AAPI Convention 2022

 

Progress in India’s warship building, but not enough except in surface ships

There are not many developing countries like India having the capability to produce such a wide variety of warships ranging from fast-attack craft to aircraft carriers, writes Col Anil Bhat (retd) for South Asia Monitor

Col Anil Bhat (retd) May 18, 2022
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Himgiri during its launch ceremony

Considered a landmark event for the Indian Navy in the history of indigenous warship building is the launch of two frontline warships -- INS Surat, a Project 15B Destroyer, and INS Udaygiri, a Project 17A Frigate, concurrently at the Mazgaon Docks Ltd (MDL), Mumbai, by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on May 17.  

The Project 15B class of ships are the next-generation stealth-guided missile destroyers of the Indian Navy being built. ‘Surat’ is the fourth ship of Project 15B Destroyers, which heralds a significant makeover of the P15A (Kolkata Class) Destroyers and is named after the commercial capital of the state of Gujarat. Surat city has a rich maritime and shipbuilding history and vessels built there in the 16th and 18th centuries were known for their longevity - of more than 100 years.    

The ship Surat has been built using the block construction methodology which involved hull construction at two different geographical locations and then been joined together at MDL, Mumbai. The first ship of this class was commissioned in 2021. The second and third ships have been launched and are at different stages of outfitting/trials.  

INS Udaygiri  

‘Udaygiri’, named after a mountain range in Andhra Pradesh, is the third ship of Project 17A Frigates. These are follow on of the P17 Frigates (Shivalik Class) with improved stealth features, advanced weapons and sensors and platform management systems.   

Udaygiri is the reincarnation of erstwhile ‘Udaygiri’, the Leander Class ASW (anti-submarine warfare) frigate which saw numerous challenging operations in its illustrious service to the country spanning over three decades from February 18, 1976 to August 24, 2007. Under the P17A programme, a total of seven ships, with four at MDL and three at the Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Ltd (GRSE), are under construction.   

Various novel concepts and technologies like Integrated Construction, Mega Block Outsourcing and Project Data Management/Project Lifecycle Management (PDM/PLM) have been adopted for the first time in indigenous warship design and construction in this project. The first two ships of P17A Project were launched in 2019 and 2020 at MDL and GRSE respectively.   

Towards self-reliance  

Both 15B and P17A ships have been designed in-house by the Directorate of Naval Design (DND), which has been the fountainhead for all warship design activities. During the building phase at the shipyard, around 75 percent of the orders for equipment and systems have been placed on indigenous firms including MSMEs which is a true testament of ‘Atmanirbharta’ (self-reliance). 

According to the Defence Ministry website, the Indian Navy’s present force level is of about 150 ships and submarines. The Navy’s perspective-planning in terms of ‘force-levels’ is now driven by a conceptual shift from ‘numbers’ of platforms -- that is, from the old ‘bean-counting’ philosophy -- to one that concentrates upon capabilities. In terms of force accretions in the immediate future, ships are being acquired in accordance with the Navy’s current Maritime Capability Perspective Plan. 

There are presently more than 50 ships and submarines under construction. The preferred choice of inducting ships has been through the indigenous route. For instance, the GRSE has already delivered all three of the large amphibious ships and 10 water-jet Fast Attack Craft. The yard is presently constructing advanced anti-submarine Corvettes and has been recently awarded a contract to build LCUs.  

Shipyards  

In the South, Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) is progressing the construction of our most ambitious ship yet – the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier. At Mumbai, India’s premier warship-building yard Mazagon Docks Ltd, is engaged in the construction of Kolkata Class and P-15B destroyers besides stealth frigate of the Shivalik Class. Submarines of the Scorpene Class are also under construction at MDL.   

Goa Shipyard Limited, which has built a number of Offshore Patrol Vessels (0PV) for the Navy and the Coast Guard, has advanced versions of this type under construction.  

Over the years, the Indian Navy has taken a conscious decision to encourage other shipyards, including private yards, to enter the specialized field of warship construction. 

Indigenous warships construction has come a long way since the commissioning of INS Nilgiri in June 1972. There are not many developing countries like India having the capability to produce such a wide variety of warships ranging from fast-attack craft to aircraft carriers. However, a few ships are being inducted from abroad also to bridge the gap in the capabilities envisaged in the Master Plan of Navy. These include the carrier Vikramaditya and follow-on ships of the Talwar Class from Russia.  

Apart from production, Mid-Life Upgrades (MLUs) of ships are also being progressed. After their MLU, ships of the Rajput Class as also those of the Brahmaputra Class will emerge as potent 21st Century combatants with significant residual life.  

The Indian Navy is looking for considerable support from Indian industry to successfully realize its new ship-building projects. The industry is urged to invest in the development of naval equipment meeting the stringent standards, particularly for noise and vibration, as these are crucial performance requirements of modern warships. The modularity of systems, with a standard as well as well-defined minimum interfaces with the ship will be the thrust in the future. This will help the process of ship design and construction to proceed on the basis of the agreed interfaces, while the original equipment manufacturers are concurrently developing equipment within the confines of the module.   

More to be done  

Such an approach will also, to a large extent, accommodate evolutionary designs of state-of-the-art equipment to meet the rising aspirations of the naval staff. Further, given the complexity, magnitude and resource-intensive nature of the development of new naval systems, a navy-industry relationship founded more on partnership rather than a mere customer-supplier relationship would be required. This will give confidence to both parties for sharing the risks of development as well as the benefits of new technology with reduced costs. 

There is progress in India’s warship building, but not enough in keeping with its vast coastline and threats. According to Captain Thaju Mohammad, writing in his dissertation titled “A Study on Indigenous Warship Building in the Contemporary Geopolitical Environment”, dated March 2020, “For a country that is predominantly peninsular in nature with a coastline of 7,516.5 km and 1,197 islands, India’s shipbuilding capabilities have not kept pace with its economic development or market demand of the country. Since Indian Ocean Region is of great importance to India it is more important from the national security point of view.   

“US and Chinese interests in the region pose challenges which have deliberate implications for India’s security. To ensure that India attains its rightful position in the region, politically, there is a need to take steps for meeting the challenges through the use of its economic capability, political stability, social order and military potential. Towards this, a well-developed indigenous shipbuilding capability is of the utmost importance," Capt Mohammad said in his dissertation. The comment of Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha (retd) interacting with this writer was, “The number of ships required are not based on the coastline. Navies operate in wide oceans and therefore the context is different. We are a preferred security partner in the Indian Ocean Region. The shipbuilding programme is progressing as per the MCPP and has not fallen behind time except in submarines, minesweepers and aircraft carrier. Surface ships are on track”

(The author, a former spokesperson of the Ministry of Defence and Indian Army, can be contacted at  wordsword02@gmail.com )

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