Defence Minister AK Antony at the foundation stone laying of the National Institute for Research and Development in Defence Shipbuilding, Kozhikode
Right: INS Chennai, the 3rd destroyer of the Kolkata class (Project 15A), being launched into the Arabian Sea at Mazagon Dock on 1st April 2010
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th Jan 11
For years India’s warship building community has urged the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to create the infrastructure needed for making India a major global hub for building warships. Today, as a first step towards this, Defence Minister AK Antony will lay the foundation stone of the National Institute for Research and Development in Defence Shipbuilding (NIRDESH) at Chaliyam, in Kozhikode district of Kerala.
With the Indian Navy expanding rapidly, the workload on the Directorate of Naval Design (DND) has overwhelmed its tiny establishment. With the DND already busy with five major programmes for building surface warships --- for the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier; Project 15A and 15B destroyers; Project 17A frigates; and Project 28 anti-submarine corvettes --- design capacity has become a serious roadblock to further projects.
The shortage of design and construction capacity in defence shipyards had forced the Indian Navy to order warships abroad at inflated prices. Currently three frigates are being built in Russia, while an Italian shipyard is delivering two logistic support vessels to India.
This has occurred despite the demonstrated ability of Indian defence shipyards to build quality warships competently and cheaply. Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), Mumbai, is completing the INS Kolkata, a 6800-tonne guided missile destroyer, for a cost of Rs 3800 crores ($850 million). In contrast, Spanish shipyard, Navantia, is selling comparable destroyers to the Australian Navy --- the 6250-tonne Hobart class, which Navantia calls the F-100 frigate --- for 11,850 crores ($2.65 billion) each, more than thrice the cost of INS Kolkata.
The need for NIRDESH became even more urgent as warship building capacity has grown, sharply outstripping design capacity. In 2010, the three defence shipyards --- MDL, Mumbai; Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE); and Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL) --- have been supplemented by a fourth, Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL), which the MoD bought from the Ministry of Shipping. There is also Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL), a central PSU, which is building the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier for the MoD. Now a new trio of state-of-the-art private sector shipyards --- L&T, Pipavav, and ABG Shipyard --- is also demanding orders for building warships.
“I am extremely happy with the setting up of NIRDESH”, says Nikhil Gandhi, Chairman of Pipavav Shipyard near Bhavnagar, Gujarat. “This will provide us design capability at affordable prices, rather than forcing us to set up expensive facilities, or to look abroad for warship designs. Pipavav welcomes and will support NIRDESH.”
NIRDESH, an autonomous body under the Registration of Societies Act 1860, will function under the MoD’s Department of Defence Production. Set up with a corpus of about Rs 40 crores, NIRDESH was funded by the MoD and the four defence shipyards. Once operative, it is expected to be self-sustaining, charging both public and private sector shipyards for design and consultancy work that it provides to them.
According to the head of one of the defence shipyards, NIRDESH would function as a “national design centre”, bringing together designers from within the country and abroad, in order to take on the challenging tasks of integrating weapons systems from various global suppliers, and propulsion systems. It will also work in the futuristic area of developing advanced hull forms.
It is understood that NIRDESH will have the financial autonomy to pay top dollar to its personnel, retaining them and providing continuity in design and support. In contrast, the naval designers in the DND can be paid only at mandated government rates. Therefore, they tend to move on to more lucrative jobs.
Currently, only three establishments --- IIT Kharagpur, IIT Chennai and the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) --- run courses in naval architecture, graduating about 60 architects each year. The actual requirement is estimated at about 200 architects per year.
While NIRDESH will enhance the number of white-collar naval designers and architects, industry insiders say that the real problem is the acute shortage of skilled blue-collar workers who actually build warships.
Rear Admiral MK Badhwar, who recently retired as the Indian Navy’s chief warship designer, points out, “India’s warship building industry desperately needs a full-scale training establishment that can churn out not just white collar warship designers, but also sufficient numbers of blue collar tradesmen --- welders, platers, electricians, pipe-fitters, crane operators, etc… who are in short supply today.”
In the absence of a MoD initiative to train tradesmen, shipyards are tackling that problem at a local level. The newest defence shipyard, Pipavav, has adopted two local Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), in which the shipyard guarantees employment for certain categories of tradespersons.