Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Did Russia delay submarine overhaul to undermine Indian shipyard?


Russian experts delay INS Sindhukirti refit by years, but Kilo-class submarine to re-enter fleet by March 2015

By Ajai Shukla
Visakhapatnam
Business Standard, 3rd Sept 14

For over eight years, as Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL) has struggled to overhaul one of the navy’s Kilo-class submarines --- INS Sindhukirti --- critics have flayed the shipyard for depriving the navy of a critical warship. HSL has never publicly explained the delay.

Yet, Business Standard found, during a detailed tour of HSL, that the delay has little to do with inefficiency or incompetence. Instead, much of the blame rests with a loosely framed contract with Moscow that has allowed Russian “experts” to incrementally extend the work to be done on the Sindhukirti, in one case to 13 times what was required for overhauling an Indian submarine in Russia.

The Russians who have worked at HSL since 2006, overseeing Sindhukirti’s “modernisation-cum-refit” knew they were assisting a competitor. HSL’s success would disrupt the lucrative flow of Indian submarines to Zvezdochka shipyard in Russia, which had long overhauled them for hundreds of crore rupees each.

“INS Sindhukirti will complete its refit by Mar 31, when it will rejoin the navy fleet. But the experience of overhauling this submarine holds major lessons for Indian shipyards,” says HSL chairman, Rear Admiral NK Mishra (Retired).

An overhaul, or refit, conducted every 10 to 15 years, extends a submarine’s life by repairing its hull and modernising its combat capability. It involves examining, repairing and even replacing parts of the hull (two hulls in the Kilo-class, an inner “pressure hull” and an outer hull); replacing worn out cabling; and replacing or upgrading major weapons, sensors and communication systems.

Business Standard has compared the work that Russian “experts” at HSL ordered on the Sindhukirti, with that done on two submarines earlier -- INS Sindhughosh, refitted in Russia; and INS Sindhudhvaj, refitted in the Naval Dockyard, Visakhapatnam (see chart). In each work category, the Sindhukirti has required several times the work done on the Sindhughosh and Sindhudhvaj.

Tellingly, this was not anticipated in the preliminary work estimation, which was in line with earlier refit experiences. Shipyard workers recount (and the figures endorse) that the work only ballooned after it began, with Russian overseers repeatedly ordering work extensions.

The “pressure hull build up” --- in which pits on the hull surface are filled with metal --- doubled (See chart below). So did the “frame renewal”, or replacement of the metal framework that supports the hull. The grinding work expanded almost three-fold. The time-consuming and costly work of replacing entire hull plates went up 13-fold from what the Sindhughosh required in Russia. The conning tower, which was only repaired in earlier refits, had to be entirely rebuilt.

There are only two possible explanations: either INS Sindhukirti, which the navy operated exactly like its other Kilo-class submarines, inexplicably underwent exceptional wear and tear; or else Russian experts ordered needless work extensions, for their own reasons. Senior navy officials say the former is unlikely.

Contacted for comments, the defence section of the Russian Embassy in Delhi has not responded.

Furthermore, INS Sindhukirti’s refit involved extensive modernisation. Like the Sindhughosh and Sindhudvaj, its torpedo tubes were modified to fire Klub missiles against surface targets. Unlike them, it also got a new MCA inertial navigation suite, a Palady nerve system, and a Pirit ship control console. Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) installed indigenous Ushus sonar and upgraded communications. As the submarine was being reassembled, Russian overseers ordered a time-consuming replacement of all the main line cabling.

“When Russia overhauls a submarine, the work package is frozen at the time the contract is signed. But we had no experience of framing a contract. We allowed the Russians to indefinitely increase the work required, which kept expanding,” recounts Commodore Ashok Bhal (Retired), director of the Sindhukirti refit.

Russia has historically taken two and a half years or more to refit a Kilo-class submarine. The Sindhukirti will have taken three-and-a-half times longer, with its expanded work package and a series of major modifications and upgrades. Time has also been expended in developing worker skills. It is today the only Indian shipyard that has actually refitted a Kilo-class submarine.

Even so, the shipyard has been denied any role in overhauling six Indian Navy submarines, a Rs 4,800 crore project that the defence ministry cleared on Friday. Two of these will go to Russia, while four are overhauled in India --- two in Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL), and two at Naval Dockyard, Mumbai.

