by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 3rd Dec 07
Discordant notes in the India-Russia defence relationship are accelerating India’s drive towards warship building capability. This summer, Vice Admiral BS Randhawa, the Indian Navy’s Controller of Warships Production and Acquisition, visited the Russian shipyard, Sevmashpredpriyatiye (translation: Northern Engineering Works), near the city of Archangelsk. He learned there that the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya (as the Admiral Gorshkov will be renamed) would reach India not just two years later than contracted, but also at twice the cost.
Such irritants, though, could soon be in the past. Now an ambitious programme for modernising defence shipyards is going to make the Indian Navy the first of the three services to start designing and building all its major fighting platforms within India. Currently, amongst major naval powers, only the US, Russia and France build their own fleets entirely.
Before India becomes self-sufficient, Russia will get another billion-dollar order for three cutting-edge Krivak-III frigates. But the navy says that could be the last big order placed abroad. Admiral Randhawa has told Business Standard, “Ordering abroad is the last resort and the Russian order is for just 3 ships. There is no plan to order any more beyond these. We are progressing a new line of frigates at (defence shipyards) Mazagon Docks Limited, Mumbai, and Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Kolkata.”
While four warships are being built in foreign yards (the Gorshkov and the three Krivak class frigates), 38 naval vessels are currently being built in India. The defence shipyards at Mumbai, Kolkata and Goa are building 30 warships, while, the public sector Cochin Shipyard is building the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) and a nuclear submarine is being constructed at a facility in Vishakapatnam. Private sector yards are constructing another six survey vessels. The ships being produced in India include three cutting edge Project 15-A destroyers named the Kolkata class, and three Project 17 stealth frigates of the Shivalik class.
India’s three defence shipyards have already proved their ability to build world-class warships, but churning them out fast enough has been a bottleneck. India’s Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP), a secret document that sets out the year-wise schedule for inducting new ships into service, demands an average of five new warships each year to replace an equal number that retire annually from the Navy’s 140-ship armada, after completing their service life of about 30 years. The dockyards, so far, have managed a combined annual output of barely 3.5 vessels. This gap has, so far, been filled by imports.
Policy clarity could push output up now. After examining the American and Russian models of warship production, Admiral Randhawa says that India has implemented its own model, which is a hybrid of the two. In the US, the navy produces the basic design and then two private shipyards (e.g. Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics) compete to translate that into an actual warship. The yard that manufactures the better product is asked to build a number of ships in that series.
In Russia, there are several government-owned design bureaus, each producing a different kinds of vessel, i.e. different bureaus for destroyers and frigates, for submarines, and for aircraft carriers. Moscow decides what it needs and then simply asks the relevant design bureau to manufacture it.
In India, the Defence Procurement Policy – 2006 (DPP – 2006) now specifies how warships will be produced. Like in the US, the Indian Navy will produce the functional design. Thereafter, like in Russia, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will nominate a defence shipyard to manufacture that series of ships.
The MoD’s next step is to modernise the three defence shipyards --- Mumbai’s Mazagon Docks Ltd (MDL), Kolkata’s Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) and Goa Shipyards Limited --- to churn out ships quickly from those designs. And for that, an ambitious modernisation plan is about to kick off.