Monday, 20 August 2012

Navy’s wavering delaying warships by years

The first two project 15A destroyers at MDL (top) today, and (below) a year ago. Little hope of delivery before next year
(Photos: copyright Ajai Shukla)

By Ajai Shukla
Mazagon Dock, Mumbai
Business Standard, 20th Aug 12

The Indian Navy’s insistence that warships built in India must have cutting-edge weapons systems is having potentially dangerous consequences: half-built warships rusting in the dockyard, waiting for fancy weaponry that gets more and more delayed.

Such is the story of Project 15A, the construction of three 6,800-tonne destroyers by the public sector Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL), India’s premier warship builder. Project 15A was sanctioned in June 2001, and construction began in 2003, with delivery of the first ship, INS Kolkata, promised in June 2008. The second (INS Kochi) and third (INS Chennai) vessels of the Kolkata Class (a warship class is traditionally named after the lead ship) would follow at one-year intervals.

Instead, as Business Standard saw on a visit to MDL, the three hulks float aimlessly, seawater corroding their steel as they wait for key systems that are not yet ready. INS Kolkata was launched in March 2006; it has already spent 7 years in the water. But the navy will be lucky to get it next year, five years late. INS Kochi and INS Chennai will follow in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Meanwhile, the navy’s Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) exists only on paper. Formulated in 2005, the MCPP projects a 160 ship-strong navy, including 90 front-line combat platforms (major warships like aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and corvettes). Actual numbers are far more modest. The INS Sahyadri, the navy’s latest warship that was commissioned last month, is its 134th ship.

According to a 2010 CAG report on warship building, this year the navy will have just 44% of the destroyers it needs; 61% of the frigates; and 20% of its requirement of corvettes (destroyers are heavy warships, above 6,000 tonnes; frigates usually weigh under 5,500-6,000 tonnes; while corvettes are usually below 2,500 tonnes).

The navy has only itself to blame for delays in Project 15A. With MDL having successfully built three destroyers under Project 15 (INS Delhi, INS Mysore and INS Mumbai), Project 15A was to be a follow-on class, three more destroyers built quickly using basically the same design and technologies. Instead, the navy demanded 2,363 modifications, including major changes in weaponry, sensors and helicopter systems.

According to the CAG’s audit report, the Kashtan surface-to-air missile was replaced with the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), which the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is still co-developing with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). To strengthen the destroyer’s anti-submarine capabilities, it was decided to include a bow-mounted sonar, the DRDO’s Humsa sonar. And the entire helicopter hangar was redesigned to accommodate a bigger helicopter.

To make matters worse, many of these decisions were taken late, necessitating major reconstruction. The CAG points out that the decision on the Humsa sonar was taken “after MDL had completed the detailed design, production, assembly and erection of the bow structure without sonar”, which called for major redesign. Similarly, the navy decided to change the gun mount in March 2008, after the first ship was launched. This “necessitated redesign of the entire structure around the gun mount…” says the CAG.

Naturally, the delays have been enormous. While Project 15 vessels were built in 108 months, Project 15A vessels will take 140 months to delivery. This is twice as long as Korean shipyards like Hyundai and Daewoo, which take 66-72 months (including the pre-build period) for a comparable warship. Western shipyards like DCNS (France), Fincantieri (Italy), or Northrop Grumman (USA) typically take 78-80 months.

MDL’s new chairman, Rear Admiral (Retired) Rahul Kumar Shrawat, plays down the delay, pointing out that the vessels are now close to completion. “It is the navy’s endeavour to put the latest equipment on a new warship. That is a legitimate user aspiration,” he says.

But Shrawat would not like the same mistakes to be made in Project 15B, another follow on project, under which MDL will build four destroyers similar to the Kolkata Class. Shrawat hopes that Project 15B destroyers, which will start being constructed this year, will incorporate the same LR-SAM, Brahmos cruise missile and helicopter hangar that is being installed in Project 15A.

“The lesson learnt is that the systems that are proven on one platform, unless they genuinely require upgrading, should perhaps be used for the follow-on platform as well. But, as a shipyard, we do not control that. We can only recommend to the navy,” says Shrawat.

The Rs 29,325 crores contract for Project 15B was concluded in Jan 2011. Production will start by year-end, with the first destroyer being delivered in 2018 and the other three at one-year intervals.


Anonymous said...

