The indigenous Kaveri aircraft engine, soon to make its debut flight, lacks the muscle needed by India's Tejas light combat aircraft, which the engine was designed to power. In its present form, the Kaveri will never power a modern fighter.
But the engine's technology -- developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation, over two decades, at a cost of Rs 3000 crore -- will not be wasted. The Indian Navy is snapping up the Kaveri for powering its growing fleet of warships.
The Navy has officially informed the Gas Turbine and Research Establishment (the DRDO laboratory that developed the Kaveri) that naval warships will need 40 Kaveri Marine Gas Turbines over the next 15 years.
In an important signal of its support, the Navy has agreed to fund 25 per cent of the cost of the KMGT project.
GTRE has developed the marine Kaveri by modifying the aero engine with a shaft, through which power can be delivered to a propeller. The Navy has extensively tested these engines at Vishakhapatnam and found that the marine Kaveri can deliver 12 Megawatts (16,000 Horsepower) of propulsion power.
Typically warships run on regular diesel engines; gas turbines (such as the Kaveri) are added on to provide 'boost power', needed for manoeuvring in battle. Contemporary gas turbines, such as the General Electric LM2500, provide India's latest 5000-tonne Shivalik class frigates with 22 MW of boost. The Kaveri's more modest 12 MW is sufficient only for smaller warships.
While the marine Kaveri's basic performance has been established (even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has seen a demonstration in Visakhapatnam), the GTRE Director, Dr Mohana Rao, is not yet satisfied with the basic design.
"So far, the KMGT is just a spin-off from the aero version," said Rao. "I want to give the Navy an engine with far greater endurance. An aero engine's life is just 3000 hours; a marine engine's life should be 30,000 hours. I must physically test the KMGT for at least 15,000 hours."
GTRE is going ahead with developing 3-4 test engines and beginning trials within three years. The trials will be conducted in a marine environment, which will include high humidity, and prolonged exposure to salt.
"We plan to begin delivery in about 6 years", says the GTRE director, "We hope to keep the cost below Rs 25-30 crores, which is considerably cheaper than buying imported gas turbines."
Earlier this year, the United States State Department had stopped General Electric from fitting its LM-2500 turbines on the INS Shivalik, apparently because GE had not obtained proper permissions from the US government.
Other than the 40 KMGTs, the Indian Navy has also issued a letter laying out a requirement for 42 Gas Turbine Generators, or GTGs. These are de-rated versions of the marine Kaveri, which will be used for generating electrical power on warships. Each GTG generates 1.2 Megawatts of power.
The Indian Navy, an enthusiastic proponent of indigenisation, proposes to replace the diesel generators fitted on older warships with the Kaveri GTG. If it performs well over a period of time, the new-generation warships will also get electrical power from the Kaveri GTG. Currently, only the Rajput and Delhi class of destroyers use gas turbines for power generation.