Logistics: Reaching For The Core


August 24, 2009: Three years ago, India began negotiating to build the Russian RD-33 jet engine under license, and recently reached an agreement. While many Russian parts will be used, this arrangement will enable India, like China, to work its way into the exclusive club of nations capable of building jet engines. Russia will make $250 million out of this deal.

India already assembles the AL-31 engine for the Su-30, and engines for the older MiG-21 and MiG-27. The assembly process is exacting and India has created thousands of technicians and engineers with valuable experience working on these engines. But, so far, India has not been able to develop the technology to manufacture core components (that deal with very high pressures and temperatures). India also does maintenance on all the engines it builds, but really wants to manufacture and assemble the most modern engines completely within India. Earlier efforts to develop a high end engine for an Indian designed jet fighter failed.

There are currently two Russian engines being built for modern fighter aircraft. The $3.5 million AL-31 (for the Su-27/30, and the Chinese J-11, J-10) and the $2.5 million RD-33/93 for the MiG-29 and the Chinese JF-17 (a F-16 type aircraft developed in cooperation with Pakistan.)

The RD-33 is a Cold War era design, created mainly to power the MiG-29 fighter. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Klimov, the manufacturer, has greatly improved the RD-33, and now the engine is basically built to Western standards. That, for example, can be seen in the 4,000 hour service life of the engine. At the end of the Cold War, RD-33 engines were lucky to last half that, and had far more reliability problems than they do today.

Weighing 1.1 tons, the engine generates up to 20,000 pounds of thrust. The engine can be used in other fighters, like the French Mirage. While India has assembled other Russian jet engines, but the RD-33 is the most complex engine design so far to be built in India.

India is trying to buy all the engine component manufacturing technologies from Russia but, so far, has had no success in getting the most valuable ones. China had the same problem, but was able to steal some of the technologies, and duplicate the rest. That said, the Chinese engines using these locally made components are not as durable or reliable as the Russian originals.



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