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Monthly Defense News Recap – June 2023

GE Signs Deal with India’s HAL to Co-Produce F414 Engines

General Electric (GE) Aerospace announced that it signed a memorandum-of-understanding (MoU) with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to co-produce GE’s F414 turbofan engine in India.

The focal point of the MoU was to support HAL’s Tejas Mk2, a greatly improved variant of the Tejas offering more range, greater payload, reduced radar cross-section (RCS), and improved electronics, such as sensors and electronic warfare (EW) suite, among many other changes.

This MoU builds on GE and HAL’s existing partnership, which is centered on the supply of F404 engines for the Tejas Mk1 and Mk1A. Thus far, GE has supplied 75 F404s, and another 99 engines are on order for the Indian Air Force (IAF), which has 83 Tejas Mk1As on order.

The MoU was signed during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official state visit to the United States, a key event aimed at enhancing bilateral relations between the two allies. In fact, aerospace programs are playing a key role in driving India-U.S. bilateral ties through India’s acquisition of big-ticket American fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, like the C-130J-30, C-17, P-8I, AH-64E and MH-60R.

While supplying engines for the Tejas Mk2 is the main priority, the push to manufacture the F414 turbofan engine in India feeds into a long-term strategic vision on the part of both New Delhi and Washington. The F414-INS6, for example, is slated to power HAL’s Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), a dual-engine next-generation fighter aircraft (NGFA). Moreover, Boeing is also marketing the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet to the Indian Navy (IN) for the latter’s carrier-borne fighter requirement.

As these programs materialize, there is a significant value in manufacturing the F414 in India. First, as the bulk of the IAF and IN’s future aircraft rely on the engine, it is in India’s security interests to localize the F-414’s supply channel. Second, localization can help reduce costs by diverting the defence spend (intended for the engines) to the local economy, thus reducing hard/foreign-currency outflows while also supporting local employment, talent development, and other benefits.

For the U.S., on the other hand, enabling India to manufacture the F414 helps Washington deepen its ties in India across the military and defence industry realms. Strong connections of this nature could help Washington get New Delhi’s support, particularly on issues that can affect India’s security interests (like complying with U.S. sanctions on Russia). Of course, it also helps promote programs like the Super Hornet (which uses the GE F414) to India as well as bid to power other Indian programs, like drones.

That said, GE is not the only player seeking to build on India’s aircraft engine manufacturing potential. The French defence giant, Safran, is also aiming to expand its investment in India. Undoubtedly, programs like the potential F414 production line and Safran’s investments will feed into India’s wider defence ecosystem, reinforcing the country’s existing work on gas turbines and other critical aero-engine technologies.


Russian Supply Shortfalls Creating Gaps for Customers

As Russia focuses on replacing the equipment it is losing in Ukraine, the countries that rely on Moscow for arms are finding it difficult to keep their major weapon systems online.

Algeria, for example, primarily relies on Russia for big-ticket equipment, like combat aircraft, helicopters, and tanks. But as Russia works to rebuild its own stockpiles and keep its equipment serviceable, Algeria is dealing with shortages in spare parts, and an unclear roadmap from Russia for replenishment.

Likewise, India is looking for alternative suppliers for VK-2500-3 turboshaft engines and spare parts for its Mi-17V-5 transport helicopter fleet. According to Shephard, fewer than 30% of India’s Mi-17s are airworthy – thus leaving India with a critical logistics problem. Similarly, the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Su-30MKI fleet is also under stress due to a shortage of spare parts from Russia (which had experienced serviceability issues as far back as 2017 when Russia was not undergoing its own supply crunch).

Remarkably, Russia has also resorted to repurchasing some of the equipment it had exported in order to make up for its own shortfalls. Besides shedding light on Russia’s own inventory gaps (amid a full-scale war with Ukraine and its allies), this issue also harms the long-term viability of the country’s defence industry, at least in terms of exports. Russia’s top customers will likely move towards alternatives.

India is both investing heavily in its domestic programs and is buying more American equipment. Likewise, the rise of China and, potentially, Türkiye, offer the likes of Algeria, Iraq, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and other states strong land, naval, aerospace and, to an extent, space applications. In a post-war scenario, Russia will look to rejuvenate its defence exports, but it will find a vastly different – and more challenging – market than it has been accustomed to since the start of the Cold War.

Pakistan Expresses Interest in Türkiye’s “Kaan” Next-Generation Fighter

In a video commemorating the recent visit of the Commander of the Turkish Air Force, General Atilla Gulan, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has seemingly signalled its interest in Türkiye’s next-generation fighter aircraft (NGFA), the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TUSAŞ) “Kaan.”

Specifically, the PAF’s video release states:

“Both the commanders [i.e., Türkiye’s General Atilla Gulan and the PAF’s Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu] agreed to explore further avenues of bilateral collaboration for joint production of military hardware with special focus on fifth-generation aircraft and unmanned aerial platforms.”

The PAF is already a customer of some Turkish equipment, most notably the Bayraktar Akıncı high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). Thus, PAF interest in the Kaan was to be expected, though arguably, it could have occurred much earlier if not for its muddled policy on NGFAs.

In 2016, the Pakistani government of the time stated that Türkiye had invited Pakistan to participate in the country’s NGFA. However, in 2017, Pakistan opted to initiate its own NGFA project under “Project Azm”; it lacked the critical industry inputs, experience, and capacity to support such a program. As a result, the PAF leadership started seeking an avenue to collaborate on an NGFA, hence the interest in the Turkish Kaan.

However, Pakistan’s wider economic woes and the PAF’s more urgent near-term procurement roadmap is unlikely to yield many resources for serious collaborative input in the Kaan. In fact, until a variant with the ITAR-free turbofan engine is online, the PAF will not consider the Kaan a feasible option. But at the same time, the PAF does not envision NGFAs becoming a factor until after 2030, at which point such a variant of the Kaan may materialize. For the PAF, the Kaan could be a viable option for replacing its legacy F-16A/Bs, which are among its premier workhorse fighter assets today.

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