Indian fighter development program does an interesting reading. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) of the 1950s developed a fully operational twin-engine fighter HF-24 (Marut), which took its first flight on June 24, 1961, almost 62 years ago. Dr. Kurt Tank, a German, designed the sleek airframe.
There was no aero engine available hence Gnat aero engines were fitted. HF-24 was and has been the only big-ticket indigenous platform to serve Indian Military.
Indigenous Aero Engine Development
Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), one of the many establishments under the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), was tasked to produce an aero engine. The only accomplishment of GTRE was to christen the under-development aero engine as KAVERI.
It never saw the light of the day. There were many problems. The most important of these was deficient metallurgical capability. The steel of suitable tensile strength, which could be used to produce turbine blades, could not be produced to date.
Recommencement Of Fighter Program
In 1987, HAL recommenced the fighter development program. Yet again, there was no aero engine available.
GE 404 was acquired as a ‘to be developed’ Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). HAL had once again achieved the impossible by finding a name for the aircraft.
LCA was touted as a short form for ‘Liaison, Co-operation and Agreement’ because of the lack of indigenous components in the plane.
Induction Of LCA aka Tejas In IAF
LCA Mk I (Tejas) was inducted into IAF after IAF was ‘forced’ to grant 28 concessions to HAL and induct the aircraft in a front-line fighter squadron. The aero-engine development program was shelved. HAL had failed to produce an aero engine in 60 years.
When the pressure to develop an indigenous fighter on HAL/DRDO reached a crescendo, HAL/DRDO combined christened the ‘on drawing board’ aircraft as LCA Mk II, TEDBF, AMCA, and so on. But the non-availability of an aero engine to power these imaginary flying machines remained the biggest roadblock.
GE Joins The Race
French, British, and US agencies were racing to produce aero engines for Indian fighters. GE won the race. HAL and GE have signed on the dotted line to produce GE F414 aero engine.
This deal will have far-reaching consequences for Indian Military. All future airframes of Indian fighters will have to be configured to enable the fitment of the GE F414 aero engine, thereby restricting the freedom of different airframe designs.