New Delhi: Joint statements on state visits tend to be drab in nature and point 10 of the joint statement after French President Emmanuel Macron’s ongoing visit to India seems just as innocuous. But its content is of serious significance to the direction of India’s defense strategies, which have long been criticised as convoluted.
It reads “The leaders noted ongoing discussions between DRDO and SAFRAN on combat aircraft engine (For details, visit www.mea.gov.in).” Safran, a major French defense and technology supplier, has been attempting to pitch its engine technology to India for more than a decade, in competition with its American and European rivals.
These attempts have been aimed at the DRDO’s flagging Kaveri project, which aims to develop an engine for the Tejas fighter. In 2008, The Kaveri was officially ‘de-linked’ from the development of the Tejas, given numerous delays and performance shortfalls and a fresh batch of F404 engines were ordered from GE in the US.
GE also won a contract worth $822 million to supply a newer engine, the F414, for the Tejas’ projected MK2 derivative; the first two of 99 F414 engines on order reached India in 2017. GE has also touted the F414 for India’s future fifth-generation fighter, called the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which remains at concept stage.
On the face of it, the French offer, valued at approximately euro 1 billion, seems to make eminent sense, in addition to providing a technology boost to DRDO.
The M88 is an advanced engine with a modular design, making maintenance easier and increasing operational availability, unlike Russian systems, which currently dominate Indian Air Force service.
Furthermore, using a common engine type for the Rafale and Tejas would rationalise the Indian Air Force’s vast and diverse logistics inventory, improving serviceability of aircraft while also lowering costs, as technicians and engineers would be dealing with common electronics, lubricants and other parts.
Therefore, it would be prudent to argue that deal to buy or co-develop Safran engines for the Tejas will help boost Rafale sales more than it would assist India’s indigenous programmes.