Indian Jaguar Re-engining Nears

When India did not short­list either of the U.S. fight­er offer­ings in its large Medi­um Mul­ti-Role Com­bat Air­craft com­pe­ti­tion, it raised ques­tions whether some­thing was amiss with the defense-indus­tri­al rela­tion­ship between the two sides.

This arti­cle is pub­lished with kind per­mis­sion of “Avi­a­tion Week & Space Tech­nol­o­gy

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 Jaguar photo: USAF
Jaguar pho­to: USAF

But U.S. indus­try still looks to have access to this growth mar­ket. The lat­est sign is that after sev­en months of on-again, off-again talks, India’s effort to re-engine more than 100 of its Sepecat Jaguar strike air­craft is final­ly mov­ing for­ward, with indi­ca­tions that Hon­ey­well will land the deal.

Indi­an air force offi­cials say the defense min­is­ter, in late August, was told to fast-track the acqui­si­tion to replace the Jaguar’s Adour Mk811 engines in light of oper­a­tional con­sid­er­a­tions and require­ments. That effec­tive­ly means a con­tract will be award­ed to Hon­ey­well for its F125N engine. Both U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clin­ton pushed for the $650 mil­lion deal dur­ing their vis­its to New Del­hi last year. U.S. offi­cials sug­gest that the paper­work for a for­eign mil­i­tary sale (FMS) is already being processed. Any deal with Hon­ey­well would involve the pur­chase of more than 200 engines.

But it is not a done deal. High-lev­el Rolls-Royce offi­cials says they are still in talks with the air force to upgrade the cur­rent pow­er­plant. Rolls-Royce did not respond to the service’s request for pro­pos­als ear­li­er this year and was believed to have stepped away from the com­pe­ti­tion in Feb­ru­ary, say­ing it had issues with the stat­ed require­ment. While Hon­ey­well offered a new engine, Rolls-Royce’s was an upgrade of the exist­ing Adour engine to the Mk821 stan­dard, and there­fore not strict­ly a “re-engin­ing” as demand­ed by the Indi­an air force.

“We are still in dia­logue with the Indi­an air force about what we believe is a much more cost-effec­tive and low­er-risk engine upgrade pro­gram. A pack­age that would min­i­mize air­craft inte­gra­tion and would uti­lize exist­ing Adour infra­struc­ture in Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Ltd., which we believe should be a point of deep impor­tance for the cus­tomer,” a senior Rolls-Royce India offi­cial says. Mil­i­tary offi­cials con­firmed that the firm has held sev­er­al meet­ings with the acqui­si­tion team since Feb­ru­ary.

In brief­in­gs, Hon­ey­well has crit­i­cized Rolls-Royce’s Mk821 pro­gram, sug­gest­ing that sev­er­al parts of the engine were yet to be devel­oped ful­ly. Hon­ey­well says its offer­ing, the F125IN, is designed to “drop-fit into exist­ing Jaguar air­frames, result­ing in an enhanced air­craft with supe­ri­or mis­sion capa­bil­i­ties and with a pro­ject­ed life-cycle sav­ings of over $1.5 bil­lion.”

Pri­vate­ly, Rolls-Royce has ques­tioned Honeywell’s “drop-fit” claim, sug­gest­ing that cer­ti­fy­ing the F125N on the Jaguar is like­ly to take an unac­cept­able length of time from the military’s per­spec­tive.

The Indi­an air force, which began acquir­ing Jaguars in 1981, has since bought license-built vari­ants from Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Ltd., and has had them upgrad­ed sev­er­al times with new nav­i­ga­tion­al aids, weapons capa­bil­i­ties and pre­ci­sion-attack sys­tems, incre­men­tal­ly crank­ing up plat­form weight. After sev­er­al com­plaints of low thrust across the aircraft’s oper­a­tional enve­lope, par­tic­u­lar­ly at medi­um alti­tude, the ser­vice decid­ed four years ago to search for a new engine. In 2008, an inter­nal study of the options avail­able rec­om­mend­ed an engine replace­ment rather than an upgrade.

Over the next few months, the Indi­an air force will also come clos­er to choos­ing a close-com­bat air-to-air mis­sile for its Jaguars. The com­pet­i­tive field has been nar­rowed to MBDA’s Advanced Short-range air-to-air mis­sile and Rafael’s Python 5. Live-fire field eval­u­a­tions are sched­uled to be held before year’s end.

Indi­an air force chief Air Chief Mar­shal Nor­man Browne, a vet­er­an Jaguar pilot him­self, has stressed the need for effi­cient con­tract­ing, faced as he is with deplet­ing squadron strength. Four days into office, a fatal Jaguar crash, still under inves­ti­ga­tion, is under­stood to have com­pelled fresh dia­logue with the defense min­istry to speed up mod­ern­iza­tion efforts, since they have a bear­ing on flight safe­ty.

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