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  • Writer's pictureBrahmastra Aerospace

Transatlantic Allies Take Flight: UK and US Join Forces to Power India's Next-Gen Combat Aircraft

The UK and the US are vying for the opportunity to collaborate with India in developing an engine that would power the country's next-generation combat aircraft. India has been searching for partners to create an engine that would offer at least 110 kilonewton of thrust, an essential component for self-reliance in defense.

India’s ambitious plans for a new advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) and twin-engine deck-based fighter could be set for a boost from either the UK or the US, as the country's talks with France to co-develop a new fighter jet engine remain stalled.

With India's interest in finding a partner to develop an engine capable of providing 110 kilonewton, or kN, of thrust, two key players have emerged as contenders: the UK and the US.

The UK is making a strong push to co-develop engines under a government-to-government umbrella, offering to credit the full intellectual property (IP) of the product to India.

A joint assessment by engineers from India and the UK concluded that the process to develop and certify a new military engine would take close to eight years.

The UK offer is to develop a brand-new engine that India can produce and even export without hindrances.

The UK government's commitment to the project is significant, with the UK minister for defence procurement, Alex Chalk, describing it as "the biggest ever capability transfer in history".

This means ensuring that the engine that is co-created would be to Indian specifications and if India wants to export it, that would be a matter entirely for India to decide.

Meanwhile, the US, which has traditionally been cautious about technology transfer of key aspects of fighter jet engines, is also in the running. Discussions are underway to leverage on the LCA deal, with the American engine being supplied rated at 98 kN of power.

The US has committed to producing these engines in India, but the quantum of technology transfer has not yet been decided. Talks are ongoing to move towards the 110 kN requirement.

An indigenous fighter jet engine is considered one of the most vital components towards self-reliance in defence for India, with the technology currently available with only five nations across the world.

While China has been making rapid improvements in this area, it has struggled with reliability issues on locally made engines copied from Russia, according to defence experts.

Discussions with France to utilise a part of the Rafale fighter jet deal offsets to co-develop an engine have been on for close to seven years, without any conclusion.

As per discussions in 2016, the development costs would have been in excess of $750 million, or about '6,600 crore, if offset commitments from the Rafale fighter jet were utilised.

This cost estimate could now be significantly higher, given inflation over the past seven years.

India is eager to find a partner for the development of a new fighter jet engine as part of its plan to achieve self-reliance in defence.

The UK and the US are both strong contenders, with the UK offering to develop a brand-new engine and the US offering to produce engines in India.

The choice will ultimately come down to which partner India believes can provide the best engine for its needs.

Whatever the outcome, India's plan to achieve self-reliance in defence will be a significant achievement, and a new fighter jet engine will be an important step towards this goal.

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