On August 20 while commissioning the second of three 5,600-tonne Project 17 guided-missile frigates (FFG)—INS Satpura—expect India’s Defence Minister Arakkaparambil Kurian Antony to say the following:
1) Over the years there has been a distinct shift in our policy from a ‘Buyer’s Navy’ to a ‘Builder’s Navy’. Time and again history has taught us to maintain a strong and vigilant navy. Our maritime heritage dates back to the ancient times. Though we have come a long way in re-establishing our capabilities on the high seas since our independence, we still have a lot to achieve before we can consider ourselves a really potent naval force. History has time and again held out lessons in maintaining a strong and an eternally vigilant Navy. The security situation in and around our immediate neighbourhood poses several security related challenges. We therefore have to maintain high levels of operational readiness at all times.
2) India’s shipbuilding industry has to modernise itself through indigenous efforts and minimise its dependence on imports. We must continue with our efforts to transform and modernise our shipyards, so that they can not only meet the domestic demands, but also achieve latest international standards in quality construction. We must be able to produce quality warships in a shorter time frame at competitive costs. I strongly urge all the participants of the Indian industry to give their best in developing our shipbuilding programmes.
What will not be spelt out, or even acknowledged, is the growing cost of procuring wholly imported sub-systems and components for such warships, without which the vessel’s hull is absolutely worthless. And the principal culprits for perpetuating such a dysfunctional state of affairs are none other than the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) Department of Defence Production & Supplies (DDPS), the MoD-owned defence public sector undertakings (DPSU), and the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO). Let us now examine each of their inglorious contributions over the past 34 years.
It was in 1960 that the MoD bought the complete design package of the Leander-class FFG’s superstructure and its licenced-manufacturing rights from the UK’s Vickers Armstrong & Yarrow. However, the first of six Leander-class FFGs to be built by the MoD-owned Mazagon Docks Ltd (MDL)—INS Nilgiri--was commissioned only 12 years later on June 23, 1972, nine years after the Royal Navy commissioned its first Leander-class FFG. Thereafter, between 1974 and 1981 the following five Leander-class FFGs were commissioned, and were followed by three Project 16 Godavari-class FFGs and three Project 16A Brahmaputra-class FFGs, accounting for a total of 12 FFGs built as variations (conceptualised and designed by the Navy’s Directorate General Naval Design, or DGND) of the same basic hull design and with the same steam engine-based propulsion package. However, the time taken to achieve this took an astonishing 33 years!
Today, as far as the Indian Navy’s principal surface combatant accretion plans go, it outwardly appears that they all seem to be on hand barring the usual time and cost overruns. However, appearances can be totally deceptive and the factual position is far less palatable. The Navy’s passionate espousal of indigenisation has never received the kind of national support that it really deserved from either the MoD or from its DPSUs and the DRDO. Consequently, the Navy’s dependency factor on imported sub-systems and components has been progressively increasing. Take the example of the INS Beas, the last 3,850-tonne Project 16A FFG to be commissioned on July 11, 2005. It was announced then by the MoD that this warship had an indigenous content of 85%. Such a statement, unless its context is clarified, is highly misleading, to say the least. For, when blurting out data on weapon systems or platforms, it must be clearly indicated whether the percentage of claimed indigenisation is by weight, by volume, by cost, or by technological content. When this was pointed out to the MoD, it decided redefine indigenisation and during the commissioning ceremony of INS Shivalik, the first Project 17 FFG, on April 29, 2010, the MoD claimed that the total indigenous effort accounted for 60% of the cost of producing the FFG (each Project 17 FFG costs US$650 million, or
Rs26 billion). Since then similar data has been released on the three 6,800-tonne Project 15A Kolkata-class guided-missile destroyers (DDG), with the MoD claiming that each such vessel, costing $950 million (Rs 38 billion), is 90% indigenous by cost. Similar estimations are also doing the rounds on the projected four 6,800-tonne Project 15B DDGs (approved by the MoD’s Defence Acquisitions Council in February 2009, with the first vessel due to be launched in 2015), and the four Project 28 Kamorta-class ASW guided-missile corvettes, each of which is likely to cost $435 million. In fact, the project cost of these four ASW corvettes has inflated from a sanctioned amount of Rs 28 billion or $560 million (Rs 7 billion or $140 million per 2,500-tonne vessel) to an estimated Rs 70 billion ($1.4 billion) now.
