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DRDO dumps three-decade old Kaveri aero engine

The file is doing the rounds of DRDO Bhavan and South Block – defence ministry headquarters at the moment, even as the agency tasked to build the aero-engine, Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), completes its final set of technology validation tests on the old engine.

The biggest problem that afflicted Kaveri, the engine in the making for almost 30 years now, was its ability to generate requisite power to make a light combat aircraft, fly. The underpowered engine, which was tested for the first time, in flight, in Russia about four years ago as the fourth engine on an Ilyushin – 76 military transport aircraft, could not rise kilo newtons above 70s, while the power required was 80-plus kilo newtons.

The aero-engine development programme was highly ambitious, when it was conceived in 1986. The ambassador car, the only vehicle then on the streets of the country, had its automobile engine developed under licence from the British principal, Vauxhall.

The aero-engine programme lived through various technology denial regimes, some bilateral like when the British refused to collaborate with India for its development to power the indigenously built, Marut aircraft, or the technology barriers that stopped getting technology and materials for the blades, for example.

This ‘swadeshi’ programme limped, but went on gamely. It now have blades that are made of single crystals, a non-composite. non-polymer material that can withstand high temperatures of the engine, which needed the heat to enhance efficiency.

But, now that it is curtains for the programme, the plan for GTRE is to switch to developing an engine for the Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles that DRDO is designing. While no specifications are yet available, for the new engine on the drawing boards, the fact that the lessons learnt and the materials developed for Kaveri will come to use to the new engine.
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