(Published article in Defence and Security of India Feb/Mar 2013)
“We Shall Build Good Ships Here; At A Profit If We Can, At A Loss If We Must, But Always Good Ships.”
Collis Potter Huntington.
In 1886 Collis Potter Huntington decided to build a shipyard which would be known in the world for the quality of its ships. He founded the largest privately owned shipyard in the world, the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry dock Company (now Northrop Grumman) in Virginia. Warship design and construction is an iterative and tedious process involving various interconnected and overlapping agencies. Designing for maximum survivability and constructing it in a cost effective manner puts constraints which are not easily surmountable. It is imperative that ‘quality’ be embedded at every stage of design, construction, trials and training for a warship to carry out its tasks far away from its home port, in a hostile sea environment and against an unforgiving enemy. It is against this background that Huttington had stated ‘But always good ships’.
Warships today have to be designed such that they operate at high speeds, with low fuel consumption, manoeuvre & remain stable in extreme weather at sea, and keep firing weapons till their last moment. Survivability requires that a ship’s infra red, acoustic and radar cross section be minimised to avoid detection by the enemy. The primary offensive weapon suit is decided by the role of the warship, say anti submarine, anti surface or strategic. For its defence it would have anti aircraft, anti submarine and anti surface weapons along with dispensers for decoys and electronic warfare packages against the anticipated threats. Larger warships also carry a secondary weapon outfit for a support role if required. The warship has to navigate, communicate and also detect the adversary, this requires placement of large radar, sonar and communication antennae above as well as below the water line, and all these increase the complexities of war ship design.
A warship is generally built to last three to four decades if not more, so the weapon and equipment packages (propulsion, power, sensors, communication etc) have to be so placed that there removal for up-gradation is easy, to match the rapid pace of technology.
A warship to day does not operate independently, in a network centric environment it has to form part of a designated group of ships, which in turn form part of a bigger system of war effort. Thus design of a warship has to take into account the fact that it is capable of operating with other warships and that its protocols are compatible with the other group ships.
Keeping all the above complexities in forefront and to ensure ‘building good ships’ new design approaches need to be studied.
“You are not going to find the ideal boat. You are not even going to have it if you design it from scratch.”
Systems engineering approach to warship design has shown a way ahead because it is fundamentally an interdisciplinary engineering management process covering all aspects of hardware, software and the human component. It caters for life cycle requirements, and economically beneficial integrated design. A NATO specialist team constituted for setting up systems engineering guidelines for cost effectiveness of new technology in warships has indicated the essential steps of stake holder requirement definition, requirement analysis, synthesis architectural design, verification and validation prior to finalising of design. DARPA is also researching in to novel methods for design and verification of complex systems in its META program. Under this program attempt is being made to devise a model based system engineering framework which can then enable architectural analysis of complex systems during conceptual design itself, leading to a much more robust and reliable system.
Designing for survivability approach advocates, warship design of relatively smaller ships with much higher survivability and better weapons suit .It caters for a more dangerous battle environment, while reducing manpower requirements. This approach brings out a flaw of the reduction of armour plating thickness in the current designs of warships, which has been resorted to for keeping the structural weight low.
Armour plating thickness reduction had taken place earlier as the war at high seas no longer involved close combat and had evolved in to a larger and larger standoff distance battles. However to accommodate more sensors and weapon suits the armour plating thickness is being further compromised, resulting in lesser survivability of the warship in case of a hit. Survivability in war at sea implies ability of a warship to continue carrying out its mission, which in turn implies preventing enemy from detecting and attacking it. Thus requiring reduction of all types of detectible signatures, (Radar, IR, acoustic, magnetic, electronic etc) at the early design stage itself. Further measures of survivability include enhancing floatability after an attack by the enemy; therefore studies at early design stage must assess the anticipated explosive damages, redundancy for systems and requirements of damage control etc. A warship based upon survivability in design, while enhancing firepower and reducing human component, may therefore result in a better option for the future.
Axiomatic design approach puts forth the argument that, currently the design process is an iterative process, in that, several individual attributes are first designed and then integrated, often leading to re-design and finally to a compromise solution. In order to design a warship with much less manpower, some functions would have to be transferred to automation and some functions to the remaining manpower. This needs to be accomplished in a scientific manner such that neither the man nor the machine is over tasked. Axiomatic design consists of four domains namely, the customer domain, the functional domain, the physical domain and the process domain. The axiomatic process requires determining ‘what’ is required in each domain and then specifying ’how’ these requirements are satisfied in the successive domain. This leads to a much better design definition at initial stage itself.
