Private Indian shipyard will build three Russian-designed frigates, like INS Teg (above), sailing into Simon's Town
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th July 15
To make up flagging warship numbers, the Indian Navy is initiating the purchase of three Grigorivich-class frigates (Project 1135.6) from Russia. These warships are improved variants of the six Talwar-class (Russian classification: Krivak-III) frigates the navy obtained between 2003-13.
Those earlier vessels were built in Russia, in Yantar Shipyard at Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea. Now New Delhi insists the new frigates be built in an Indian shipyard.
Just two Indian shipyards have ever built a frigate --- Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) and Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE). With these two occupied with building seven stealth frigates under Project 17A, Yantar will partner a private Indian shipyard.
Business Standard learns that Russian experts have evaluated three private yards for their potential to build these frigates: Larsen & Toubro’s Katupalli shipyard, at Ennore, Tamil Nadu; Pipavav Shipyard in Gujarat; and Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL) in Kochi, Kerala.
“The Russians will take a commercial decision on which Indian shipyard to partner. We will not interfere”, says a senior Indian naval officer, speaking on condition of anonymity. Once they decide, the navy will formally initiate the procurement, he says.
India paid about $1 billion for the first three Talwar-class frigates, and a similar price for the next batch of three. However, the current trio could be significantly more expensive. This would partly be due to inflation, while building in India would further boost the cost.
Driving the navy’s decision to buy three more Russian frigates is a growing warship shortfall. The maritime capability perspective plan envisages a 198-ship navy by 2027. Against that the navy currently has just 137 vessels.
Short by 61 warships, the navy currently has 48 vessels under construction. In addition, the defence ministry has accorded sanction (termed Acceptance of Necessity, or AoN) for another 44 vessels, including six Project 75I submarines.
Over the coming two decades, while these 92 vessels are built in various Indian warships, large numbers of older warships would be decommissioned at the end of their service lives. While decommissioning can be delayed to some extent, the navy will still be well short of 198 vessels by 2027.
Given this vulnerability, New Delhi listened carefully when Russian President Vladimir Putin offered Prime Minister Narendra Modi three-to-four Project 1135.6 frigates during their summit meeting in New Delhi last December.
Neither Russia nor India publicly acknowledged Putin’s offer, but the joint statement of December 10-11 stated: “President Putin and I discussed a broad range of new defence projects. We also discussed how to align our defence relations to India's own priorities, including Make in India.
This was a familiar convergence of interests between a penurious Moscow and an inefficient New Delhi. Russia’s Yantar Shipyard has six Project 1135.6 frigates under construction, but Moscow can no longer afford them, due to low oil prices and sustained economic sanctions from the West over the Ukraine confrontation.
The Indian Navy is satisfied with its Talwar-class frigates, which is why they may go on to become the largest warship type in the Indian Navy, with nine in service.
With a displacement of just 4,000 tonnes, the Talwar class packs a considerable punch owing to a key Russian design strength: outstanding utilisation of space. The Russian designers even squeezed in torpedo launchers, which are only now being retro-fitted into the larger Indian Shivalik-class frigates, which displace 5,600 tonnes.
Like the Shivalik-class, the three Russian frigates will be multi-role vessels. They will carry the Brahmos surface-to-surface missile for attacking land targets and ships; an improvement over the Klub missile carried by the first six Talwar-class frigates. Like them, they will be fitted with Shtil anti-air missiles, naval guns and rockets, and torpedoes for sinking enemy submarines.
The Shivalik-class’ biggest capability advantage stems from its carriage of two multi-purpose helicopters of the 10-tonne class (currently, the Seaking), while the smaller Talwar-class frigate can only accommodate a single Kamov-31. The embarkation of two helicopters instead of one effectively doubles a frigate’s anti-submarine and airborne early warning capabilities.
However, the greatest advantage the navy sees in buying Russian frigates is they would be delivered far quicker than Indian vessels. Sources say Moscow has offered to provide the first frigate within 2½ years of the order, while an Indian shipyard would take at least 1½ years longer.