Problems with Transfer of Technology clause in the RFI for MMRCA 2.0

More than one third of the RFI, about 26 pages, covers the Transfer of Technology wish list. It covers everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. The past experience in India shows that TOT is waste of money. Let us understand how and what are other issues with regards to Transfer of Technology.

1. TOT does not come for free. It will increase the cost of acquiring aircrafts but is it relevant and useful to us ? For example the technologies for Blisks and Single Crystal Blades (SCB) have been asked for.

A CNC-milled, single piece axial compressor blisk. Blisk or integral blade rotor is an engine part comprising both rotor disk and blades. It consists of a single part, instead of an assembly of a disk and individual removable blades

Will an engine development programme be funded keeping in mind the negligently planned Kaveri/GTX programmes ? Before getting blisk, do we have engine test beds or people with the right stuff ? Let’s walk before buying sprinting shoes.
A Blisk is not an unmixed blessing. At the cost of more expensive FOD (foreign object debris) repairs it may be gives a 2-3 percent improvement in compressor performance, once you have reached 80-85 percent (for example) compressor efficiency ranges. But if we are at 55 percent efficiency (that of Kaveri), let us first get this efficiency up to scratch before worrying about technology transfer of Blisks.
Acquiring technology without sanctioned plans and trained people to use it reveals callousness with funds. Moreover it is an illogical expectation that all we need to get a serviceable engine is to cram it with high technology stuff.

2. The same applies to SCB (Single Crystal Blades). SCB gives better SFC (static frequency conversion, a static frequency converter is used for starting a gas turbine) as well longer TBOs (Time between overhauls). It is essential for an ‘expeditionary’ air force like the United States Air Force because even in peacetime they need to transfer aircrafts to various parts of the globe. Indian Air Force has no ambitions to global policing. We can have a matching capability usually by degrading TBOs. So why we are asking for technology transfer of SCB when we just don’t need that now.

The single crystal turbine blades are able to operate at a higher working temperature than crystalline turbine blade and thus are able to increase the thermal efficiency of the gas turbine cycle.

Look at the Chinese. Their engines do not match the US engines in terms of TBO and TTL (Transistor-Transistor Logic) but in terms of Thrust-to-Weight, they are probably close enough to the US engines. The Chinese are not unduly worried about that because they have designed their airframes for quick engine change and employing more people -they have a sensible solution. In the meantime they are making efforts, not always by reverse engineering but by some fair means too, to remove the lacunae in their engines as compared to US engines.

3. It would be cheaper and results more certain if we spend a decimal fraction of the expected TOT costs in rather funding our own companies that are already in this approximate field and with the right spirit for Blisks. Bharat Forge, for instance, comes to mind. Why not get them do a ‘cold’ i.e. non-flying Blisk of the LP spool of the RD-33 or Kaveri compressor and measure the aerodynamic efficiencies and creep and other relevant properties as well as the problems of manufacture and heat treatment. We will learn at very low cost much more than getting ‘Blisks for Dummies’ that we seek to accomplish by means of this RFI.

4. In defence engineering, our past dismal record has been that the taxpayer paid good money to get TOT which was then allowed to be wasted down the drain. Consider that :

(a) The HDW submarine programme ended and we had no follow on programme. It was only when the entire workforce at Mazgaon Docks Limited had retired that people woke up to the need to replenish our submarine fleet. Of course the TOT had to be paid for again.

(b) TOT was paid for the Bofors FH 77B 155/37 technology. We then sat on those drawings for 30 years, until the artillery requirement had changed to 155/52. This suddenly woke us up with a startle. Weren’t we hoping for another round of TOT ? The change was in another magnitude of machining and propellant technology. In the time inbetween what happened ? Firstly we did not build one single howitzer from those drawings for which we had paid TOT. Whilst our people merely gazed of on the Bofors drawings, there was a separate induction of light weight howitzers. The truth is we could have made those light weight howitzers from the earlier TOT, had we only let loose our engineers with a brief and a little funding. An aluminium gun carriage was a possible solution at a fraction of the cost even if the carriages had to be re-manufactured more often. Did anyone responsible think it out? If ‘no’ why not ? Even if it would have failed in a short period experiment, we would have surely learnt.

(c) Why is it invariably the feasible projects are never funded but the less feasible the project, more the sustained support. Who sanctions these open ended ‘picnic’ projects and why?

The past shows that TOT is waste of money. The fact that Jubbulpore factory could get out the 155/46 calibre gun out in a commendable short time indicates that there is the ability to “figure things out” at the rank and file level. If one cannot, then one should not call oneself an Engineer but an “Engineering degree holder’ ! There is a difference between the two.

Finally there is a lurking fundamental doubt about ‘buying’ TOT. The Chinese have an embarrassing trade surplus with the US about which the US complains a lot. Why is it not that the US sells and the Chinese just buy the TOT ? Perhaps the inscrutable Chinese have a natural advantage for Industrial espionage?

(Simplified from a report in Vayu Magazine by Prof. Prodyut Das)

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