The Time magazine cover of April 3rd, 1989, featuring INS Godavari
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Sept 14
A day after the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) highlighted India’s scientific capability by placing the spaceship, Mangalyaan, in orbit around Mars, another milestone in indigenous design was celebrated in New Delhi on September 25: The 50th anniversary of the Directorate of Naval Design (DND).
Even as the air force and army import the bulk of their equipment requirements, the DND has spearheaded the navy’s striking success in “making in India”. Over the last half century, it has produced 19 separate designs --- from small coastal vessels in the 1960s; through increasingly sophisticated frigates and destroyers, to India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, which Cochin Shipyard is currently building.
“Over the years our naval ship designers have designed, and our shipyards have constructed, 119 warships,” said navy chief, Admiral Robin Dhowan, while felicitating the DND today.
Interestingly, India was building world-class warships two centuries ago. In 1817, Mumbai Docks (today the Naval Dockyard) built HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship) Trincomalee, the oldest warship afloat, which is currently berthed in Hartlepool, UK. Mumbai Docks also built HMS Minden, on which Francis Scott Key composed America’s national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner” in Baltimore. Also built in Mumbai was the HMS Cornwallis, on which China signed the Treaty of Nanking, ceding Hong Kong to the British in 1842.
After independence, when the navy took the far-reaching strategic decision to build, rather than buy, its warships, a Corps of Naval Constructors was set up in 1956. In 1964, this evolved into the Central Design Office, the forerunner of today’s Directorate of Naval Design.
Tellingly, neither the army nor the air force have their own design agency --- and they have achieved little success in indigenisation. Analysts are unanimous that the DND, with its present corps of 350 uniformed warship designers, has been instrumental in the navy’s successful indigenisation.
Its first major success came in the late 1970s, when it designed the Godavari class frigate. For a decade before that, the DND had cut its teeth on the British-designed Leander-class frigates, which were being built in India. The last two Leanders featured modifications by the DND, especially to their helicopter deck.
Even so, experts were taken aback by INS Godavari. A heavily armed frigate that weighed 1,000 tonnes more than the Leanders, the 3,600-tonne Godavari could actually sail faster than the highly regarded British warship.
On 3rd April 1989, the cover of Time magazine featured INS Godavari, with a cover story entitled, “Super India: The Next Military Power.”
Buoyed by the Godavari, the DND began developing the ambitious 6,200-tonne Delhi-class guided missile destroyer in the late 1980s. The three warships of this class --- INS Delhi, Mumbai and Mysore --- are acknowledged as exceptionally handsome warships. Their sturdy design and sea-keeping ability was also acknowledged when INS Delhi spent two days in a cyclone in the South China Sea, en route to China. Following that came the 6,200-tonne Shivalik class multi-role frigates, which saw increasing levels of indigenization.
“I have had the privilege of serving on each of these classes of ships… As a user I can vouch (for the fact) that these are some very fine ships, very potent ships. I would like to salute the professionalism of our naval designers”, declared Admiral Dhowan.
The DND’s golden jubilee year has seen the commissioning of three DND-designed warships --- the new guided missile destroyer, INS Kolkata; the first anti-submarine corvette, INS Kamorta; and an offshore patrol vessel, INS Sumitra. Another 41 indigenously designed warships are currently being built in Indian shipyards.
While lauding the DND, the navy chief pointed out that more should be done to indigenize weapons and sensors --- the so-called “fight capability” of a warship. India has indigenized 90 per cent of its warships’ “float capability”, or its hull structure; and 60 per cent of their “move capability”, or engines, transmission and propellers. However, only INS Kamorta has fitted a range of indigenous sensors and weapons to emerge 90 per cent indigenous.