35. India’s Warship Building Capability

(Published SP’s Naval Forces Feb-Mar 2014)

“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

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 amongst others, role, armament, sensors, overall dimensions, speed and endurance. 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 follows thereafter. This involves detailed drawings, hydrodynamic modeling, modifications if required based on modeling 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.

            Current Indian warship building activity is not restricted to the four DPSU shipyards, apart from Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL), Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE), Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL) and Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL), orders are also on other government and private shipyards like Cochin Shipyard Ltd, Alcock Ashdown Shipyard, ABG Shipyard, and Pipav Shipyard. Some of the naval orders on the Indian shipyards are:-

Mazgaon Dockyard ltd

  • Six Scorpene class and three Project 75 (I) submarines
  • Four Type-17A stealth frigates
  • Three Type-15A destroyers
  • Four Type-15B destroyers

Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd (GRSE), Kolkatta

  • Three Type-17A stealth frigates
  • Four Type-28 ASW Kamorta class corvettes

Goa Shipyard Ltd

  • Four OPVs
  • Six MCMVs

Hindustan Shipyard Ltd

  • One Project 75 (I) submarine
  • Two Mistral class LPDs

Ship Building Centre SBC

  • Two larger Arihant class nuclear submarines (not confirmed)

Cochin Shipyard Ltd

  • Indigenous Aircraft Carrier

ABG Shipyard

  • Two Training Ships

Alcock Ashdown Shipyard

  • Six Catamaran survey ships

Pipava Defense and Offshore Engineering Co. Ltd

  • Five OPVs

To be ordered

  • Two Mistral class LPDs on private shipyards
  • Two Submarine support ships
  • Two DSRVs.

            A major criticism of the warship construction program in India lies in its huge time and cost over runs giving the impression that DPSU shipyards are inefficient as compared to their counterparts abroad. It is true that the DPSU shipyards have been favored by the MOD as far as placing of orders, many a times beyond their capacities, is concerned leading to the notion that other private shipyards may not be able to deliver the vital defense requirements. The observations by the CAG regarding award of contracts in respect of P28 and P15A ships to GSL and MDL respectively are indicators of this approach. The over cautious view of the MOD, arises from the fact that the DPSU shipyards are completely under its control and also  that private shipyards have not yet been able to develop the trust by consistent and reliable delivery of ships to the Navy. The main reason for this lies in the difference between other manufacturing industries that have existing products ‘before’ taking orders and shipyards, which can only construct specifically designed warships ‘after’ getting the orders. The credibility of Indian shipyards has yet to be established with respect to international competitors, however from their view, high tariffs, taxes, duties and financing charges, shackles them even before they can begin to compete.

Defense Shipyards have been building ships by launching the hull in water after welding it and there after the shipyard’s artisans 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, major defense shipyards like MDL and GRSE are already in the process of modernizing by moving to ‘modular ship building’ wherein 300-ton blocks are manufactured independently along with their equipment, electrical wiring, pipelines etc and then fitted to neighboring blocks precisely. It is expected that MDL’s modular shipyard costing Rs. 824 cr would soon be operational, and it is estimated that in future destroyers would be constructed in 72 months and frigates in 60 months. The main goals of modular construction of warships are threefold, firstly to enable mission flexibility and future upgradability for enhanced service life of the ship; secondly, to achieve synergies in procurement, integration, equipment and system testing, and parallel ship hull construction; and finally to enable reductions in life cycle costs and costly upgrades by simplifying complexities in future upgrades.

               Fundamentally, modularization comprises of three classes of modules, namely construction, large-scale functional and small-scale functional modules based upon their sizes and utility. The construction module comprises large pre-out fitted sections, which are joined together. Detail work like wiring, piping, venting etc. is carried out before joining the sections. This part of modularization results in reduction in construction time as well as costs, however dismantling later is not envisaged, as it would involve considerable disassembly of subsystems. Large-scale functional modules comprise packaged units like mission units that carry out major functions and may be nearly as huge as a ship’s compartment. For e.g. the weapon module may include weapon launchers, armament handling systems, and magazines. The large-scale functional modules can be easily replaced for modernization or modifications. The small-scale functional modules are maintenance, repair friendly units, and are small as compared to other modules. These are modules, which can be assembled and disassembled, as these units form the ship’s support systems. This allows for exchange of systems and easy up gradation at a smaller level.

