India to License-build MiG-29 Engines
Until the arrival of the SU-30MKs and SU-30MKIs, India’s MiG-29 fleet was its primary counter to Pakistan’s F-16s. That fleet had a number of problems, the most prominent of which was a low readiness rate given the Russians’ long turnaround time for spares, repairs, and other support. Engines were reported to be a particularly troublesome issue. Yet India is acquiring MiG-29K fighters for use from its new full-size INS Vikramaditya carrier, and the thrust-vectoring MiG-29OVT/MiG-35 variant is a contender for its MRCA medium fighter aircraft competition. Both use variants of the same basic RD-33 engine: the RD-33MK Sea Wasp, and the MK-derived RD-133 with full thrust vectoring nozzles.
In 2006 the MiG-35’s MRCA position was strengthened, and India’s maintenance issues made easier, by a $275 million arrangement to license produce an improved version of the basic RD-33 engine in India. That arrangement is moving ahead – slowly…
Contracts and Key Events
Aug 21/09: RIA Novosti reports that Rosoboronexport and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) have signed a contract at the MAKS-2009 air show for 26 RD-33 series 3 engines. Price was not disclosed. The agreement is reportedly connected to the license-manufacturing deal, as they will “help HAL master the assembly of the RD-33 jet engines and use the experience in the assembly of next generation jet engines.” StrategyPage claims that this translates as:
“…so far, India has not been able to develop the technology to manufacture core components (that deal with very high pressures and temperatures)… 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.”
March 8/07: A release from India’s DoD explains the current state of the program:
“There is no proposal for advancement of engine of MiG-29 aircraft which are powered with RD-33 Series – I and Series – II engines. These engines are no longer in production. To meet the future requirement of replacement engines for the MiG-29 fleet, an Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA) has been signed between the Government of India and the Government of Russian Federation for license manufacture of RD-33 Series – III engines at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). RD-33 Series – III engine is the latest version of RD-33 engine and has higher Total Technical Life (TTL) and Time Between Overhauls (TBO). HAL has signed a general contract with the Russian side for Transfer of Technology (TOT) for license manufacture of these engines at HAL.”
Dec 14/06: MosNews reports that a MiG-29 upgrade deal is signed for around $850 million, with work to be carried out exclusively by RSK-MiG. The deal reportedly covers 66 aircraft (down 1 due to a November 2006 crash), and will feature more powerful radars, advanced avionics and a new engine variant as well as air-to-air re-fueling capabilities.
The effort is still moving ahead, but has been delayed. Read “India’s Fighter Modernization: Add MiG-29s to the List” for ongoing coverage.
Sept 4/06: Kommersant reports that Moscow-based Chernyshev Machine-building plant will supply 20 of the new 18,000 lb/ 8300 kg thrust RD-33 jet engines for trials at a cost of about $25 million. Delivery will take place between December 2006 – January 2007. Under a deal with Rosoboronexport, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) will then manufacture 120 RD-33 series 3 extended life cycle jet engines under the $250 million license deal from St. Petersburg-based Klimov at its Koraput plant
The Times of India points out that this deal will also help India master the assembly of the related RD-33MK Sea Wasp engines for its MiG-29K naval fighters, as well as provide expertise that would strengthen maintenance capabilities for any MiG-35 fighters purchased (they use full-aspect thrust vectoring RD-133 engines).
Both Chernyshev and Klimow are part of RAC-MiG corporation, for those interested in Russia’s complex defense industry corporate structure.