Let us examine the specific case of INS Satpura, whose hull, combat management system (using imported AMLCD and PAMLCD panels supplied by BARCO of Belgium) and auxiliary machinery can easily constitute up to 65% of its weight and volume, and since these are largely designed and manufactured in India, a statement claiming 65% indigenous content will be technically correct. However, it needs to be borne in mind that these are low-cost and low-tech items. On the other hand, the FFG’s CODOG propulsion system (comprising two GE-designed LM-2500 gas turbines licence-assembled by the MoD-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and two SEMT Pielstick 16 PA6 STC diesel engines licence-assembled by Kirloskar), integrated platform management system and battle damage control system (supplied by Canada-based L-3 MAPPS), principal weapon systems (like the Italian OTO Melara 76mm/62-calibre Super Rapid Gun Mount, or SRGM, which is licence-assembled by the Hardwar-based facility of Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd; the Tulamashzavod JSC-built A-213-Vympel-A point defence system comprising twin AK-630M 30mm guns, MR-123-02 fire-control radar and SP-521 optronic tracker; the 32 Barak-1 anti-missile SAMs and their twin EL/M-2221 STGR fire-control systems all supplied by Israel Aerospace Industries; the Shtil-1 area air defence system comprising the 24 rounds of 40km-range 9M317M SAMs, a 3S-90 missile launcher, four MR-90 Orekh target illuminators, and the Salyut FSUE-built E-band MR-760 Fregat M2EM 3-D radar; the eight Novator-built 3M54E Klub-N supersonic 220km-range anti-ship cruise missiles and their Garpun Bal-E fire-control radar; the twin 12-barrelled RBU-6000 (RPK-8) ASW mortar launchers; the twin two-tube DTA-53-11356 torpedo launchers and their Dvigatel-built SET-65SE/KE and TEST-71ME-NK torpedoes and the Granit Central Scientific Institute-developed Purga ASW fire-control system; the ELTA Systems-built S-band EL/M-2288 AD-STAR search radar; the THALES-built Captas-4 low-frequency active/passive towed-array sonar; Elettronica Spa of Italy’s planar active phased-array jammers; the ELBIT Systems-built Desceaver offboard countermeasures suite; and the two projected 10-tonne shipborne ASW/ASV helicopters and their lightweight ASW torpedoes and medium-range anti-ship missiles, are all of imported origin.
The above-mentioned imported equipment may constitute only 20% of the warship by weight and volume, but could account for as much as 80% of the cost and technology content. But most importantly, if Indian military-industrial entities are unable to design and produce such systems indigenously, then what is being really achieved is just the mere in-country production of raw materials like the D-40S grade steel from Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), along with indigenous hull construction (and not producing a fully integrated warship), and falsely claiming the attainment of high levels of indigenisation.
