‘Need to create augmented front level ships’

Cmd. (Retd) V K Verma
Senior Vice President (Strategic Business),
Pipavav Defence & Offshore Engineering Company Ltd
India’s aging fleet requires induction of new warships, which are essential to put the nation’s security as the top priority. India needs more warships to ward off China’s maritime influence in Indian Ocean. The country will require approximately 100 warships in the next 10 years’ time. Building 100 warships needs additional production capacity. For this, the Indian shipyards should gear up to enhance their production capacities. Cmd. (Retd) V K Verma, Senior Vice President (Strategic Business), Pipavav Defence & Offshore Engineering Company Ltd, shared his insights on Naval Shipbuilding during SMP World Expo 2014 and said that through the synergy of private sector shipyards and world class infrastructure, capacity of naval shipbuilding can be enhanced by constructing different types of warships.

History of naval ships steps back to the 4th century. Our ancestors were able to meet the requirement of ships by indigenous ship construction. Wooden ships, which were built at Bombay in its heyday, were said to be ‘vastly superior to anything built anywhere else in the world’. Despite the superior shipbuilding industry in ancient India, shipbuilding in the 19th century declined due to the reasons well-known in India and British regime. Naval ships have evolved drastically with advancement in technology and mechanised system in the 20th century. Post-independence, Indian Navy commenced warship building in India with the license production of Leander Class frigates. Under the supervision of naval architects and engineers, the first licensed production of Leander Class frigate was developed. Based on experiences of ship building, the credibility of the naval design grew and they started making a breakthrough. Godavari class frigates of Project 16, which retained all the indigenous propulsion machinery and other equipment already developed for the six earlier Leander Class frigates, was a major breakthrough for India. Indigenous Naval destroyer INS Chennai built at the Mazagon Docks under the code name of Project 15 Alpha was another milestone in Indian naval ship design. Khukri Class corvettes under code name Project 25 were built by Mazgoan Docks and Garden Reach Ship Builders. Development of Project 16 Alpha at Mazgaon Docks is one of the world class frigates designed by Indian Navy. This was followed by ASW Corvettes, aircraft carrier, submarine, and nuclear submarine. The naval shipbuilding sector has also made progress by constructing Indian Coast Guards vessels.

India naval shipbuilding has come a long way from the humble beginning of Leander Class under license production to Arihant Class nuclear submarine. Certainly, it has elevated and its order book has swelled with new naval ships constuction orders.

Indian Naval Shipbuilding has propelled due to its capability of designing and developing ships with indigenous design and indigenous construction. The sector imports DMR 249 military grade of steel for warship building projects, because the indigenous industry is still to develop.

Design of Warship
Designing a warship is a complex and tedious job as it requires different mindset. In merchant vessels, most of the equipment are fitted and repeated. In warship design, which requires dedicated workforce/experts (naval architects and engineers) the naval architect has to design everything new even during designing a warship of the same Class. While keeping the proportion packages same, it is upgraded with different equipment for enhancing its combat capability. Weapons fit changes in warship of the same Class is 40 to 50 per cent different from the earlier one. Design of warship consists of sophisticated integration of weapons, propulsion system and controls, because all these equipment are sourced from diverse sources. Some systems are imported from European countries or Russia. Every system has different protocols and demands. So, it is a herculean task for system integrator to integrate the entire system into one fighting unit.

Construction of all ships has been carried out indigenously at various shipyards in India like Mazgaon Dock Limited, Hindustan Shipyard Limited, Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Goa Shipyard Limited and Cochin Shipyard Limited. These shipyards have a lion’s share in the nation’s shipbuilding indigenously by constructing warships, submarines despite their limited production capacities. These shipyards need to gear up for higher output to maintain augmented force level for nation’s security while looking at requirements of Indian Defence services. Slump in production capacity, growing demand of warships, and limited design capacity have delayed almost all ongoing ship design and construction projects. Due to lack of building warships capacity, India had to import some of ships and submarine in the past particularly from Russia and Italy. So, the country needs to create additional shipbuilding capacity to meet the naval requirement of quality and superior ships in time.

