September 03, 2012
Credit: Credit: Dassault Aviation
Amy Svitak Paris
France's defense equipment agency, DGA, pumps €700 million ($875 million) a year into research and technology (R&T), an investment that aims to lay the groundwork for future capabilities while maintaining industrial independence in key technological areas.
Through these investments, DGA seeks to organize industry around R&T projects and promote defense exports in ways industry does not—or cannot—do on its own. By quantifying the value added to specific R&T programs, DGA demonstrates it is more than a transfer agent between government defense spending and French industry.
One recent example is DGA's investment in developing a lighter-weight, more cost-efficient version of the M88 engine that powers the air force and naval versions of France's multirole Rafale fighter.
Keen to reduce total cost of ownership of the aircraft, DGA tapped M88 contractor Snecma to initiate the engine's third major redesign. Known as the M88-4E, it eventually will replace the M88-2, Snecma's second upgrade, which aimed to reduce maintenance costs by extending time between inspections of key components, such as the compressor and turbine.
Offering a low-emission combustor, single-crystal turbine blades and powder metallurgy disks, the M88-2 is designed to reduce Rafale's electromagnetic and infrared signature. Incorporating a modular architecture, the engine can be quickly returned to service after maintenance as modules can be removed for repair or overhaul without grounding the aircraft. The M88-4E will further reduce the aircraft's fuel consumption and augment the lifespan of critical engine parts—in particular the core and afterburner— reducing fuel burn by 2-4%.
DGA awarded Snecma a contract in January 2008 for 16 upgraded M88-2 engines, spare parts and repair services. The first ground test of the improved powerplant was performed in September 2009, with a first flight test in March 2010. The agency also invested €100 million in the project's industrial ecosystem through Snecma.
“The objective was to improve the overall cost of ownership and maintainability of the Rafale engine,” DGA says. “Today, there is an anticipated gain in cost reduction of 5% and the life of the turbine blades has been increased by more than 50%.”