By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st Oct 15
On Wednesday, in Mumbai, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar commissioned the Indian Naval Ship (INS) Kochi, a 6,800-tonne guided missile destroyer that will be the tenth destroyer in the navy’s fleet.
A destroyer is a large, multi-role warship, bigger than 6,500 tonnes. Their size lets them carry weaponry to engage varied threats. INS Kochi will carry Brahmos cruise missiles to destroy enemy ships and shore targets 295 kilometres away; Long Range Surface to Air Missiles (LR-SAM) to blast incoming aircraft and anti-ship missiles out of the sky; and torpedoes and rockets to engage enemy submarines. Each of these weapon systems is paired with sophisticated sensors, such as radar and sonar.
Adding capability to INS Kochi’s sensors are two on-board helicopters. One of them --- a Sea King or Kamov-28 is kitted for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) with a dunking sonar that the helicopter lowers into the water to detect giveaway sounds of enemy submarines. The other, a Kamov-31, has airborne radar to detect enemy aerial targets at extended ranges.
INS Kochi is the second vessel of the so-called Project 15A. Prime Minister Narendra Modi commissioned the lead destroyer, INS Kolkata, on August 16, 2014. Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) is building three destroyers under Project 15A for Rs 11,662 crore, almost Rs 3,900 crore per vessel.
That cost has ballooned from the originally sanctioned Rs 3,500 crore (Rs 1,200 crore per vessel), even as the completion date has slipped by six years from 2010 to 2016.
The final cost of Project 15A would only become clear after the third destroyer, INS Chennai, is commissioned next year. Despite the cost escalation, building warships in India continues to be significantly cheaper than buying from abroad.
MDL is India’s only warship yard with the capacity and capability to build destroyers. It is full to capacity. Even as the Mumbai yard completes Project 15A, it has begun work on four more destroyers under Project 15B, for Rs 29,348 crore (Rs 7,350 crore per vessel).
The first Project 15B destroyer, INS Visakhapatnam, was launched into the water on April 20, towards a commissioning date of July 2018. The next three will follow it at two-year intervals, i.e. July 2020, 2022, and 2024.
As Business Standard reported (August 17, 2014, “PM talks tough, but new warship lacks teeth”) INS Kolkata had joined the fleet without key defensive systems against missiles and submarines. INS Kochi too has these operational deficiencies.
However, naval and industry sources say one delay is finally over. These destroyers will soon have a weapon system to provide credible protection against the primary threat to large warships --- sea-skimming, anti-ship missiles (like the Harpoon, or Exocet) fired from over 100 kilometres away by enemy aircraft, ships or submarines.
Protection against this threat will come from the long-delayed LR-SAM, which Indian and Israeli engineers are finally close to completing. Far surpassing the current generation of anti-missile missiles, which have ranges of just 20-30 kilometres, the LR-SAM was designed to detect incoming anti-ship missiles at ranges beyond 100 kilometres and destroy them in mid-flight at ranges out to 70 kilometres.
Recent tests suggest this performance could get even better. On September 25, authoritative defence blog Livefist reported that the LR-SAM had successfully destroyed anti-ship missiles at ranges out to 90 kilometres, in recent tests in Israel.
If operationally deployed LR-SAMs can replicate these test results, destroyers like INS Kochi would safeguard the entire fleet with a vast protective bubble against anti-ship missiles.
Yet, the wait continues for another vital system: “advanced towed array sonar” (ATAS), that is essential for detecting enemy submarines in the warm, shallow waters of the Arabian Sea, where salinity and temperature gradients baffle conventional “bow mounted sonar”, making Indian warships blind to lurking enemy submarines.
An order has been placed with German company, Atlas Elektronik, for six ATAS systems. These, however, are earmarked for the three Delhi-class destroyers; and three Talwar-class frigates. The defence ministry has failed to progress a second order for ten more ATAS systems. These are earmarked for three Kolkata-class destroyers; three Shivalik-class frigates, and four Kamorta-class corvettes that Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata is building.
INS Kochi derives her name from the vibrant port city of Kochi, which is home to the navy’s Southern Command. The ship’s crest depicts a sword and a shield, with a snake boat riding the blue and white ocean waves, symbolising the Malabar region’s rich maritime heritage. The ship’s Sanskrit motto --- “Jahi Shatrun Mahabaho” --- means “Oh mighty armed one… conquer the enemy”.