IAF cancels plan to upgrade Jaguar fleet, fighter plane crunch worsens

IAF has abandoned its plan to upgrade 80 Jaguar fighters with new Honeywell engines
The Indian Air Force (IAF), already short of 12 squadrons from its authorised fleet of 42, is now facing an even bigger aircraft shortfall. 

With US engine maker, Honeywell, demanding what IAF sources term an “exorbitant” price for its F-125IN engines, the IAF has told Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) that it has abandoned its plan to upgrade 80 Jaguar fighters with new Honeywell engines.

The IAF operates a fleet of 120 Jaguar fighters, comprising six squadrons. It had planned to retire the oldest 40 (two squadrons) in the early 2020s and “re-engine” the remaining 80 (four squadrons), which would then continue flying into the mid-2030s.

This plan has been abandoned after Honeywell quoted $2.4 billion for 180 engines — which include 160 engines for 80 twin-engine Jaguars, and 20 spare engines. That amounts to $13.3 million (Rs 95 crore) per engine.

With HAL charging Rs 20 crore for integrating the engines into the Jaguar fleet, the cost of “re-engining” each Jaguar has risen to a prohibitive Rs 210 crore.

The IAF is particularly incensed at Honeywell’s doubling the cost of the F-125IN engine from a quote it had submitted in 2013. In that quote, Honeywell had asked for $1.634 billion for 275 engines, or just under $6 million per engine. At that stage, the IAF was planning to upgrade all 120 Jaguars.

 The IAF considers it essential to put new engines on the Jaguar, since its current Rolls-Royce Adour 804/811 engines, which deliver a maximum thrust of 32.5 KiloNewtons do not allow the fighter to climb or accelerate effectively. Honeywell’s F-125IN engines, each of which generates a maximum thrust of 40.4 KiloNewtons, are considered essential for fielding it in combat.

Honeywell planned to build the F-125IN engines in Taiwan, where the International Turbine Engine Company already builds Honeywell’s F-124 engine for Taiwan’sF-CK-1 Ching-kuo fighter. The F-125IN is the same engine, with an afterburner to increase thrust. 

Honeywell sources say the IAF’s years of delay has convinced the company that this project is unlikely to come to fruition and that no more resources should be expended on this.

The sources point out Honeywell has spent at least $100 million on this project, including on buying two old Jaguar fighters to match the engine with the airframe. 

Honeywell’s pessimism was evident in the company’s decision not to participate in the Aero India 2019 show in Bengaluru last February.

The cancellation of this project is especially disappointing for HAL, which undertook to lead the integration of the F-125IN engine into the Jaguar, including carrying out airframe modifications, flight-testing and certification. While Honeywell quoted $1.6 billion for this work in its 2013 tender, HAL quoted under $300 million.

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