Present Scenario
Today, Indian Navy has 136 ships. Recent development of Chinese Navy and its growing presence in Indian Ocean demands that Indian Navy be prepared to meet future challenges. Beijing’s growing maritime interests should be a major cause of concern for Indian Navy and it can not afford to keep its focus only for Indian Ocean. Building a blue-water navy is the answer to China’s growing sphere of influence and continued naval buildup. As per projected naval plans, Indian Navy should have more than 160 ships. Presently, the country has 136 ships including approximately 50 major warships, which consist of aircraft carriers, frigates, destroyer, corvettes, smaller ships and 15 submarines. Out of 50 major warships, 26 are more than twenty years old. These need to be replaced in next four to five years otherwise the effectiveness of the warship will go down. Similarly, out of 15 submarines, 11 submarines are more than twenty years old. They need replacement in the next five to ten years time. Now, aging ships compel for new induction. The country will require approximately 100 warships in next 10 years’ time. Building 100 warship needs additional production capacity. Indian shipbuilding needs to gear up for augmenting its production capability. For this, it needs expert work pool, robust research & development. Designing warship requires experts who can handle the responsibility efficiently. The shipbuilding sector needs to invest in research and development of designs. The industry needs to develop shipyards, which will enhance the production capability.

In warship design, most of the equipment has to be of the military standard. There are very few suppliers who can supply and maintain equipment of military standards. Each warship being different from the other, equipment required for building them also vary. There are various problems and timeframe for getting approvals. Without proper design, shipbuilder can not make progress. Integrated warship construction can achieve the goal of constructing ships in requisite timeframe. It is feasible only when the ship builder pre-plan and define every fit of equipment from the beginning. For efficient ship construction, he has to generate design analysis, 3D modeling and data. It is very difficult to get equipment finalised in the beginning, because of the process of getting approvals from owners, and Class. Finally, the shipbuilder procures equipment from diverse sources. It can’t be possible without developing 3D model. Once 3D model is developed, all the items in the design can be frozen. One of the challenges in warship design is that one can not freeze the design instantly. In case of merchant vessel, it is possible. In case of warship design, without freezing design, the shipbuilder can not generate the production designs, and data. The procurement of equipment from diverse vendors or locations takes time. Equipment, which is going to be fitted, needs to be defined and pre-planned. Then the shipbuilder will be able to produce the integrated warship.

For augmenting force level in Indian Navy, Indian shipyards need to generate more production capacity. It will not only come from PSUs but also from private sector shipyards who can gear up to build warships.

Remedial Measures
To bridge the huge gap between the current capacity and demand, India needs to enhance its capacity by building more ships. Today, Indian naval shipbuilding sector is producing only one to three ships per year depending upon timeframe. India’s requirement is in between 5 to 7 major warships and 25 smaller ships. For producing these ships, the country needs to enhance its capacity drastically. Cost-effective option for Navy is the synergy between the experiences of PSUs of Navy and world-class infrastructure in shipyards, which can be the winning combination for building ships much faster in rerequisite timeframe and cost.

For this, India needs shipyards, which are having facilities, like huge cranes and dry docks. While considering the world-class infrastructure for shipyard, it is necessary that the shipyard should have area for future development. The shipyard without area for future development will be stagnant and will not be able to deliver world-class ships.

For constructing state-of-the-art warships, and advancements in naval shipbuilding, India leverages the shipyard capability. Today’s modern ships require huge infrastructure. The delay in the delivery of capital-intensive frontline warships not only affects the naval level force projects but also significantly higher costs of these platforms and some of weapon systems become old till the time it is commissioned in defence forces. Involvement of Class for design approval and inspection are to be considered holistically, which will bring refined Class naval ships and institutional vertical specialisation. Today, a shipbuilder spends most time of the project in shuffling between Navy and Class for approvals as requirements of both are different.

Way Ahead
To bridge the huge gap between demand and supply, there has to be private sector participation in naval warship building in real sense even for the frontline warships. Today private sectors are involved in building of Offshore Petrol Vessels (OPVs) for pollution control vessels. But, frontline warships are kept away from the gamut of private sector shipyards. Through the synergy of private sector shipyards and world-class infrastructure, capacity of naval shipbuilding can be enhanced by constructing different types of warships.