HSL has been left out even though the shipyard was transferred in 2010 from the ministry of shipping to the MoD, on the grounds that it would be central to the construction and overhaul of submarines.

Senior admirals lament such wastage of skills and experience. Former navy chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta points to how MDL developed submarines skills while building two vessels under licence from HDW of Germany. After allegations of bribery surfaced, HDW was blacklisted and construction of submarines in MDL halted. With the gradual dissipation of worker skills, the Scorpene construction project required skills to be developed afresh.

“The skills we have developed cannot be allowed to waste away”, says Mishra, the HSL chief.

======================

Sindhukirti’s expanding workline

Work description
Sindhughosh (Russia)
Sindhudhvaj (Vizag)
Sindhukirti (HSL)
Estimated
Actual





Pressure hull build up (square metres)
45
20
55
110
Pressure hull frame renewal (metres)
80
27
70
140
Pressure hull grinding (square metres)
---
---
120
350
Outer hull lining (square metres)
---
---
900
2100
Secondary structure renewal (tonnes)
---
---
80
2100
Pressure hull plate renewal (metres)
3
10
--
39
Conning tower
Build up
Build up
Build up
Renewal








18 comments:

Parthasarathi said...

Among the Government shipyards probably the MDL. is the best in work culture and efficiency. GRSE. was lagging behind but now catching up. GOA Ship yard is improving but Vizag Ship yard is lagging behind. Probably a management overhauling is required. Secondly Russia under Mr. Putin is no more a reliable all weather friend. Their main concern is business not friendship. It will be prudent if India ask Japan for help to make submarine. They may agree. Many people do not know that as far as Marine and Naval technology is concern Japan is light years ahead of Russia.

Anonymous said...

THE HSL SHIPYARD AT VIZAG IS THE LEAST MODERN OR QUALIFIED SHIPYARD FOR ANY WARSHIP OR SUBMARINE REPAIRS . OUTDATED MANGEMENT , WORK PRACTICES AND EQUIPMENT PROFILE IS THE BANE OF THIS FACILTY . FOR ANY MEANINGFUL, CONSTRUCTION , REPAIRS OR EXPANSION A MAJOR MODERNISATION PROGRAMME WITH UPSKILLING OF WORK PRACTICES , POSITIONING OF WESTERN SHIP CONSTRUCTER /REPAIR SPECIALISTS INCLUDING RUSSIANS IS REQUIRED . THE NAVY ITSELF IS LARGELY TO BLAME FOR THE NEGLECT OF THE SUBMARINE BECAUSE FOR 9 YRS EXCEPT A SMALL OVERSEEING TEAM WORKING FROM 9TO5 WAS POSITIONED AND NOBODY PRESSURISED THE MANGEMENT OR THE RUSSIANS TO EXPEDITE . THE NEW EQUIPMENT TO BE INSTALLED , DELIVERY AND INSTALLATION WERE ALL HAPHAZARD . HEADS SHOULD HAVE ROLLED AT THE SHIPYARD , NAVAL HEADQUARTERS , COMMAND HQ BUT THE NON ACCOUNTABLE , NON RESPONSIBLE WORK CULTURE IMBIBED FROM THE GOVT OFFICES OF INDIA AND MOD HAS POISENED THE NAVAL OFFICE AND SHIPYARD CULTURE WITH NO ONE RESPONSIBLE OR ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE DELAYS . THOUGH THE SHIPYARD WAS ILLEQUIPPED , WITH NO QUALIFIED MANPOWER MOD TOOK A POOR DECISION TO BUILD SUBMARINE REPAIR FACILTY WITHOUT AUGUMENTING THE RESOURCES OR TECHNICAL MANPOWER . FOR 9 YRS THE SUB LYING AS JUNK IS NOW ONLY FIT FOR TRAINIG PURPOSES OR TO BE SENT TO THE BREAKERS YARD .

Anonymous said...

How come the Russians didn't adopt similar tactics for the refit of INS Sindhudhvaj? Why is the govt investing in developing sub building capacity in three different sarkari shipyards when the need is to develop such capabilities in the private sector? There are too few sub projects anyway.
HSL was a needless acquisition by MOD done to keep a dying govt company alive.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic analysis/reporting sir.

Thank you for exposing such facts out sir.

