCA designed for 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.

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 programme 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. 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.

Both HAL and BHEL have expertise in licence producing gas turbines of a variety of specifications and fusing their expertise with the experience that DRDO has acquired while developing Kaveri engine could be a veritable “force multiplier” to move ahead with the development of advanced aero engine technologies.

By all means, Kaveri is a technologically complex power plant. It is a two spool, bypass turbofan engine having three stages of transonic low pressure compressor driven by a single stage low pressure turbine. The core Turbojet engine of the Kaveri is the Kabini. The core engine consists of a six stage transonic compressor driven by single stage cooled high pressure turbine. The engine is provided with a complete annular combustor with air blast atomiser. The aero-thermo dynamics and mechanical designs of engine components were evolved using many in house and commercially developed software for solid and fluid mechanics. Its three stage transonic fan, designed for good stall margin handles an air mass flow of 78 kg and develops a pressure combustion chamber line ratio of 3:4. Kaveri engine has been designed to achieve a fan pressure ratio of 4:1 and overall pressure ratio of 27:1. These pressure parameters are claimed to be good enough to support the super cruise manoeuvres of an advanced combat aircraft. The development model is fitted with an advanced convergent-divergent variable nozzle.


In order to give quickening impetus to the development of Kaveri engine, DRDO should look at setting up a high altitude test facility in the country. The defence ministry already has a working proposal for this. Prepared by the DRDO, it includes a detailed breakdown of the technological requirements; identifies the specific materials and technologies that must be developed or obtained from abroad through partnerships; identifies the production technologies needed and essential test facilities.

When DRDO needs to test the Kaveri, it is flown to Russia, along with a flight test team, to the Gromov Flight Research Institute outside Moscow. Here, it is fitted onto a Russian IL-76 aircraft and its performance evaluated in flight. Before flight tests, it must undergo ground checks at Moscow’s Central Institute of Aviation Motors, in simulated altitudes up to 15 kilometers (49,200 feet). Creating such flight-testing facilities in India would save hundreds of crores and a great deal of time.
The defence ministry has discussed the proposal internally, and with private sector representatives. It was decided that roles and responsibilities should be allocated to individual organisations and firms. And sadly, there the matter stands.

While the Kaveri project has been the subject of much derision by various quarters, the fact remains that it has strengthened India’s hand enough in the turbofan space to resist being a dumping ground for yesterday’s technology. A lot of the delays in the development of the Kaveri project can also be attributed to the fact that India’s industrial base has only now come up to speed to provide the necessary components for prototyping complex devices like modern low bypass turbofans. All the new activity detailed above however means that engine development can now be speeded up using domestic resources itself and this will naturally make foreign partners more amenable to offering better terms of trade.

Indian Navy too has snapped up the marine version of Kaveri engine for powering the growing fleet of its warships. Over the next fifteen years, Indian Navy might need as many as 40 Kaveri marine gas turbines. Not surprisingly then, the Indian Navy has agreed to fund 25% of the cost of the project. GTRE developed the marine Kaveri by modifying the aero engine with a shaft through which power can be delivered to the propellers.

According to K.Tamilamani, Director General (Aeronautical Systems) of DRDO, there is a need for the creation of an autonomous body for design, development, testing and production of aero engines of varying specifications. The amalgamation of the expertise and competence available in both the public and private sectors of the country should be fused to create a high tech platform for developing aero engines. Indeed, resources available in private companies such as Kirloskar, L&T and Godrej could be harnessed for giving a quickening impetus to build a vibrant technological base for realizing aero engines of varying thrust ranges.

Indeed to be able to move out of the syndrome of “dependence and import”, India should demonstrate its technological excellence by producing at least one engine with enough parameters of thrust to weight capabilities. Around this engine, India must create a variety of platforms custom made to meet the requirements of IAF.

Foremost of India’s mission should be to revive the indigenous Kaveri – K9+ and K10 engine with the thrust to weight ratio sufficient enough to propel AMCA. Significantly, the vision document related to the indigenous aero engine development focuses on the facilities and infrastructure available in the country with suggestions on the initiatives for up-gradation with a view to match the development and service phase of the aero engine cycle.

Of course, the design, development and qualification of an aero engine is a costly, complex and time consuming process and as such very few countries have succeeded in mastering the technology of gas turbine engines. In the ultimate analysis the plan for developing aero engines in India should take into account the potentials of future technologies so that aero engine built in the country remains contemporary and state of the art.

In the next few years, India however has the potential to create a major domestic industrial and technological base in the arena of aero-propulsion by leveraging its diverse military aviation purchases. According to estimates, India’s aero-engine market alone (summing over various acquisition and upgrade programs) will amount to at least 15 billion dollars for the next ten years. Since a lot of this will be met via imports a very large offset opportunity exists for India’s emerging aerospace industry in this domain. These opportunities span the entire spectrum from supplying engine components to providing maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) services.

In fact, MRO related expenses can often exceed the initial procurement cost of an engine. Maintenance which includes dismantling, inspecting, assembling and testing aircraft engines is however the single largest MRO segment. Engine Maintenance constitutes 35 percent of the overall cost of maintaining an aircraft. More than two thirds of engine maintenance is taken up by the cost of materials, with labour accounting for another 22 percent. India’s MRO segment is expected to grow to 3 billion dollars by 2020.

Now, aero engine components that are likely to be sourced domestically include casings, blisks, shafts, housings, stators, pump housing bushing, sleeves and sub-assays. This would mean that there will be ample business for existing tier-2 and tier-3 players. The tier-3 segment in particular (theoretically any company which has some casting and forging capability and can build fasteners, bearings, wiring harness and machine structural sheet metal can become a tier-3 supplier) is likely to see a major influx of new companies.

However, getting these potential suppliers many of whom are small firms to conform to aerospace standards will require a degree of handholding from the sourcing firms and the government. In that sense the emerging aerospace special economic zones (SEZs) in Peninsular India are likely to play an important role.

Tier-2 players i.e those who will build engine hydraulic systems, electrical power systems etc will of course also be subject to competition from new entrants. For instance, Wipro Infrastructure Engineering has in place an agreement with Spanish company CESA (Compania Espanola de Sistemas Aeronauticos SA), a subsidiary of the global aerospace and defence corporation, EADS, for the manufacture of precision engineering components including hydraulics.

Ultimately however a lot of the business is likely to emanate from sub-contracts issued by India’s only existing end to end company in the aerospace business – Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). HAL is also the only real Indian tier-1 player in the domain of aero-engines. And HAL, whose engine division has a long history of license producing various imported designs, is set to be by far the biggest beneficiary of the acquisition push.

The time is propitious. Washington conveyed its willingness to “expand cooperation in production and design of jet engine components.” This will open the doors to joint development between US engine-makers, particularly General Electric, and Indian entities like the DRDO. Tapping into America’s vast experience in this field would help the DRDO overcome some of the hurdles that have bedevilled the Kaveri programme.

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This article has been written by Kaustav Kar
Qualification: B.Tech – Electronics and Communication
Location : Kolkata
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