India’s Indigenous Aircraft Come Up Short
By Leithen Francis, Jay Menon
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
Another factor in the Tejas' 30-year development delay is the GTRE GTX-35VS Kaveri engine. Originally planned as an indigenous enterprise, the country was unable to master the engine technology, such as manufacturing the single-crystal turbine blades needed to produce powerful military engines. A few years ago, the country turned to France's Snecma for help, but to no avail. The latest word is that the Kaveri will power a combat unmanned aerial vehicle, now in the early stages of development.
Another white elephant is the NAL Saras, a 14-seat multi-role military transport aircraft. Its first flight was in 2004 and two test aircraft were built—PT1 and PT2. The latter crashed in 2009, killing all three on board. After major design modifications, Chetty says, PT1 is now due to fly in April. A third test aircraft has already been built, but engineers are still “working on weight optimization” for that aircraft and it will only be flown after NAL has had a chance to test out the revamped PT1. The third prototype is about 500 kg (1,102 lb.) lighter than the original Saras, which had a maximum takeoff weight of 7,100 kg. Chetty says NAL achieved the weight savings by incorporating more composite parts, including a wing that uses vacuum-enhanced resin-infusion technology.
The new Saras will retain the same Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engines as the earlier prototypes, but with lower power. This will reduce fuel burn, says Chetty, who adds that the aircraft has no need for so much power. The new Saras is being vetted to meet the air force's requirement for single-engine climb performance. The air force has agreed to buy 15. Once the Saras achieves military certification, NAL plans to petition for it to be certified as a commercial aircraft.
Even if Tejas and Saras enter service, some analysts doubt whether they could be successful on the international market. Meanwhile, India's armed services continue to gravitate toward foreign defense equipment. The air force, for example, is about to issue a request for proposals for 56 military transports to replace its fleet of aging Hawker Siddeley HS 748 turboprops. The contenders include the Alenia C-27J and the Airbus Military C295.