Regards,
Raghav

Shikhar said...

The failure to indigenize at the earliest lies entirely with us - Around the time of Russian Revolution, it's poor industrial base, and even lack of indoor plumbing for it's masses led it to be mocked at by the 'civilised' Western nations. Granted, it took the haemorraging of WWII to put in place a strong military-industrial complex, but by the 50s, they were ahead of the Americans in the Space race.
Thankfully, we don't have to eat weeds or move to Siberia-like weather to accomplish that - a 'tough love' approach to PSUs should be a start.
And just like Rudy Giuliani had a 'no broken windows' theory to prevent more serious crime, similarly we should ensure that the smaller, yet vital needs - kits, boots, jackets are especially suited for our climate, and not imported, or hailing back to cumbersome 60s era design..over time, we can make it happen in 3-5 years

Raj said...

Well..

HSL can blame Russians, MoD, Navy and even Chinese, Pakistani, Sea water, foul air, CIA, ISI and whoever they want. The fact is that they are horribly incompetent, inefficient and living in 18th century licence permit raj.

Its not only submarine refit, they have bungled up almost every ship building in last 10-15 years. So much so that when all other defence shipyards are making huge profits, HSL is the only shipyard making regular losses.

MoD and GoI cannot take this any longer as no management change can bring change in its work culture. Only solution is a radical reorganisation. Either it needs to be disinvested and let the private sector get its managment. Or it has to be converted in "Government Ownded Contractor Operated - GOCO" model with private management but government ownership. Then only it will start delivering.

About submarine refits in future, given the state navy's subsurface capability is in, India cannot take any chance with this shipyard. Let MDL or Naval DOckyards or private shipyards develop similar capability. HSL is a sick industrial entity which needs reorganisation, not further orders.

Anonymous said...

Col. somehow your analysis misses the full picture. The PSUs are always happy to pass the buck. Have you had a chance to check with Russians, just in case they had a view too?

Anonymous said...

We never heard of INS Sindhudvaj’s refit involved extensive modernisation in which its torpedo tubes were modified to fire missile.
Mr.Shukla if it is refitted in the Naval Dockyard, Visakhapatnam then in which time-frame it was refitted

joydeep ghosh said...

@Ajai sir

after spending close to a third of its operational seaworthy life on the docks i dont think INS Sindhukirti will return to Indian Navy for active duty.

I think it will be handed over to DRDO and Brahmos Aero as a test bed to launch the SLCM Brahmos in VLS mode and Brahmos Mini which the new Brahmos chief has said wants to develop as a torpedo tube launched SLCM. Also it can be used to validate other naval technologies too

thanks

Joydeep Ghosh

Anonymous said...

the difference... kilo and arihant...

Anonymous said...

chalo sumarine nai ho gayi is bahane se.

Parthasarathi said...

I am not very familiar with this submarine's construction but it seems she is a double hull submarine. And the space between the outer hull and the inner hull is used as ballast space. Now we can understand buckling of the outer hull due to water pressure but why they want to repair the inner hull also. It means the coating of the ballast space was not maintained and it got rusted. If it is true then it is negligence but if that is not true then the Russians are just dragging the job. And any ballast tanks can be coated and the life of the coating is easily 25 years without much maintenance. They can contact " Ecospeed " paint manufacturer for details.
Disclaimer : I don't have any interest in that said company.

Anonymous said...

Sir i saw expert of your visit to vizag base in business standard, any update on ALTAS and Abhay sonars. Are they as good as humsa-ng as compared to world sonars.

Anonymous said...

May me attack sub program would start shortly and also the shipyard is busy with SSBN

RD Singh said...

Wow Ajai,

Prasun just punctured all arguments of your entire article on his blog. INS Sindhukirti seems to have its own set of problems and Russians were not entirely responsible for it.

It seems you didn't do a comprehensive research on it. Your patriotism is admirable but in an analysis, you need to be objective.Hope you will learn further and improve, because your basics are right and you are a good journalist. Its occasional polemics which is a problem.

Anonymous said...

Sir any status of Air Independent propulsion development progress.

Anonymous said...

who provided submarine grade steel, russia or sail

Anonymous said...

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/boeing-delivers-fifth-p8i-maritime-patrol-aircraft-to-india/article6400356.ece