Monday, October 5, 2009
RD-33 for Tejas?
India Defence Online reports India is seriously considering to use the Russian 33/RD-33MK engines for the homegrown Light Combat Aircraft, as it already used the Indian Air Force fleet of MiG-29 aircraft.
I have already wrote about this possibility in this blog early. I think, the allegedly selling of an uprated RD-93 engine to China and the current Indian activity around RD-33MK are two related events. Indeed, during some years (more than 5) Russia repeatedly refused to sell the RD- 33 variant with increased thrust to China. One possible reason for this – is the Indian pressure and the agreement between two nations for not allowing China to have more advanced weapons than India. The second one – Russia by self doesn't want China to be too assertive, so the weapons sold for China were always inferior in some degree relative to what Moscow sells to Delhi.
But the technological development is continuing. Sometimes you must run for keeping your place intact. Russia cannot refuse to sell 9 t RD-93 engine for China infinitely (till now it sold only 8.3 t thrust variant). It because the China copy WS-13 (with 7.8 t thrust) is gradually improved and becoming close in its characteristics to the regular RD-93. If Russia refuses now it will lose both the market and the leverage on China. So, the refusing loses its sense. Now the Russian engine manufacturers use Chines money for R&D, so India benefits from this situation too, since China in reality pays for India's advantage. Otherwise the price for new Russian engines, imported to India would be significantly higher.
It's not a secret, that India wants its Tejas light fighter will be more advanced than the Chinese fighter FC-1 (JF-17) of the same weight class. This advantage has not only a military but political and psychological aspect too. One of the most important and persuasive characteristic of a fighter is its engine. According to its thrust, reliability, service life can be made the conclusions about capability of the aircraft to take weapons and fight.
Thus, the current Indian preoccupation in seeking a more powerful engine for its indigenous Tejas project is well understood against the background of aggressive Chinese FC-1 marketing to India's neighbors. A more powerful engine with longer life could help Tejas mk.2 to take-off from the carrier deck, keep more payload and be more maneuverable in dogfight. Now installed GE F-404 engine isn't powerful enough, and the development of the indigenous Kaveri engine is too slow.
Till now two foreign engines were evaluated by India as candidates for Tejas mk.2: the European 90 kN EJ200 (EF-2000) and the American 98 kN GE F-414 (Super-Hornet). Only F-414 gives Tejas a decisive advantage over FC-1's RD-93 in thrust, although being slightly heavier. However, the airframe (inlets) rework is needed too for installation. 90 kN EJ200 has no significant advantage over RD-93 especially if the last is going to be uprated to 9 t = 88.2 kN. Furthermore, since the uprated variant of RD-93 is based on RD-33MK technologies, it must have service life close to 4.000 h. Whilst EJ200 according to some sources has only 2000 h life.
The Chinese were not allowed to produce RD-93, but they bought a repairing facility and technologies for repair. Thus they are unable to make a new RD-93 but theoretically still can try to 'overclock' RD-93 for even more thrust - 90-93 kN – however with expense of reducing life in some degree. In such a way they can have an engine with better than EJ200 tech characteristics for half a price. It can be the critical point for their FC-1 program export success. If they indeed, as was reported, are going to buy up to 500-1000 RD-93 engines with increased power, they are very serious in this aspect.
As my reason says me, the Indians tops could be now with the dilemma:
1) Going for the American 98 kN F-414 . Proved risk to be sanctioned in most unpredictable and hard situation. A totally new engine in IAF and IN inventory. However, could have some sense if F/A-18 wins MMRCA tender. Growing friction with US on nuclear issue makes this choice too risky and so – improbable.
2) 90 kN EJ200 – doesn't give any tech advantage for Tejas against it's main competitor and rival. According to my estimation could be as twice more costly than RD-33MK-based engine if recounted to lifespan. Theoretically can be sanctioned by each participant of this project (GB, Germany, Italy). Significantly reduces the export prospective of Tejas being too costly for potential LCA consumers in 3rd World.
3) RD-33MK variant with the bottom gear placement and a thrust vectoring nozzle (RD-133). Can be upgraded up to 10 t (98 kN) thrust in near future without changing the engine core. The Russian obligation to not sell TVN for China can be obtained, so the advantage of Tejas mk.2 engine (if chosen) can be visible and persuasive for public. The KLIVT all aspect TVN can be especially worth for the carrier based Tejas' variant now actively developed by HAL. The 8.3 t RD-33 ser.3 variant of the engine is already licensioned and ToTed in India, so only a minimal addition will be needed for RD-33MK production in India.
The last developments, the new contract for additional 29 MiG-29K\KUB and the Indian intention for purchasing more 50 Su-30MKI say Delhi has no any 'allergy' to Russian military stuff as some English-speaking writers hint in their publications. Therefore, even deeper cooperation can be predicted between India and Russia in military-industrial sphere, including common development. If RD-33MK chosen as a transitional engine for Tejas LCA (till Kavery ready), it's would be logically to use the Russian expertize for accelerated integration it into the redesigned LCA airframe. In most successful scenario we can reckon even a joint venture for accelerated LCA export for third countries with the Russian engine. This could have the framework of Brahmos program, when one side gives its almost ready project for joint revision and export, but keeping independence in domestic production. Only by this way the Indo-Russian tandem could compete with the aggressive Chinese marketing of its light fighters in 3rd World. For now Russia has no a project which could be an alternative to Chinese FC-1 fighter in light class.
The current development also raise the Russian chances to win MMRCA tender, since the opportunity for engine unification between IAF and the Navy on one already ToTed engine (RD-33) seams to be too attractive for refuse.