Until India becomes a serious weapons producer, the IN, in its bid to to keep abreast of the latest weapon and sensor tech, will wait until the last minute to select weapons.

Secondly, the time it takes from concept creation to project approval, followed by contract signing, start of production to delivery is easily 10 years.

And combat systems equipment are expected to remain contemporary for 10-15 years after the ship enters service - until the ship is due for a major refit/upgrade.

So, ship designers have to really peer ito the future and hope they have selected the right systems. Unfortunately, the rapid pace of tech evolution means that obsolescence comes inthat much faster. Big problem if you are the designer!

Therefore, IN designers argue that it is very difficult to predict future requirements.

Then there are supply chain issues contend with - sometimes requiring design changes. Case in point: the main gun had to be changed from Russian AK190 to SRGM because of delivery issues.

So, "mid course" design changes are inevitable in some programs.

That being said, LRSAM/Barak 8 + MF-STAR combo is new and should last for several more years. So, it is likely that once first of class integration issues are sorted out, follow on integration should be smooth. lets see if MDL can achieve this. On the P17 Shivalik, MDL was unable to cmpress delivery of follow on ships in any significant manner unless the IN kept making changes as a result of feedback in every ship. Even so, it is difficult to understand why it took 9+ years from keel laying to delivery for each of the P17 ships.

I wonder why MDL has not outwwardly made more progress on the rest of the ship?

Anonymous said...

You said 'hanger for bigger helicopter' it planned to potentially operate the Merlin from these ships? I thought the only contenders for N-MRH were SeaHawk and NH90

Anonymous said...

Our mindset is not nimble enough. Which is clearly evident in the way our defense research is crawling! India needs to do away with its archaic laws and bureaucratic regulations and allow free thinkers and independent developers. Instead of making the armed forces hostage to govt sponsored crap, they should be allowed to choose whatever they feel is best and readily available. The best thing the govt can do, is liberalize R&D and spur armament research and experimentation in private sector in India. If I have an idea to make a new weapon system, do I have to apply at DRDO for job under an incompetent Manager! Is this the only option! No wonder India sucks at research.

Anonymous said...

Shukla my boy, now it is time for soldier in you to show up....come on buddy...spit out foul mouthed rebuttal.
Prasun K. Sengupta said...
To SBM & Mr.RA 13: Check this out:
“According to the CAG’s audit report, the Kashtan surface-to-air missile was replaced with the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), which the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is still co-developing with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). To strengthen the destroyer’s anti-submarine capabilities, it was decided to include a bow-mounted sonar, the DRDO’s Humsa sonar. And the entire helicopter hangar was redesigned to accommodate a bigger helicopter.”
Now, what’s wrong with this above para???
For starters, the badly-written story (by who else, but a ‘desi’ journo of course) alleges that all the above-mentioned enhancements were done mid-stream, which is clearly not the case. Secondly, how can a close-in weapon system like Kashtan be replaced by the Barak-2 LR-SAM? In reality it is the Cashmere air-defence system (using the Shtil-1 MR-SAM system)--on the 3 P-15 DDGs, six Project 1135.6 FFGs & 3 P-17 FFGs—which on the 3 Project 15A & 4 Project 15B DDGs—has been done away with in favour of the Barak-2. Thirdly, the bow-mounted sonar installations began with the 4 Project 28 ASW corvettes & were from the outset specified for the 3 Project 15A & 4 Project 15B DDGs & 7 Project 17A FFGs (clearly visible on the photos I had uploaded in the DEFEXPO 2012 thread last April). The Project 17 FFGs, on the other hand, have hull-mounted panoramic sonars. Lastly, the helicopter hangar for P-15A DDG was NEVER redesigned. Instead, on all DDGs of the P-15 family, the hangars can accommodate 12-tonne multi-role helicopters, while all hangars of the P-17 family of FFGs are designed for only 10-tonne helicopters.
By the way, this is the very same journo who claims that CENTCOM (instead of PACOM) is in Hawaii (which for him may well be somewhere in or around Florida!!!).

Anonymous said...

Must be for KA 31 - which requires more vertical clearance.

Anonymous said...

Among all the three forces, Navy is the best placed in terms of modernization, personal policies and everything else.These guys have been silently doing everything while we have been caught napping. The navy commissions one ship every month or so. neither the army nor IAF is anywhere near that.

Navy has been showing the balls to change things according to their needs. We do not have it......accept it......Do not badmouth them for this....