DRDO officials say the Kaveri aero-engine, which incidentally is over 22 years in the making by now with a sanctioned cost of Rs 2,893 crore, can power unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) because they "do not require the kind of higher thrust" needed for the indigenous Tejas LCA (light combat aircraft).
"Nine prototypes of Kaveri engine and four prototypes of Kaveri Core (Kabini) engines have been developed with over 2,000 hours of testing...the engine is proven with almost 80 kilonewtons (kN) of thrust now, which is enough for our UCAVs (Tejas requires 90 kN)," said an official.
This comes even as DRDO has now begun preliminary work on developing stealth UCAVs, under the secretive 'autonomous unmanned research aircraft' programme. This UCAV will weigh less than 15 tonnes, fly at altitudes of 30,000 feet and fire missiles and bombs with precision, as earlier reported by TOI.
DRDO has also come up with a modified Kaveri version, by "designing a free-power turbine to generate shaft power", for propulsion of warships. The Navy, as per DRDO, has shown "a lot of interest" in the engine which has a 12 MW power output.
"With Kaveri, we have proven several gas turbine technologies for a variety of applications. Indian Railways is also interested in knowing whether Kaveri can be used for powering trains," said the official.
DRDO is now also trying to tie up with French company Snecma to jointly develop the "90kN thrust class of upgraded Kaveri engines" for the future requirements of IAF. But the fact remains that the Kaveri project's dismal performance has forced India to ink a $822 million contract for 99 General Electric's F-414 engines, with an option to go for another 49 engines at a later stage, to power the Tejas Mark-II version.
While the first 20 Tejas will be powered by GE-404 engines, the next six Mark-II squadrons (16-18 jets in each) will have the new more powerful GE F-414 engines. Under the LCA project, which itself has been 28 years in the making with an almost 3,000% jump in overall developmental costs, IAF hopes to have its first two fully-operational Tejas squadrons based at the Sulur airbase (Tamil Nadu) by 2015 Now.
The Times OF INDIA