Decayed performance at high altitude, insufficient thrust, excessive weight. Some of the problems the DRDO has reported on its Kaveri turbofan engine, a project in development for nearly three decades. It has now emerged that an unexpected ‘noise’ during high power trials has all but stalled the programme in what the team believes is its last mile. Detailed analyses over the last two years have failed to narrow down the nature of cause of the noise, and scientists are also unable to tell if the noise is an influence aerodynamic performance. What Livefist can confirm is that the phenomenon is only the latest in a series of complications that have bedeviled the Kaveri. The noise the five engines specimens make in high throttle regimes is a key issue being placed before France’s Snecma for the remaining path to certification. Apart from the noise in the high throttle spectrum, scientists have also been grappling with a flicker, indicating inconsistent combustion or fuel transmission, when the afterburners is engaged.
On Jan 3 this year, the Safran Group created and advertised for the new position of Director for the Kaveri engine programme.
The good news for the programme is that the DRDO has been given a virtual carte blanche to channelise offsets from the Indian Rafale deal to resurrect the Kaveri. Snecma, a partner in the Rafale programme, builds the Rafale’s twin M88 turbofan engines. Under the terms of the partnership finalised late last year, Snecma is working to modify, certify and integrate the Kaveri on a Light Combat Aircraft airframe before 2020. A later phase in the partnership will involve modifications on the Kaveri for a twin configuration on India’s AMCA fifth generation fighter concept and an altered non-reheat version for the Ghatak UCAV. It is not clear if the Snecma partnership will stretch to the concept Manik mini-turbofan being developed for UAVs and cruise missiles. One of the Kaveri specimens was on display at the recent Aero India show.
— Livefist (@livefist) February 15, 2017
There are important implications of the Snecma-DRDO partnership on the Kaveri engine. A Kaveri engine sporting potential commonality with the Snecma M88 could be compelling factor in how India chooses its next fighter jets, both for the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy. Those implications, at any rate, would be clearer only once the Kaveri proves itself at every level of performance and envelope. It’s useful to break down the state of play with the new Kaveri in the projected mix.
LCA Mk.1/1A: Currently powered by GE 404. Intended to be powered by modified DRDO/Snecma Kaveri, with first integration aimed for by 2020.
Rafale: Powered by twin Snecma M88 turbofans.
LCA Mk.2: Two of eight GE F414-INS6 turbofan engines were delivered last month to keep the programme rolling. The future of the Mk.2, though, remains uncertain. If the modified DRDO/Snecma Kaveri can be uprated enough to meet Mk.2 demands, it could change things. For the moment, this doesn’t appear to be on the cards.
IAF Single-Engine Fighter: Either the GE F414 (on the Gripen E) or the GE F110/Pratt&Whitney F100 (on the F-16).
Indian Navy Multirole Carrier Fighter: A toss-up, effectively, between the Snecma M88 and GE F414.
AMCA: Intended to be powered by modified DRDO/Snecma Kaveri in twin engine configuration. But this remains in the air for the moment. There are other suitors, notably Boeing’s aggressive pitch that pushes the enhanced GE F414 supercruise capable engine for the AMCA, an engine family that Boeing’s Super Hornet shares with the Saab Gripen E.
GHATAK UCAV: DRDO/Snecma Kaveri modified for non-reheat stealth operations. The Government is clear at this stage that it doesn’t want a foreign powerplant on the sensitive programme.