Roughly every second wide-bodied airliner flying into India has Rolls-Royce engines
A carrier strike group (CSG) from the Royal Navy, led by the aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth (QE), transited through the Suez Canal and entered the Indian Ocean on Friday. It is heading for the South China Sea on its first operational tour of those contested waters.
En route to the Western Pacific, and also while returning to the UK in October, the CSG will exercise with the Indian Navy, which it considers a key defence partner in the Indian Ocean Region.
The UK is deploying the CSG to Asia to demonstrate the “Indo-Pacific tilt” in London’s security policy. “The UK CSG… is sailing the Indian Ocean and will shortly conduct exercises with the Indian Navy, building on our already strong partnership with an important ally and friend,” said the UK’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, in a press release.
But London has an important commercial aim as well: To persuade the Indian Navy
to buy the QE’s Rolls-Royce propulsion system for India’s second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-2), which is tentatively named INS Vishal.
With nuclear propulsion ruled out for IAC-2 (developing a “marinized” reactor will take too long), the Royal Navy says the QE’s “full integrated electric propulsion system,” based on the Rolls-Royce’s Marine 36Mw MT30 (hereafter MT30) gas turbines, would be the ideal alternative. Indian and UK carriers are similar, with both displacing 65,000 tonnes.
The Indian Navy
is looking closely at the QE’s propulsion package, which consists of two Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbine alternators that provide over 70Mw of power. Four smaller diesel engines add another 40Mw, taking the QE’s total installed power to about 110Mw.
The Indian Navy
will also get to see other Rolls-Royce gas turbines in the CSG. The QE’s two primary escort vessels, Type 45 air defence destroyers HMS Defender and HMS Diamond are powered by Rolls-Royce WR-21 turbines. Two older Type 23 anti-submarine frigates in the CSG, HMS Kent and HMS Richmond, are driven by two Rolls-Royce Marine Spey SM1C engines.
Over the preceding two decades, the Indian Navy has been choosing between two propulsion alternatives for its capital warships: either US-made General Electric LM2500 turbines or Ukrainian Zorya turbines.
Now, Rolls-Royce presents a third choice. On May 4, HAL and Rolls-Royce announced they had “signed an MoU to establish packaging, installation, marketing and services support for Rolls-Royce MT30 marine engines in India”.
Building and servicing Rolls-Royce gas turbines in India would render them more affordable, says Kishore Jayaraman, who heads Rolls-Royce South Asia. “The MT30 is extraordinarily versatile. It can be fitted into seven different types of warships. It is a proven product and one that we are willing to “Make in India” and export to the world,” said Jayaraman.
A decade ago, Rolls-Royce India was little more than a trading outpost in Bengaluru that provided engineering services using 500 employees from TCS and QuEST.
In the civil airliner market, it had only a token presence, given that it only builds large aero engines to power wide-bodied, double-aisle airliners. However, Indian commercial airlines that fly domestic routes operate mostly narrow-bodied aircraft, such as Boeing 737s and Airbus 320s. These use engines supplied by Rolls-Royce’s competitors: General Electric (GE), Pratt & Whitney and CFM International (a consortium between GE and Safran). Consequently, Rolls-Royce’s main customers in the region were Sri Lankan and Nepal Airlines.
In military aircraft, Rolls-Royce’s presence was even smaller, restricted to the Jaguar fighter’s Adour 804/811 engines and the Avro HS-748’s Dart turbo-props.
However, beginning with the Hawk trainer in 2008, military aircraft
with Rolls-Royce engines steadily grew in numbers. In 2009, the C-130J Super Hercules was contracted, also with Rolls-Royce engines. In the world’s biggest fighter tender for a medium, multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), the Eurofighter Typhoon participated, fielding a Rolls-Royce engine.
Disappointingly for Eurofighter, that tender was cancelled and a smaller number of Rafale fighters bought. But the IAF remains in dialogue with Rolls-Royce for upgrading the engines of 60-80 Jaguar fighters.
As international commercial traffic to India grew, so did Rolls-Royce. Today, roughly every second wide-bodied airliner flying into India has Rolls-Royce engines. Aircraft with large engines, such as Airbus A-350 and A-330, exclusively use Rolls-Royce engines. Eighty per cent of Airbus A-380s are powered by Rolls-Royce engines.
Half of all Boeing 787 Dreamliners are powered by the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines. And Rolls-Royce Pearl engines are very popular with business jets.
Rolls-Royce calculates that its presence will grow with more orders for wide-bodied airliners.
An upbeat Jayaraman believes that things will change. Spice Jet and Go Air are considering purchases of more wide-bodied airliners. Indigo was buying six wide-bodied A-330s, with Rolls-Royce engines, but Covid-19 postponed that. “The wide-bodied fleet in India is starting to emerge. Airlines are looking at flying to Europe and that requires wide-bodied aircraft,” Jayaraman says.
China flies wide-bodied aircraft even on domestic routes. Airlines industry analysts say it makes economic sense to fly wide -bodied aircraft on the trunk, metro-to-metro routes within India. They reason this would lead to airlines operating fewer aircraft and generating less greenhouse gases.
“We decided that Rolls-Royce would transition from a trading company to an operational one. In that context, we have built a very strong operations business in India for civil and defence aerospace and land-based and sea-based power systems,” says Jayaraman.
Rolls-Royce led with engineering services. The 500 engineers it employed a decade ago were ramped up to about 2,300, a mix of employed and outsourced personnel. In 2015 alone, the company hired 500 engineers in India.
Last year, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Rolls-Royce moved further into operations work. The company partnered with Infosys Technologies, and moved 500 engineers to that company, where they function as Rolls-Royce’s core team, working on component engineering, design work, system work, documentation and technical publications.
For manufacturing engine components, Rolls-Royce set up a joint venture with HAL in 2010. Named International Aerospace Manufacturing Private Ltd (IAMPL), it makes 200 different components, including for Rolls-Royce’s most sophisticated engine: the Trent XWB.