The main deficiencies in India’s indigenous warship design and development capabilities lie in three principal areas: inadequate military shipbuilding infrastructure, inability of the DPSUs to design and develop indigenous sub-systems solutions, and the DRDO’s self-imposed obsession with technology demonstration programmes. In terms of shipbuilding infrastructure, the dismal record is for all to see: each of the three Project 15 Delhi-class guided-missile destroyers (DDG) and three Project 16A Brahmaputra-class FFGs took about nine years to be built (from keel-laying till commissioning). In the case of the three Project 17 Shivalik-class FFGs, although the Union Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) approved the construction programme in 1997, the MoD placed orders for the three FFGs in only 1999. Keel-laying of the first vessel--Shivalik F 47—took place on July 11, 2001 at MDL’s Yard 12617) and the hull was launched on April 18, 2003. It next took seven years for the FFG to be outfitted and undergo harbour and sea trials prior to its commissioning on April 29, 2010. As for INS Satpura F 48, the keel was laid down on October 31, 2002 at Yard 12727), the hull was launched on June 4, 2004, and it will be commissioned seven years later on August 20. Also not being adhered to are the original delivery schedules of the three Project 15A Kolkata-class DDGs, for which all shafting and propellers are being imported from Russia. INS Kolkata, whose keel was laid down at MDL’s Yard 12701) in September 2003, was launched on March 30, 2006 and is due for commissioning only by the year’s end. INS Kochi, whose keel-laying took place at Yard 12702 on October 25, 2005 and whose hull was launched on September 18, 2009, is likely to be commissioned only by 2012. INS Chennai, whose keel was laid down at Yard 12703) on February 21, 2006 and whose hull was launched on April 1, 2010, is likely to be commissioned by late 2013. Even when it comes to the construction of guided-missile corvettes, the track-record of MoD-owned shipbuilders is no better. For instance, keel-laying ceremony for the first of the four Kamorta-class ASW corvettes, whose construction was approved by the CCNS in 2003, took place at the MoD-owned Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers’ Yard 3017 on November 20, 2006, and the vessel was launched on April 19, 2010, and is due for commissioning only in late 2012. The second vessel, whose keel was laid at Yard 3018 on September 27, 2007, is due to be launched probably by next month, and will be commissioned by 2013. All four such vessels are being built with SAIL-produced DMR-249A steel.
Even the much-maligned Russian warship-building industry has been able to perform better than the MoD-owned shipyards like MDL and GRSE. For instance, Baltisky Zavod JSC, which built the first three 4,035-tonne Project 1135.6 FFGs, delivered them all within a period of five years. INS Talwar F 40, whose keel was laid on March 10, 1999, was launched on May 12, 2000 and commissioned on June 18, 2003. INS Trishul, whose keel was laid on September 24, 1999, was launched on November 24, 2000 and commissioned on June 25, 2003. INS Tabar, whose keel was laid on May 26, 2000, was launched on May 25, 2001 and commissioned on April 19, 2004. The same production schedule is adhered to for the follow-on Batch 2 Project 1135.6 FFGs, whose purchase was approved by the CCNS on July 6, 2006 at a cost of $1.88 billion and which are now being built by Yantar Shipyard JSC in Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave. INS Teg, whose keel-laying took place on July 27, 2007, was launched on November 27, 2009 and will be commissioned before the year’s end. INS Tarkash, whose keel-laying took place on November 27, 2007, was launched last year and will be commissioned in early 2012. INS Trikand, whose keel laws laid on June 11, 2008, was launched two years later and will be commissioned by 2013. In China, the two shipyards at Shanghai and Guangzhou are presently churning out the Type 054A Jinkai 1-class FFGs at a rate of one every 14 months.
Adding to the problem of severely delayed warship delivery schedules is the inability of India’s DPSUs to come up with indigenous solutions in areas like propulsion systems, radars, combat management systems, integrated electronic warfare suites, and naval armaments. A few examples here will suffice. Since almost every DPSU-built warship for the Indian Navy sports the AK-630M or Shipunov 2A42 30mm cannons—both built by Russia’s Tulamashzavod JSC—wouldn’t it have been better for the MoD-owned Ordnance Factories Board to have bought out outright the designs of these two guns, their mountings, turrets and their fire-control systems and re-engineered them minimally to re-brand them as Made-in-India armaments? Such weapon systems could then easily be offered on board the waterjet-powered extra fast patrol craft built by GRSE, which have huge export potential within the Indian Ocean Region. Instead, the OFB till this day continues to licence-assemble the 2A42 cannons that are delivered by Tulamashzavod in completely knocked-down condition. The same goes for the licence-assembled (with transferred screwdriver technologies) 76/62 main guns, whose designs could have been bought outright by BHEL from Italy’s OTOBreda (a member of the Finmeccanica Group) and be subsequently re-engineered for fitment on to the advanced offshore patrol vessels (AOPV) built by MDL or the MoD-owned Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL) for potential export customers. In addition, both BHEL and OTOBreda could well have elevated their on-going military-industrial cooperation to greater heights by co-developing a 155mm/52-cal naval main gun, which will be the mainstay of all future principal surface combatants now being designed in Europe, the US and even China and Russia.
