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India–US Jet Engine Deal: A Major Milestone

Mr Arvind Khare is Senior Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • September 11, 2023

    In June 2023, India and the US announced the agreement between the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and GE Aerospace to produce fighter jet engines for the Indian Air Force (IAF), during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s State visit to the US. This deal is being viewed as a major milestone and key element in strengthening defence cooperation between the two countries. The deal comes in the backdrop of the IAF’s efforts to enhance its capacities and capabilities.

    The IAF is in the process of procuring 114 Multi-role fighter jets (MRFA), along with acquiring additional numbers of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk1A, followed by LCA Mk2. The fifth generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is also being developed, as is the Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the Navy’s aircraft carriers.

    The jet engine deal is important for India from strategic point of view as well as from point of view of indigenous capability development. Despite several efforts by DRDO’s Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), desired level of development of an advanced combat jet engine has remained far from reality.

    Despite self-reliance achieved in critical technologies such as cryogenic rocket engines, for instance, India has not been able to join the list of countries that can make jet aircraft engines. Very few countries like the US, Russia, the UK and France have the necessary technology and metallurgy needed to make combat jet engines. Prominent jet engine manufacturers include US-based majors like Pratt & Whitney, General Electric, Honeywell Aerospace, Safran SA (France), Rolls-Royce (UK), and Russian majors like Aviadvigatel and NPO Saturn.

    The India–US jet engine agreement includes the potential joint production of GE Aerospace’s F414 engines in India, for which the US major is working with the US government to receive necessary export authorisation. For India, the F414 engine holds great significance, given that it will power the IAF’s LCA Mk2 jets. The ADA/DRDO had in 2010 selected F414-INS6 for the LCA Tejas Mk2.1

    India’s first indigenous fighter jet LCA Tejas is powered by GE’s F404 engines. So far, 75 F404 engines have been delivered and another 99 are on order for LCA Mk1A by GE. Eight F414 engines have been delivered as part of an ongoing development programme for LCA Mk2.2 Furthermore, there are prospects of utilising F414 engines for the AMCA, India's ambitious fifth-generation fighter aircraft.

    GE noted that the historic agreement has been made possible due to the longstanding partnership with HAL and that the F414 engines ‘will offer important economic and national security benefits for both countries’.3 The GE F414 engine has been known for its reliable performance and has been used by the US Navy for over 30 years. This engine is also used in F-18 Super Hornets. The F414G, the single-engine variant of the F414, powers Saab’s Gripen E/F aircraft. The F414 engine powers military aircraft in eight nations, making it a trusted choice for modern fighter jets.

    Another aspect which makes this deal significant is the level of technology transfer, with 80 per cent technology transfer to HAL, including critical technologies, with sources noting this indicates the level of trust between India and the US. The 2012 ‘Engine Development Agreement’ in 2012 between GE and HAL for the F414 engine had 58 per cent technology transfer.4 The Joint Statement issued after talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden notes that the ‘trailblazing initiative to manufacture F-414 engines in India will enable greater transfer of US jet engine technology than ever before’.5 The jet engine deal could be a game-changer for India’s indigenisation programme, opening the doors to access to new generation technologies which will percolate to other sectors.6

    AMCA Engine

    Major foreign OEMs like Rolls Royce and Safran have also offered their jet engines under Make in India programme, for India’s fifth generation AMCA.7 India’s High Commissioner to the UK, Vikram Doraiswami and DRDO Director General (Production Coordination and Services Interaction) Chandrika Koushik visited the UK-based Rolls Royce in October 2022. Rolls Royce reiterated that it was ‘committed to supporting India’s indigenisation journey and keen to partner the country's AMCA programme’.8 Rolls Royce produces the Eurojet EJ200 engine with a thrust of 110-120KN.