Indian Navy and Warship Design
A major impetus to the Indian Naval Design organisation was given by the then prime minister Mrs Indira Gandhi after her return from the launch of INS Nilgiri at MDL Mumbai in 1968.She directed that the Naval Design Office should design frigates, submarines and other fast craft with futuristic propulsion options including nuclear propulsion. She emphasised the need for synergy between the ship designers and the ship builders and this led to prominence of self reliance in warship design and production in the 1969-74 Defence Plan. The result of this, were the indigenous Godavari Class Type 16 frigates, whose design was accepted in 1975 and the commissioning of the first ship Godavari took place in 1983. The Naval Design team has not looked back since! The latest indigenous ship to join the Indian Navy is the formidable Kolkata class destroyer (project 15A) commissioned in Sept 2012.
Stages of Warship Design in India
The fundamental steps in warship building in India commence with the drafting of the Preliminary Staff Requirements (PSR). This is the result of deliberations between the Naval Staff and the naval designers, taking into account the needs of the Navy based on future threat perceptions and the availability of technologies and industrial capabilities. The PSR includes role, armament, sensors, overall dimensions, speed and endurance etc. There after conceptual design work is undertaken; it includes sifting through various technical alternatives and selecting the most feasible one for the preliminary design. This has detailed schematics and calculations to provide the best design option as per the PSR. It is presented to Naval Staff highlighting areas of give and take with respect to the PSR. A desired preliminary design is arrived at after detailed deliberations. The detailed design work is undertaken thereafter. This involves detailed drawings, hydrodynamic modelling, modifications if required based on modelling studies, layout plans, detailing of specifications and commencement of dialogue with the building shipyard. The shipyard prepares for construction of the warship by making production drawings, procuring jigs, fixtures and equipment that may be required during production.
Modular Ship Construction
“Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made, for somewhere deep in their oaken hearts the soul of a song is laid.”
Robert N. Rose
On 2nd Nov 2009, the then Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma said “We need to revisit the building strategies of the (Defence) shipyards. There is a need to do much more. Construction schedule is where our shipyards lag. The reason for delays is the basic method of construction (adopted by the shipyards),” With respect to modular ship construction being followed by foreign shipyards, he said “This is found to be the most efficient means of ship construction by which time taken for delivery of the platform is minimised and the work at the dry dock is optimised.”
Currently the Defence Shipyards build ships by launching the hull in water after welding it and there after the shipyard’s craftsmen install machinery and equipment in highly cramped spaces. This has also contributed to inordinate delays in delivery of warships to the Navy as ships have taken nearly ten years to build. However the major shipyards like MDL and GRSE are already in process of modernising by moving to modular ship building wherein 300ton blocks are manufactured independently along with their equipment, electrical wiring, pipelines etc and then fitted to neighbouring blocks precisely, to finally form the warship. It is expected that MDL’s modular shipyard costing Rs. 824cr would be commissioned by June 2013, there after it is expected that destroyers would be constructed in 72 months and frigates in 60 months.
One of the areas defence shipyards need to study is outsourcing while retaining essential technical manpower for critical defence related work. With the Indian industry maturing rapidly, many of the tasks like crew accommodation, painting, wiring, piping etc may be totally outsourced, however, with a mechanism to ensure that quality of work is ensured. Both, cost benefits and better quality, should form the basis of outsourcing in warship building endeavours. Shipyards would have to identify and involve major contractors from ship design stage itself and have the production designs ready prior to commencing construction. Fundamentally Indian shipyards should ‘Build good ships’.
Indian Naval Ships and Craft on Order on Indian Shipyards
MDL: 3 Project-15A Kolkata class destroyers, follow on four Project-15B destroyers, one Project-17 Shivalik class frigate and 6 Project-75 Scorpene submarines.
GRSE: 4 ASW Corvettes of Project-28, 6 Inshore Patrol Vessel of the Rajshree class and 8 Landing Craft Utility.
GSL: 4 Offshore Patrol Vessels, 6 of 105-metre Offshore Patrol Vessels and one 90-metre Offshore Patrol Vessel.
