The US has offered to support India in building engines for its fighter aircraft and warships, nearly 18 years after its sanctions nearly killed indigenous efforts to set them up under a project called Kaveri.
US secretary for defence Ashton Carter told India’s defence minister Manohar Parrikar in Washington on Thursday that the US has changed its policy on gas turbine engine technology transfer to India, allowing the know-how to be shared with Indian companies.
The change was acknowledged in a joint statement by the two defence ministers. Carter is confident the US will be able to expand co-operation in production and design of jet engine components.
“Secretary Carter and minister Parrikar look forward to US companies working with their Indian counterparts to submit transfer requests that will benefit from this updated policy,” the statement said.
India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had launched the Kaveri engine programme in 1986. The engine was initially being designed for India’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which were to replace ageing Soviet-origin MiG 21 fighter planes for the Indian Air Force.
But official tardiness combined with sanctions imposed by the US after India’s nuclear tests in 1998 to botch up the project. India had sent engine prototypes to the US for testing because it did not have facilities within the country. The US confiscated the prototypes. India’s tests of the engine in Russia years later also met only with partial success.
Last year, the Kaveri programme was de-linked from the LCA project. The LCA aircraft project is itself more than 15 years behind its original schedule of delivery to the IAF. The LCA, which is being tested, is now being powered by engines made by US firm General Electric.
Technology meant for the engines would also be used in large warships for the Indian Navy. The main suppliers of gas turbines for the Indian Navy are mostly Ukrainian, with some Russian components. But the navy is worried about supplies and spares, with Ukraine and Russia locked in strife that threatens to break a once-mighty Soviet military industrial complex on which the Indian military is heavily dependent. The Indian Navy has 47 warships being built currently for its fleet.
Yesterday’s India-US joint statement also said a bilateral Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation, especially in the area of aircraft launch and recovery equipment, was drafting a roadmap on potential US support for the complex vessels.
This week, a Jet Engine Technology Joint Working Group, which met in Bangalore, had concluded its terms of reference and had productive discussions on co-operation in this area, the statement said.
Defence minister Parrikar has been in the US since December 4. He was at first hosted at the headquarters of the US Pacific Command (Pacom) in Hawaii, the first Indian defence minister to visit the largest theatre command in the world.
In Hawaii, Parrikar received briefings from the US Pacom chief, Admiral Harry J. Harris. In a statement, Pacom said the two sides understood that the “foundational agreements” proposed by the US – mainly a logistics support agreement and a communications interoperability and security memorandum of agreement (CISMOA) – were important for bilateral military cooperation. There was no mention of when and whether the agreements would be signed.
Parrikar was also given a demonstration of carrier operations on board the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Carter welcomed India’s participation in the Rim-of-the-Pacific (RIMPAC) multilateral naval exercise in 2016 as well as participation by the Indian Air Force in the multilateral Red Flag exercise in April-May 2016. The US would be participating in an International Fleet Review of the Indian Navy at Visakhapatnam in February 2016.