Emerging from the airport into a desperately snowblown bit of country, I am taken in a small Daimler hatchback to this little commercial spread just outside Munich, southern Germany. On the many slightly deserted buildings, there are no signboards, and everything
is covered in fresh powdered snow. My host finally steers his auto into a cavernous subterranean parking lot, where he inserts the vehicle into a slot marked "EJ Visitor". This is the headquarters of Eurojet Turbo GmbH, a four-way partnership of engine-makers from the UK, Italy, France and Germany, that makes the EJ200 turbofan engine, a hunk of metal wizardry that competes hard to power the Indian Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas. For an organisation that will have some very important visitors in a few weeks, the offices of Eurojet are surprisingly empty. But then it's clear -- most staff are at test sites and development centers making absolutely sure that everything is spot-on for the gentlemen scheduled to touch down this March.
A team comprising India's Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and the Center for Military Airworthiness & Certification (CEMILAC) are booked to arrive in Munich early March for what will be their most crucial visit. In what is giving the people at Eurojet, particularly Managing Director Hartmut Tenter great hopes for their product, is the knowledge that the Indian visitors want to discuss certification of the EJ200 for the Tejas. The team has asked to visit test-beds, manufacturing facilities and development centers during their stay.
Discussions between the Indian government and Eurojet are currently at the Q&A phase -- a period post-RFP, where the buyer smoothens out details and calls upon the vendor to explain, clarify or expand anything put forth in their technical bid. A few days ago, Eurojet received a set of 32 such questions from the ADA (Tenter says he is surprised there weren't more), out of which 26 are associated with engineering aspects, while the remaining six pertain to transfer of technology issues. Eurojet faces formidable competition to power the LCA from the American General Electric F-414-400.
OK, now here's the juice. According to Tenter and his team, for the Tejas to be able to take in an EJ200 engine, the engine will need "minor" modifications. These include some changing to the mounting assembly, a different hydraulic pump and an additional generator pack for starters. In addition, engine interfaces might need changes depending on how the LCA is configured. All in all, Eurojet believes its tailor-made EJ200 for the LCA can be ready -- certification tests and all -- in two years flat. Officials at the company point out that one of the biggest downers for their competition is that the F-414-400's intake interface assembly is markedly larger than the F-404 (and, thus, the LCA) and its selection would therefore imply some very serious modifications to the LCA's centre fuselage and intake architecture (in addition to the use of a cone director for airflow). Eurojet insists that the EJ200's installation will require absolutely no airframe and intake changes to the LCA. Both contentions remain unconfirmed at this point.
Even though the LCA new-engine competition and the MMRCA competition are linked for Eurojet (the Eurofighter Typhoon is powered by the EJ200), the company has chosen to keep both campaigns strictly separate.
"When we demonstrated the engine's performance to a team from HAL and DRDO in November last year, they were amazed that there was no thrust droop in the EJ200. The engine is designed to compensate for thrust droop," says Tenter, confident that this and a rapid-fire list of other ostensible unique selling points make the Eurojet a frontrunner in the race.Tomorrow: Part 2: The Typhoon For The Indian Navy
Photo by Shiv Aroor / Laage AFB, Germany