A similar sordid state of affairs prevails in the area of radars. The MoD-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), which has been licence-assembling different kinds of radars originally developed by THALES of France, has yet to indigenously develop a new-generation radar. It must be noted that both BEL and the DRDO missed the bus twice throughout the 1990s. Firstly, it seems none of the two every bothered to ask the Indian Navy if it requires a multi-purpose E-band radar variant of the Rohini 3-D central acquisition radar, which was then under development by the DRDO’s Electronics & Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) for the Akash E-SHORADS air-defence system. The 3-D CAR is derived from the TRS-17 radar developed by Poland’s Przemyslowly Instytut Telekomunikacji SA, and the LRDE bought out its entire design package and re-engineered it to suit the requirements of both the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force. Had both the DRDO and BEL approached the Navy in the early 1990s (instead of 2003) to seek its support for developing the Revathi navalised 3-D CAR, then the Navy’s existing three Project 16 Godavari-class FFGs, three Project 16A Brahmaputra-class FFGs, and three of the five Kashin 2-class DDGs would by now, have sported the Revathi instead of the ELTA Systems-built EL/M-2238 STAR surveillance & threat alert radars that they now do. The same goes for the six Project 1135.6 FFGs and three Project 17 Shivalik-class FFGs, which now sport the Fregat-M2EM radars. Another collective failure of the DRDO and BEL was the lack of foresight in developing a C-band, mast-mounted four-faced distributed-array passive phased-array (PESA) radar (like the Type 348 system developed by China’s CETC for the Type 052C Luyang-class DDG and derived from the C-band HT-233 PESA engagement radar for the CPMIEC-developed KS-1A MR-SAM system) for the three Project 17 Shivalik-class FFGs. It seems no one from the MoD even had a vision throughout the 1990s about developing the Akash air-defence system for tri-service applications, or developing a 40km-range variant of the Akash SAM by using high-energy solid propellants.
The stories behind the DRDO-developed and BEL-built Aparna electronic warfare (EW) suite and the hull-mounted HUMSA-NG low-frequency panoramic sonar plus the NAGAN low-frequency active/passive towed-array sonar are no different either. By the late 1990s, while the DRDO’s Hyderabad-based Defence R & D laboratory (DRDL), under the auspices of Project Sangraha, had succeeded in developing the Ajanta family of combined ESM/ELINT systems (comprising the Mk1, Mk2 and Mk3 variants), both the DRDO and BEL thus far failed to develop and produce indigenous jammers and off-board countermeasures dispensing systems. Consequently, the Ajanta’s ECM component is made up of Elettronica Spa of Italy’s planar active phased-array jammers licence-assembled by BEL, and ELBIT Systems-built Desceaver offboard countermeasures. A similar tale of missed opportunities concerns the NAGAN. Given the fact that the most effective sensor to detect hostile SSKs operating in shallow waters is the active/passive ultra low-frequency towed-array sonar (ATAS), both the DRDO’s Naval Physical & Oceanographic Labs (NPOL) and BEL should have by now come up with an ultra low-frequency variant of the NAGAN, instead of a low-frequency system. The ultra low-frequency system comprises a towed body that integrates separate transmit and receive arrays operating at 1.38kHz, a compact winch along with its handling system, and shipboard electronics. Such an ATAS can reach an operational depth of 300 metres (985 feet), and are easily accommodated within any existing DDG and FFG of the Indian Navy and gives the ATAS, in shallow waters, a range that is, on the average, about two times the range of any competing mid-frequency sonar. In deeper waters the average range advantage increases to more than four times. Overall, when undertaking bistatic surveillance sweeps in conjunction with even a low-frequency sonar (like the hull-mounted HUMSA-NG), the ATAS offers an advantage of between four to 16 times the area coverage for all operating conditions that a navy might encounter. The beneficial impact of this performance advantage is staggering! However, despite such stated advantages, the Indian Navy has had no choice but to stick to the imported THALES-built Captas-4 low-frequency towed-array sonar for the three Project 17 FFGs simply because the NAGAN is as yet unavailable from BEL--its production authority. The same goes for the MIHIR low-frequency dunking sonar, which has been under development for more than a decade. Regarding the twin-tube and triple-tube torpedo launchers designed and developed in-house by Larsen & Toubro, neither of these are on board the Project 17 FFGs simply because the DRDO’s Visakhapatnam-based Naval Science and Technological Laboratory (NSTL) has been unable to finish developing the Varunastra heavyweight electric torpedo that is 7.6 metres long, weighs 1,500kg and has a range of up to 30km. The only piece of indigenous ASW weaponry on board is the ‘Mareech’ anti-torpedo decoy system, which was developed by the NSTL and is being built by BEL and Kerala State Electronics Development Corp Ltd (KELTRON).
