NSA visit to US: iCET paves way for GE – 414 INS6 engines for LCA MARK II
The transfer of 100 per cent technology for the production of GE-414 engines in India will greatly support the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative
The NSA Ajit Doval visited the US from 30 January 2023 to 1 February with a focus among other things on the US-India Initiative for Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET). Accompanying Doval to the bilateral dialogue on “Critical and Emerging Technologies” with US NSA Jake Sullivan were the Scientific Adviser to Defence Minister, Satheesh Reddy, DRDO Chief Samir V Kamat, Principal Scientific Adviser Ajay Sood and Secretary (Telecom) K Rajaram.
During the visit, NSA Doval interacted with US policymakers and stakeholders across government, Congress, business, academic and research communities on a range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest. Apart from his meeting with US National Security Adviser Sullivan, he also met Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, Acting Secretary of Defence Kathleen Hicks, key Senators and industry leaders.
He also met Secretary of State Antony Blinken who tweeted, “The United States is expanding cooperation with India to address global challenges. I had a good meeting with Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval today to discuss deepening our strategic partnership.”
This translated into action, the announcement made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden during their meeting in Tokyo in May 2022.
According to information, both countries agreed to focus on joint production of key items of mutual interest, in the field of defence manufacturing. The US committed to an expeditious review of the license application submitted by M/s General Electric to produce jet engines in India for the indigenously manufactured Light Combat Aircraft. Another decision was on creating a new Innovation Bridge to connect defence startups.
iCET aims to position the two countries as trusted technology partners by building technology value chains and supporting the co-development and co-production of items. It also aims to address regulatory restrictions, export controls and mobility barriers through a standing mechanism.
India and US plan to share advanced defence and computing technology, including the potential joint production of General Electric Co, jet engines, as the Biden Administration seeks to shift India away from Russia and counter China.
The US–India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies, would bolster the US’s broader agenda of strengthening military, technology and supply-chain links with partner countries.
Sullivan said in a briefing that the framework won’t be solely driven by the geopolitical challenges posed by Moscow or Beijing. But he added that China’s aggressive military moves and economic practices have had “a profound impact on the thinking in Delhi” and other capitals around the world. “The China-Russia factors are real, but so is the idea of building a deep, democratic ecosystem of high technology.”
During the meeting, the US side also assured support to ease export barriers to India in a few critical areas, including through efforts towards legislative changes.
India and US are likely to take their defence cooperation to the next level with the Biden Administration likely to give a green signal to GE, a world leader in military jet engines, to manufacture the GE-414 INS6 engines in India in collaboration with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and a still-to-be-identified private defence equipment maker.
The India-specific GE-414 INS6 engine will power the LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) Mark II, which will be rolled out by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) early next year and taken to the skies by the end of 2024, and the under-development twin engine Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft.
As per the latest news reports the GE-414 engine will be manufactured under terms that include 100 per cent transfer of technology (ToT), with the deal likely to be sealed during the ongoing visit of the high-level delegation led by Doval to US.
At a dinner hosted by Indian Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu and attended by senior US officials including Sullivan, Doval highlighted the need to convert intentions and ideas into actions and specific deliverables through focused steps in a timebound manner.
The negotiations for 100 per cent local manufacturing of GE-414 engines began when then DRDO chief Satheesh Reddy visited US in May 2022 to meet US Under Secretary of Defence for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu, and her colleague Terry Emmert, the Principal Deputy Chief Technology Officer for mission capabilities.
It is reported that US officials are evaluating a proposal from GE to approve joint production of jet engines for Indian warplanes, Sullivan said Tuesday. He wouldn’t speculate on how soon an announcement might come while adding that the countries are aiming for “fast and ambitious progress”.
While GE-404 engine powers the LCA Tejas Mark I aircraft, the GE-414 engine will power the Mark II Tejas, which will carry nearly 6.5 tonnes of missiles and ammunition and will be a replacement for Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 aircraft.
India plans to produce more than six Squadrons (each Squadron has 18 aircraft) of the Mark II aircraft for the Indian Air Force and will also be exporting the fighter to interested countries.
The GE-414 engine will also power the twin-engine advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) under development by ADA, which is the nodal agency under DRDO for the development of LCAs. The fighter is expected to take to the skies at the end of this decade with its naval version operating on aircraft carriers.
Clearance for assembly of GE engines in India would be a step toward lessening the country’s historic reliance on Russia for military hardware India now flies a mix of Russian, European and locally produced jets in its fighter fleet.
With the Biden Administration likely to give permission for 100 per cent manufacturing TOT to GE, this will lay the foundation for future joint design, development, and manufacture of high-powered engines beyond 110 KN thrust between the two countries.
The agreement will be a major milestone as it will result in shifting the manufacturing of certain critical components to India and signals a deepening of linkages which many observers had felt had suffered due to India retaining a neutral stand in the Ukrainian conflict. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the “important” India-US partnership is between “two friends” which look forward to creating a democratic technology ecosystem to reinforce democratic values and their democratic institutions.
This will not merely add to the nation’s Atmanirbhar Bharat mission but also make India one of the leading civilian as well as military aircraft manufacturers in the world.
The author is a retired Major General of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal.
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