Modular construction coupled with fixed price contracts would reduce the construction periods and cost over runs. Long construction times associated with telescopic method of construction have led to flexibility to carry out changes in designs and major equipment by the Indian Navy, which in turn has resulted in increases in costs and delays. Thus with modular construction and freezing of design in fixed price contracts warship building in India is entering a new era of efficiency however the control of overall design, selection of major equipment and weapon sensor packages would remain with the Indian Navy.

Today capability and responsibility to design complex warships (with association of major equipment manufacturers and collaborating foreign shipyards) is available only with the Indian Navy, the shipyards have not developed this crucial expertise because of their dependency over the ages on the Indian Navy. This restricts them in their manufacturing and undertaking value additions. The private shipyards resort to buying the designs from foreign collaborators and depend upon the Navy for providing design of warships on order.

Warship building in India also suffers from weaknesses like, requirement of large financial resources, gross deficiencies in meeting economy of scale, insufficient levels of local industry support in ancillaries, lack of compatible indigenous propulsion  and power generation systems, designing and capacity limitations, long gestation periods between design and construction leading to design and equipment changes and finally inability of R&D and industry to supply modern weapon systems.

A modern warship operates in a multi threat 3D environment requiring a multi mission and multi role capability. The requirement to meet threats arising from subsurface, surface, air & space, dictate a net work centric approach centered on data fusion and presentation for selection of effective weapons from different ships to attack the threat. This puts a great demand upon the type of sensors with differing technologies required, for example, an ASW sensor package needs multi frequency active and passive sonar covering long ranges to meet threats from submarines as well as mines, whereas the gunnery sensors need 3D MFR, IFF and radars for littoral warfare to meet surface, air and anti ASCM threats. These have to be coupled with comprehensive EW/ECCM systems, Navigation radars with GPS, automatic identification systems, echo sounder, speed log, communication system with multi channel, multi mode suite etc for meeting needs of warship operating in conjunction with other ships, naval aircrafts, and UAVs. All these have to be finally integrated in the CAIO/CMS for seamless handling of data for information fusion and decision capability. The sensor suite is to be supported finally by the weapon package be it  guns in dual role, missiles for anti air and anti surface/ land attack, torpedo systems, weapons for integral air capability and decoy dispensors.

Naval weapons are complex in design due to the corrosive sea environment in which they have to operate, severe space & weight restrictions, and problems of stabilization 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 required time frames 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.

Production of Brahmos missile system, TAL torpedo by BDL, EW systems and Sonars by BEL, AK630 and miscellaneous ammunition by OFB, SRGM by BHEL, RBU, and TTL launchers by L&T etc are heartening however, the indigenous effort would have been much more visible had protracted delays not taken place in development of other weapon systems like surface to air missiles and heavy weight torpedoes. The GT/ Diesel propulsion and power generation packages continue to be procured from abroad for major ships. However, for some corvettes Kirloskar Oils and Engines Limited (KOEL) has commenced supplying engines and with Walchandnagar Industries working in collaboration with DCNS France, more import substitution will follow. Other critical technologies in stealth, smart materials, abinitio weapon system design etc continue to elude the warship building effort in India.

            Taking a holistic view of the indigenization, the Kelkar committee had rightly brought out that “There is an urgent need to review the whole concept of indigenization and self-reliance and it is time to go beyond the idea of looking at indigenization purely as import substitution of components, sub-assemblies, etc within the country from raw materials. Today indigenization as a concept will need to involve capability enhancement and development, increasing know-why, design and system integration, rather than having numerical targets.” Further taking cognizance of the inadequacies in the Indian Ship building in the defense and commercial sector The National Manufacturing Council (NMCC), in its report, made the following recommendations for developing Indian ship building Industry to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2009:-

-Prepare on an urgent basis a comprehensive plan to enhance domestic shipbuilding capabilities and building large new shipyards.

-Adopt a Mission Mode approach for the purpose.

-A continuing mechanism be evolved to synergize the efforts of the naval authorities under the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Shipping for meeting long-term requirements of the country.

In conclusion, it suffices to say that only a mission mode holistic approach with active participation of the private shipyards and industry on a PPP model would impart the impetus that Indian warship building critically needs. In the words of President George Washington lies a great truth, “Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s