Business Standard, 24th Aug 14
Indian Naval Ship (INS) Kamorta was reborn in Visakhapatnam today, when Defence Minister Arun Jaitley commissioned the navy’s new anti-submarine corvette, which is billed as 90 per cent indigenous.
The Kamorta, and three other corvettes that will follow it --- the Kadmatt, Kiltan and Kavaratti --- are reincarnations of an earlier line of eleven Soviet-supplied Arnala-class corvettes. The earlier INS Kamorta entered service in 1968 and provided INS Vikrant, with anti-submarine protection when the aircraft carrier blockaded East Pakistan during the 1971 war. It was decommissioned in 1991.
“While the earlier Kamorta was acquired from erstwhile Soviet Union, this one is ‘swadeshi’”, said navy chief, Admiral Robin Dhowan, at the commissioning.
While the Arnala-class corvettes were barely 1000 tonnes, the new Kamorta is a muscular 3,300 tonnes. It is designed to destroy incoming anti-ship missiles and aircraft and striking ground targets, in addition to its primary role of submarine killer.
However, much like the destroyer, INS Kolkata, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi commissioned on Aug 16, the Kamorta is joining the fleet without several of these capabilities. The navy says they will be added on later.
So far, the Kamorta cannot fully perform even its primary role of detecting and destroying submarines. It has not been fitted with the advanced towed array sonar (ATAS), which is vital for detecting submarines, especially in the warm, shallow waters of the Arabian Sea. Until the ministry of defence (MoD) is able to procure an ATAS for at least 25 warships that lack it, the Kamorta will remain reliant on its less capable hull-mounted sonar, the indigenous HUMSA-NG.
As crippling for the Kamorta is the absence of an anti-submarine helicopter, for which it has a hangar and a landing deck. The navy has just 10-12 functional Sea King 42B anti-submarine helicopters, insufficient to equip all the warships that require these. The Sea King 42B carries a “dunking sonar”, which it lowers into the water to detect submarines from giveaway sounds; and then drops “depth charges” to destroy the submarine.
The navy has been trying to buy a multi-role helicopter (MRH) for several years to boost its anti-submarine capability, but the MoD has never pushed the procurement forcefully. The chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Vice Admiral Satish Soni, laments that he is “woefully short” of helicopters.
“All our helicopters are ageing and need replacement yesterday. The case for acquisition of helicopters has been going on for some time. Hopefully we will have the MRH being sanctioned quickly,” says Soni.
Also deficient is the Kamorta’s anti-missile and anti-air capability. Its surface-to-air missile (SAM) has still not been decided and the warship has two empty canisters where an SAM will eventually be fitted. Without that long-range capability, air defence is left to a 76 millimetre super-rapid gun mount (SRGM), which is built by Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd, and an AK-630 multi-barrel gun that lays down a curtain of lead to destroy incoming missiles and aircraft.
Since the Kamorta does not have a land attack missile, its capacity for shore bombardment is limited to the 76 mm SRGM. The navy, aware that this is only a light weapon, has issued a tender for a heavier 127 mm SRGM. So far, that acquisition has made little headway.
The defence minister plays down the Kamorta’s lack of readiness. He said: “If one of the weapons is not there because it is in the process of production or procurement, it shall be installed expeditiously as it is available. This is a process that takes time. It is a learning curve for the defence industry and for our own research institutions.”
The Kamorta has been built by Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE) for Rs 1,900 crore. It was to be delivered in 2009, with the Kadmatt, Kiltan and Kavaratti following at one-year intervals. The project, therefore, is being completed five years late.
Key to the success of an anti-submarine warship is the ability to operate silently. The Kamorta’s engine and gearbox have been mounted on a special platform to kill vibration.
INS Kamorta is named after an island in the Andaman & Nicobar chain. The navy traditionally names warships after rivers, mountains, islands, cities and islands.