Indian admirals to visit British aircraft carrier to see the "integrated all-electric propulsion" system - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 20 October 2021

Indian admirals to visit British aircraft carrier to see the "integrated all-electric propulsion" system


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 20th Oct 21


On Friday, a group of senior Indian Navy admirals will helicopter out from Mumbai and land on Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier, that is moored in the Arabian Sea on her way back to the UK after patrolling the South China Sea.


HMS Queen Elizabeth is named after the iconic, 16th century British monarch, also called the Virgin Queen, whose legendary admiral, Sir Francis Drake, destroyed an invading Spanish armada (armed fleet) in the summer of 1588, setting England on course to be the world’s predominant naval power for the next 350 years.


The Royal Navy is harking back to those glory days with its carrier battle group (CBG) showing its teeth to China. Too small to go it alone, London has allied in the Asia-Pacific with Washington and Canberra in a grouping called AUKUS (Australia-UK-US).


Its visit to India, however, has a more prosaic purpose: London hopes to convince New Delhi’s naval planners to power India’s planned second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-2) with the Queen Elizabeth’s “integrated all-electric propulsion system” that is based on two Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbine alternators and four diesel engines.


Earlier, the Indian Navy had hoped to power IAC-2, which will be named INS Vishal, with a nuclear reactor. A key element of the US-India defence relationship is the “joint working group” on aircraft carrier cooperation. However, the Indian atomic establishment will take several years to deliver a reactor small and powerful enough for an aircraft carrier. And Washington has not offered to assist with a reactor design, the way it has offered to help Australia build a line of eight nuclear-powered submarines.


London, however, is pointing out to Indian planners that nuclear power is essential only for the 100,000 tonne supercarriers that the US Navy fields. INS Vishal is built to more modest proportions, tipping the scales at 65,000 tonnes – exactly the same as the QE – and carrying a similar aviation complement of 50-60 aircraft.


“The Queen Elizabeth already has exactly the propulsion solution that India requires for the Vishal,” explained a senior British officer, talking anonymously.


“The Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbine is the most power-dense in the world,” says Kishore Jayaraman, the South Asia chief for Rolls-Royce. Jayaraman is looking beyond the IAC-2 to India’s future naval fleet, including the eponymous next-generation frigates and next-generation destroyers, which he would like powered by Rolls-Royce MT-30 turbines instead of the American LM-2500 and Ukrainian Zorya gas turbines that are currently used.


Jayaraman says the Queen Elizabeth’s two MT30 turbines generate 36 MegaWatts (MW) each and are supplemented by four Finnish Wartsila diesel generators that provide another 10 MW each. These drive electric motors provided by  US firm GE Power Conversion, which propel the carrier at 32 knots (60 km per hour).


The groundwork for UK-India defence cooperation has been gradually built up over the preceding years. New Delhi and London recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Technology and Industrial Capability Cooperation (DTICC). This is the UK’s first such inter-government arrangement, designed with India’s preference for sovereign-to-sovereign transactions in mind. That was supplemented in May by Roadmap for India-UK future relations arrived at by the two prime ministers. 


  1. Can the UK help India to develop and minaturise nuclear power plants to propel submarines and aircraft carriers too? Perhaps, the technology that the Royal Navy uses in this regard is not suitable for the Indian Navy.
    I am sure the fact that the Rolls Royce MT30 turbines have already been integrated into the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, and are performing well, will be of interest to the relevant Indian authorities. It also appears that no modifications were required to the QE Class aircraft carriers after it's sea trials.
    Does a USN Carrier Task Force with a Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier seem to be overkill for any naval engagement on the high seas?

  2. It appears that the Indian Navy has decided to go with SSNs and deferred the IAC2. This is a good move given that there is no valid 'use case' for a IN carrier strike group. Unlike the US and UK, India is not going to get involved in expeditionary regime change wars of choice with smaller weaker-states. The IN also cannot make a case for carriers as an air defense ship given hypersonic missiles.

    SSNs are the way to go what with the Severodvinsk SSN firing the Zircon missile and China and others working on the same.

    The Ford Class carriers make sense for the US which wants floating airfields to intimidate and deter smaller states as in 100,000 tons of 'diplomacy'

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