Are outdated and long-forgotten engines for AMCA being offered to India?

Three engines that will fit India’s needs have been offered to the country, which is looking to co-develop a new engine for its 5th Generation AMCA fighter aircraft programme. The offer has come from three major aerospace engine producers worldwide. While India has been promised a full transfer of knowledge for this engine along with a percentage of intellectual property rights on specific engine components, none of these engines are completely original designs and are still based on engines that were created around 30 years ago.

American General Electric, the largest aero engine producer in the world, has offered India F-414-400 upgraded engines, which thanks to changes to its core will be able to provide the 110–130kN of thrust that India is looking for. The F-414 is built upon the tried-and-true design platform of its F404 forerunner, which went into production in 1998. Compared to the original F404, which was initially tested in 1976, the F414 produces 35% more thrust.

Due to stringent export control constraints imposed by US state legislation and a lack of fundamental technology transfer, General Electric has been the weakest competitor in India, significantly reducing its chances of success. Many people still have recent recollections of India’s post-nuclear explosion sanctions on the exact same engine used in the Tejas programme, and the likelihood of victory is quite low.

As the United States has created brand-new engines for both the F-22 and F-35 programmes, F-414 engines were mostly utilised on 4.5 generation fighter jets. They were briefly employed in the first generation F-117 stealth attack aircraft. The F-414 engines are not equipped with thermal mitigation techniques, are not tuned for use with 5th generation platforms, and cannot be considered sufficiently sophisticated for use even 40 to 50 years from now.

The second proposal comes from Rolls Royce, the world’s second-largest manufacturer of aircraft engines, which has made an updated version of the EJ-200 engine that powers Eurofighter Typhoon jets but appears to be having financial difficulties lately. In the late 1990s, Rolls Royce began working on the idea of creating a more potent EJ-200 for the Tranche 3 Eurofighter Typhoon programme, but that was never approved due to cost issues. The same has since been given to India.

Due to technical issues that might have required reworking of its entire core in order to achieve desired thermal management for the 6th generation fighter jet, Rolls Royce has no plans to use an upgraded version of the EJ-200 or use it as a base for the development of a new engine for its 6th Gen Tempest programme. EJ-200 had its first run in 1991. As orders for the Eurofighter are decreasing, Rolls Royce will have no trouble providing complete ToT for engines that it is no longer able to sell as a package because EJ-200 manufacturing will mostly be limited to serving its current customers.

The French aerospace giant Safran, whose M-88 engine already powers India’s fleet of Rafale fighter jets, is the front-runner to land this contract. The M-88 engine, which was developed in the middle of the 1980s, is the oldest and least effective of the three in terms of producing maximum thrust. Over the past three decades, the M-88 engine’s core has undergone a number of improvements to enhance its lifespan and Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF), but never to boost its thrust.

An M88-4E ECO engine with a 105-115KN thrust range was planned by Safran, however it was only ever intended as a concept. The M-88-4E planned core requires significant engine rework, which is why it was never developed past the concept stage. The M-88 in its current core will not be sufficient to provide 110 to 130kN of thrust. France, which is collaborating with Germany and Spain on the sixth generation of the FCAS programme, is developing a brand-new engine for this programme and will not be using the M-88 family to power it.

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