During the state visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington DC, a significant achievement was reached as the United States (US) administration granted executive approvals for the production of F414 jet engines in India. Furthermore, the US Congress is being notified about the upcoming Memorandum of Understanding between General Electric (GE) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Insiders familiar with the discussions disclosed this information.
This groundbreaking development marks the first instance of the US sharing what it considers a “crown jewel” in its defence capabilities with a non-ally. It also signifies the first-ever co-production of jet engines with a country that lacks a formal treaty with Washington DC. Additionally, the US is sharing a substantial portion of sensitive jet engine technology, with provisions for increasing the tech transfer ratio.
The implications are transformative, as India will have unrestricted access to the complete engine. There will be no black boxes, and the manufacturing process in India will commence with a technology-sharing arrangement that exceeds 50% and gradually increases over the production cycle. A flexible licensing agreement will be in place, enabling India to possess designs and sensitive technology. This represents a level of tech transfer that surpasses any previous authorizations by the US. It marks a breakthrough into uncharted territories, according to a knowledgeable source.
It is understood that the executive approvals were secured from the commerce, state, and defence departments, with consideration for International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The administration is currently in the process of informing the Senate, House armed services, and foreign relations committees, a procedure that will take several weeks before reaching the full Congress. Given the strong bipartisan support that India enjoys on Capitol Hill, a smooth progression is expected.
Meanwhile, during the Prime Minister’s visit, GE and HAL will sign a Memorandum of Understanding for the manufacturing deal. These jet engines will be utilized to power TEJAS MK-2 fighter planes.
Explaining the decision’s significance from the American standpoint, Sameer Lalwani, a senior expert at the US Institute of Peace (USIP), stated, “For the US, this represents a significant move, often referred to by social scientists as a ‘costly signal,’ as it entails sharing highly sensitive technology with a non-ally. Such transfers are made possible not only through blueprints but also through the exchange of tacit and organizational knowledge within a collaborative ecosystem of joint research, manufacturing, and supply chains.”
Lalwani highlighted the Indian perspective, stating that the deal provides access to superior fighter jet engines compared to those possessed by China. These engines offer greater power and efficiency, an extended service life, and require less maintenance. Furthermore, it grants India a coveted technology cooperation partnership and a pathway to conduct research, design, and produce cutting-edge aero engines and related inputs.
Considering the deal’s political significance, Lalwani emphasized its potential to catalyze a broader defence technology and industrial partnership between the US and India, encompassing various domains ranging from basic science to laboratory research and development, co-development, and commercialization of advanced capabilities.
A recent report by John Venable and Jeff Smith of the Heritage Foundation supported the deal, noting, “The agreement will enhance India’s ability to deploy indigenously produced fighters equipped with some of the most powerful and reliable engines in their class, thus saving decades of research and development costs.” They also highlighted that the transfer of F414 engine technology will further enhance the growing interoperability between US and Indian military systems.
Under the initiative on critical and emerging technologies (ICET) announced by national security advisers Ajit Doval and Jake Sullivan in January, the US acknowledged receiving an application from GR to jointly produce jet engines that could power jet aircraft operated and produced independently by India. During the visit of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and NSA Sullivan to India this month, detailed discussions on the subject were held with their Indian counterparts. Those involved in the discussions noted the significant role played by ICET and the leadership of the National Security Advisors in facilitating progress, along with a strong focus on tangible deliverables.