The power and propulsion (P&P) systems for naval vessels have advanced considerably in recent decades. This feature aims to highlight the latest developments in the design and operation of the prime movers in those P&P systems. The prime movers are the gas turbines, diesel engines, and steam turbines that convert the energy in fuel into mechanical energy that is used for propulsion or electrical systems.
For modern naval vessels, the steam turbine has largely been replaced by arrangements of gas turbines (GTs) and diesel engines. Depending on the operating profile of the warship it will need different types of prime movers to generate the necessary power and propulsion to perform its mission sets. Because these systems are so important to a ship’s capability and are in essence its defining characteristic, designs of new ships have to consider the power and propulsion system first and foremost before anything else.
Most naval vessels will use diesel engines to provide standard levels of power for propulsion, sensors, weapons and the ‘hotel load’ to sustain the living conditions of the sailors such as heating/ cooling, lighting, charging, cooking etc. Diesel engines can provide ships with speeds up to a maximum of about 28 knots although they are generally used to provide much lower patrolling or transit propulsion speeds.
But frontline warships, especially surface combatants like frigates and destroyers have a specific requirement for high-speed maneuvers and this requires the ability for a sudden boost in power to achieve this. Adding GTs into a ship’s power and propulsion arrangement offers the capability to provide a surge in power to attain top speeds from 28kts to in excess of 40kts. Typically marine GTs would provide propulsion power from 18-30kts in most frigates and destroyers with less than 18kts powered by direct-drive diesel or diesel gen-sets via electric motors.
Marine GTs have developed considerably over the past 20 years and have become an extremely specialized niche industrial capability. Today the two main providers of GTs for navies are Rolls-Royce and General Electric, which produce the most modern high-powered GTs, the MT30 and LM2500 respectively. Ukraine’s Zorya-Mashproekt also builds marine GTs and since it stopped delivering its products to Russia following the Crimean invasion, Moscow has been developing a new marine GT capability at its aero-GT company NPO Saturn.
Marine GTs have been developed from aircraft gas turbines and the MT30 is one of the most modern on the market. Derived from the Trent 800 aero engine, with 80 percent commonality between them, the MT30 is classed as a fourth-generation GT that can produce 36MW of power going to 43MW if required.
The reason the MT30 is able to provide such large quantities of power is that the roots of its development lay in the 1980s aviation GT contract arrangement and 1990s computer power. During this period, Rolls-Royce entered into more leasing arrangements for its GT engines with commercial airlines whereby the company retained ownership of the engines while the airlines were charged for the power usage by the hour. This is one of the reasons why GT providers have been so hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis because their engines are not being used.
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