    Rolls Royce’s European rival, Safran has also reportedly submitted a proposal to jointly design, develop, test, manufacture and certify a new state-of-the-art 110 KN thrust engine for AMCA and the twin-engine TEDBF for aircraft carriers, with complete technology transfer. Safran also offered to set up a centre of excellence in gas turbine technology in India with full design and metallurgical precision software tools, synchronised with Safran’s facility coming up in Hyderabad to maintain repair and overhaul LEAP engines for the A320 and Boeing 737 aircraft.9 In response to the Safran’s proposal, DRDO Chairman visited Safran engine factory and the R&D centre during Paris Air Show 2023.

    GE is also reported to have offered to develop jet engine for India’s AMCA, three years after suspending joint development of aircraft engines under the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) in October 2019. US Under Secretary for Defense Ellen Lord had indicated that issues with export controls stymied further cooperation.10

    As for indigenous engine development, there are ongoing efforts to indigenously develop jet engine under Project Kaveri. It was reported in February 2023 that the high-altitude tests of the Kaveri derivative engine (a non-afterburning version) was conducted successfully in Russia, simulating an altitude of 13,000 m.11 Godrej and Boyce has been given a contract by DRDO to manufacture a few 48 KN dry Kaveri engine modules.12 GTRE is aiming to integrate Kaveri onto DRDO’s Ghatak by 2026, an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV).


     Given the status of indigenous engine development efforts capable of powering fighter aircraft, therefore, the India–US jet engine deal is being seen as a game-changer. It could help India leapfrog in aerospace technologies and create an enabling R&D ecosystem. The agreement though will need to have suitable technology transfer supporting India’s indigenisation programme. This can then open the doors to access to new generation technologies which can percolate to other sectors.

    President Biden and Prime Minister Modi, in the Joint Statement issued after talks on 8 September 2023 ahead of the G20 Summit in New Delhi ‘welcomed the commencement of negotiations' between GE and HAL to manufacture the jet engines in India and ‘re-committed to work collaboratively and expeditiously to support the advancement of this unprecedented co-production and technology transfer agreement’.13

    If the contract to co-produce jet engine with repair, maintenance and overhauling in India along with export clauses as per India’s expectations is finalised at the earliest with the due legislative and administrative approvals in US and with the desired technology transfers and a favourable cost negotiation, it will help India and the US to further strengthen their strategic partnership centred on trade, defence and technology as well as geopolitical alignment.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.

    • 1. “GE F414 Engines Selected to Power India Light Combat Aircraft Program”, GE, 1 October 2010.
    • 2. “GE Aerospace Signs MOU with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to Produce Fighter Jet Engines for Indian Air Force”, GE, 22 June 2023.
    • 3. Ibid.
    • 4. Dinakar Peri and Suhasini Haider, “Jet Engine Deal Ensures 80% Technology Transfer to HAL; First Engine in Three Years”, The Hindu, 23 June 2023.
    • 5. “India-USA Joint Statement during the Official State visit of Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi to USA”, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, 23 June 2023.
    • 6. “Why GE's Plan to Make Fighter Jet Engines in India is a Big Deal”, The Economic Times, 23 June 2023.
    • 7. Sakshi Tiwari, “Rolls-Royce, Safran & GE Offer to Power India’s 5th-Gen AMCA Stealth Fighter Jet, But Export Restrictions Inevitable”, Eurasian Times, 11 October 2022.
    • 8. Rolls Royce India”, Twitter, 11 October 2022.
    • 9. “India France May Co-develop Engines for Fighter Jets”, Live Mint, 2 July 2023.
    • 10. Snehesh Alex Phillip, “India, US ‘Suspend’ Ambitious Jet Engine Technology Plan under Defence Trade Deal”, The Print, 24 October 2019.
    • 11. Prasobh Narayanan and Jaison Deepak, “Aero India 2023: GTRE Completes High-altitude Testing of Kaveri Derivative Engine”, Janes, 17 February 2023.
    • 12. Godrej & Boyce”, Twitter, 29 April 2023.
    • 13. Joint Statement from India and the United States”, The White House, 8 September 2023.