Friday, October 29, 2010

Indian Navy’s indigenous ship building: A success story

On 20 April 2010 the country’s first Anti Submarine Warfare Corvette (ASWC) for the Indian Navy under project P28, the 2500 tonne INS Kamotra was launched at the Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE) in Kolkata. Four are of them are on order and in all 12 are intended to be built. On 29 April 2010 the Indian navy commissioned the indigenously built multi-role stealth frigate INS Shivalik and at 5300 tonnes it is the largest stealth frigate in the world. The hard to detect warships will form a crucial component of the Indian Navy for the first half of this century. These events herald the strides India has made in ship building and the coming of age of its shipyards. It can be undoubtedly said that the navy is the only service of the Indian armed forces carrying out modernization and indigenization with a long term plan with indigenization being the mantra. Setting aside the depleting submarine levels and delays in newer sub-surface inductions, the overall modernization and strategic planning of the Indian navy is going at a commendable pace with all the bureaucratic bottlenecks and political laxity notwithstanding. Even the Scorpion submarine project after all the delay is finally on track and construction is picking pace. There are currently as many as 39 warships and submarines on order with various Indian shipyards not including a couple of recently approved projects. The navy’s Directorate of Naval Architecture and the shipyards have come a long way from designing and constructing small offshore vessels to constructing aircraft carriers.

Recently the defense ministry has given the green signal the much awaited Rs.50,000 crore project to manufacture the second line of conventional submarines after the Scorpene’s with the help of a foreign collaborator. After the recent nod to the over Rs50,000-crore project for a second line of six submarines, the defense ministry has cleared another major program to indigenously construct four guided-missile stealth destroyers. Designated Project-15B for the four destroyers and valued around Rs.30,000 crore, it has been sent for final approval to the finance ministry. The P-15B program will be undertaken at Mazagon Docks (MDL) after the three Kolkata-class destroyers being constructed there under a long-delayed Rs 11,662-crore project, are finally delivered in 2014. The P-15B is basically a follow-on project of the 6,700-tonne Kolkata-class destroyers and will feature greater stealth and advanced sensor and weapon packages. The government also approved the construction of seven follow-on stealth frigates of project P17 (Shivalik class) to be constructed by MDL in Mumbai and GRSE in Kolkata. As is known, the construction of the indigenous aircraft carrier being built by Cochin shipyard Ltd. is going smoothly and should be launched to sea by this year end and commissioned in 2014. At 40,000 tonnes this is the largest ship ever built in India and with this India becomes only the seventh country in the world to design and construct aircraft carriers. The design for the IAC-II is also underway and this will be a much bigger and more sophisticated compared to IAC-I displacing about 65,000 tonnes.

But on the downside, the rate of building is very slow and doesn’t match the rate of phasing out of ships from service. Even the Navy chief has expressed displeasure over the delay in executing orders. The shipyards need to undertake a huge modernization drive to cope with the increasing qualitative and quantitative demands. Recently few private Indian conglomerates have forayed into ship building and have established world class facilities. The government and Navy should encourage and give an impetus to the private sector to strengthen the Indian military industrial complex.

With the changed threat perception after 26/11 combined with the aggressive Chinese foray into the Indian ocean region with its string of pearl’s strategy and the soon to expand exclusive economic zones have all highlighted the need for a strong Navy and finally the government seems to have woken up to the harsh reality. Slowly but surely, India is building a powerful three-dimensional blue-water Navy to protect its geo-strategic interests stretching from Hormuz Strait to Malacca Strait and with the indigenous route, is saving billions of precious foreign exchange. Hope the other services of the armed forces also take a leaf out of the Navy’s book for their modernization process.

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