HSL: 12 Inshore Patrol Vessels of two different classes, 3 of 50-ton Bollard Pull Tugs and one 25-ton Bollard Pull Tug.
CSL: Indigenous Aircraft Carrier IAC.
Pipav Shipyard: 5 NOPVs
ABG Shipyard: Cadet Training Ship.
Weapon systems on a warship depend upon its assigned role and mission in war. Generally warships carry weapons to cater for threats emanating from the air, surface and underwater. For air threats like sea skimming missiles and air attacks, ships have surface to air missiles, guns in dual role, and close in weapon systems/point defence systems (multi barrel guns, short range missiles). For surface threats ships have surface to surface missiles and guns. For anti submarine warfare ships have torpedoes and ASW rockets. Warships carry decoys for deception of enemy torpedoes and oncoming missiles, these comprise of chaff dispensers, IR decoys, acoustic decoys etc. The warships also have an extended weapon capability on the helicopters they house on board; this could be a light weight torpedo, rockets or small calibre guns. The advent of unmanned vehicles will introduce another facet of weaponisation.
Naval weapons are complex in design due to the corrosive sea environment in which they have to operate, severe space and weight restrictions, and problems of stabilisation as the ship rolls, pitches and yaws. Further, as with all weapons, they cannot be procured just by paying the currency required by the manufacturers. The pricing of weapons is based upon the need of the country, its relations with the producing country, its position in the world at large and other considerations like, foreign policy issues, type of technology, availability of similar systems for sale in other countries etc.
In case of India it has been the experience that the weapon system it desires is not available for purchase, alternate offered is exorbitantly priced, and what is affordable is invariably not required by India. The ideal solution is local availability of weapon systems which will ensure maintainability, timely upgrades and modularity for warship design. The indigenous effort has still not matured to provide viable weapon system or even subsystem solution within the time frame and the budgeted costs. Economic viability, arms export policy and non availability of technological prowess, appear to be the main reasons. Thus India is left with no alternative but to import and also prolong use of existing armament by process of life extension, constrained with improper/insufficient spares, inadequate documentation and testing methods. Weapons thus continue to be deployed well beyond their useful life without ascertaining if or at all, or to what extent they meet the designed parameters.
The defence procurement procedure (DPP) has been promulgated to enable the Armed forces to timely procure the desired equipment with least drain on national resources. The DPP has been regularly revised to cater for Indian conditions. It has been structured so that the Indian defence industrial base is progressively strengthened by offsets, TOT and JV regimes. However ‘The Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan’, LTIPP, of the armed forces, is an indicative acquisition plan for the next 15 years but without any commitment of funds or frozen requirements.
The weapon procurement procedure commences with drawing the staff requirements, which the DRDO and industry claim are unrealistic, the armed forces justify it, as weapons are used over decades and therefore once procured they should remain current and amenable to technological upgrades as long as possible. Perhaps the only way the Government of India can resolve this issue is through policy level intervention by firstly categorising external threats at two levels depending upon their severity & extent and thereafter specifying two types of procurement, one (say P1) to the staff requirements of the Armed Forces and the other to a level (say P2 through local sources only) which meets at least 75% of the staff requirement. Killability studies may be carried out to assess the numbers (with sufficient redundancies) of P1 and P2 types required to meet the threats in their entirety. Further it can incentivise the P2 procurement by increasing the defence budget proportionately and set up an accountability mechanism for timely delivery, maintainability and functionability of the same.
In conclusion, it suffices to state that warship design is undergoing a change today forced by factors like economic slowdown, emergence of littoral threats, reduction in blue water engagements, development of powerful sensors and weapons as well as advent of unmanned vehicles on the horizon. There is a need to look into newer design methods like systems engineering design approach, designing for survivability and axiomatic design principles etc. rather than adhering to the telescopic iterative methodology in use in India. The shipyards need to switch over to modular construction to ensure timely and cost effective deliveries. The shipyards also need to carry out a periodic review of outsourcing, leveraging upon the increasing technological capabilities of the Indian industry, this will help in reducing the long term costs and assure quality of equipment & fittings. Lastly there may be a need for policy level intervention into weapon procurement to ensure that the Defence Industrial Base in India is strengthened to levels where it can sustain the requirements of the Armed forces.
The shipyards, then, would be able to ‘Build better and better Ships’ for the Indian Navy.