As far back as 2004, Navy HQ had presented to the then Secretary of the DRDO a 20-year forecast of the technologies that the Indian Navy wanted developed indigenously in pursuit of its maritime security roles and missions. The fate of this 20-year forecast was a foregone conclusion, because the DRDO has a vision of its own, which is generally fixated on the pursuit of technology demonstrations and which accord a very low priority to the operational needs of India’s armed forces. The resultant dependence of the Indian Navy on foreign sources for high-tech weapons, sensors and propulsion packages has been the main cause of the highly embarrassing time and cost overruns consistently faced by India’s warship-building programmes. Although the Navy’s in-house DND has grown and matured into a highly versatile and capable organisation for designing principal surface combatants, the key to the combat effectiveness of such vessels lies in the quality of the weapons systems, sensors, EW suites and propulsion packages—areas in which India is several years away from self-reliance. This is especially true of the DRDO-led and controlled Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) programme, where the security firewalls put in place by the DRDO at Russia’s insistence has resulted in the DND not gaining any kind of experience whatsoever from this programme. Consequently, the Navy has had no choice but to advance in baby steps in trying to understand the physics behind the ‘Arihant’ nuclear-powered technology demonstrator vessel, and as a result the vessel’s harbour trials have yet to get underway.
It is difficult to break existing moulds, and resistance to transformational changes can be a hugely retrograde step, but if the DRDO and DPSUs have failed to delivered for the past three decades, and are unwilling to work in convergence with the self-reliance aims of the India’s armed forces, then the Indian Navy has no other choice but to find new paradigms in order to meet its indigenisation and force planning targets. It is never too late to make a fresh start, for if the Navy does not start now, it will never get anywhere. Incidentally, the Indian Navy has a captive centre of excellence in the Weapons & Electronics Systems Engineering Establishment (WESEE), which under the leadership of the Navy HQ’s Directorate of Indigenisation could launch a 20-year technologies development programme in various disciplines in partnership with India’s innovative private sector military-industrial entities, DPSUs and institutions of higher academic learning. The private-sector entities should be encouraged to seek foreign R & D collaboration provided the transfer of key technologies are completed within the first five years, following which a Mark 2/Batch 2 product could be jointly developed and marketed. This type of product development strategy was first followed by WESEE since the late 1990s when it designed and developed the EMCCA computer-aided action information system (CAAIS) for the Project 16A FFGs and Project 15 DDGs, and was followed by the EMDINA family of combat management systems (CMS) for the Project 17 FFGs, Project 15A DDGs and Project 28 ASW corvettes. Both the EMCCA and EMDINA were developed in collaboration with TATA Power’s Strategic Electronics Division (SED) under the WESEE’s Project MECCA and Project MEDINA. The three Project 17 FFGs have on board the CMS-17 (developed under Project MEDINA) centralised combat management system, built by BEL’s Ghaziabad-based facility. WESEE’s strategy of leveraging the strengths of joint–sector partnerships was also instrumental in the evolution of the research, development, test, evaluation and production programmes involving the Barak-2/8 MR-SAM/LR-SAM, which will be produced by an India-based joint venture between TATA Power SED and Israel Aerospace Industries, called Nova Integrated Systems Pvt Ltd, within six years of contract signature. In addition, WESEE had almost a decade ago teamed up with TATA Power SED and the TATA Institute of Fundamental Research along with the IITs of Kanpur and Kharagpur to develop within a three-year period the secure SATCOM-based LINK-2 digital broadband fleetwide communications system (for exchanging voice, data and imagery in real-time) that is now standard fit on all Indian Navy warships. As they say, where there’s a will, there’s always a way.—Prasun K. Sengupta