The Indian Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) decision to procure two Project 1135.6 Batch-3 guided-missile frigates (FFG) off-the-shelf from Kaliningrad-based Shipyard YANTAR JSC (a subsidiary of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corp), with another two to be licence-built by the MoD-owned Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL), is a total no-brainer on both industrial and commercial grounds, as is as spectacularly outrageous as an earlier botched scheme early this decade to acquire two LPHs off-the-shelf from a foreign shipyard, followed by two identical LPHs each being licence-built by a private-sector shipyard and an MoD-owned shipyard!
The two Project 1135.6 Batch-3 FFGs, each costing US$775 million, which will be delivered by Russia in 2021 and 2022, are the Admiral Istomin and Admiral Kornilov, both of which were launched in November 2017 at Kaliningrad. Their construction was halted in the wake of the Russia’s annexation of Crimea in April 2016 after which Ukrainian gas turbine-builder Zorya-Mashproyekt refused to deliver further М7Н1 marine propulsion suites (each comprising two UGT-16000/DT-59 and two UGT-6000/DS-71 marine industrial gas turbines) to Russia. Now, India will procure the two М7Н1 marine propulsion suites from Zorya-Mashproyekt and will then trans-ship them as customer-furnished equipment to Shipyard YANTAR JSC for installation on-board the Admiral Istomin and Admiral Kornilov.
These two FFGs will be similar in configuration to the three Project 1135.6 Batch-2 FFGs that the Indian Navy had procured directly from United Shipbuilding Corp between April 2012 and June 2013. The only significant difference will be the incorporation of VL-cells for the 9M317ME SHTIL MR-SAMs. GSL will take at least eight years to deliver the two Project 1135.6 Batch-3 FFGs, since it has never built any FFG to date and therefore faces severe human resource constraints. Matters would be much better if GSL were first to adopt the ‘crawl. walk and then run’ approach by teaming up with Shipyard YANTAR JSC for undertaking the approaching scheduled mid-life refits of the three Project 1135.6 Batch-1 FFGs that were delivered between June 2003 and April 2004. This would then transform GSL as the only Indian shipbuilder capable of servicing and refitting all ten Project 1135.6 FFGs.
The ideal solution for boosting up the Indian Navy’s warship strength on a fast-track basis would have been to procure not three, but six indigenously designed Project 17 and seven Project 17A FFGs from the MoD-owned Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd, nine Project 1135.6 Batch-1/2/3 FFGs off-the-shelf from Russia, six next-generation missile vessels (NGMV) and 16 shallow water ASW vessels from the MoD-owned Cochin Shipyard Ltd under the ‘Buy (Indian)/Buy and Make (Indian)’ category, with the MoD-owned Garden Reach Shipbuilding & Engineering Ltd (GRSE) being contracted for building the seven next-generation corvettes (NGC) of imported design, whose deliveries are are required to commence in 2023.
While the SW-ASW vessels will each have a length of 70 metres, breadth of 10 metres, draught of 3 metres, maximum speed of 25 Knots and a crew complement of 60, the six NGMVs will have 80-metre hulls and a maximum speed in excess of 35 Knots. For the NGC requirement, the St. Petersburg-based Northern Shipyard (Severnaya Verf), a subsidiary of United Shipbuilding Corp, has offered a version of its Project 20385 guided-missile corvette, which has a displacement of 2,500 tonnes, a length of 106 metres, width of 13 metres, a speed of up to 27 Knots, a cruising range of 3,500nm, an endurance of 15 days, and a crew complement of 99.Meanwhile, UK-based James Fisher Defence (JFD) on February 23, 2018 successfully completed building of the first of two new innovative third-generation submarine rescue systems (DSAR-SRV) for the Indian Navy, which are due for delivery next month. Both DSAR-SRVs incorporate an innovative new system design and tightly integrated components to ensure time-to-first-rescue (TTFR)—the time measured between system deployment and commencement of the rescue—is minimised. In the event of an accident, this maximises the chances of a successful rescue, which is crucial in protecting the lives of submariners.
Under the £193 million contract awarded in March 2016, JFD is providing two complete fly-away submarine rescue systems to the Indian Navy, including the two DSAR-SRVs, two Launch and Recovery Systems (LARS) equipment, Transfer Under Pressure (TUP) systems, and all logistics and support equipment required to operate the DSAR-SRVs. The full, certified systems will arrive in India in June 2018. The DSAR-SRV is capable of diving to deeper depths with a crew of three and up to 17 rescuees, while the medical hyperbaric complex can treat and decompress up to 90 personnel at any one time. The LARS has been designed to handle the SRV in conditions up to and including sea state 6, while two self-contained generators are capable of providing a fully redundant electrical supply to the entire system.
Earlier this month, JFD had completed the first stage of harbour acceptance trials of its first DSAR-SRV at Glasgow’s King George V dock. As part of this process, the DSAR-SRV was comprehensively tested in a variety of conditions. The DSAR-SRV’s hull previously underwent factory acceptance tests in December 2017 at the JFD-owned National Hyperbaric Centre in Aberdeen. These tests included thorough pressurised testing on the system’s pressure hulls and command module—all of which were completed successfully. Upon completion of the harbour acceptance trials, the DSAR-SRV was integrated with the rest of the rescue system at a site in Glasgow, including the offshore handling system, intervention suite and 90-person decompression facilities.
Last December JFD had commenced a training programme for a team of 72 Indian Navy personnel on its DSAR-SRV. This training ensures that, in the event of a real emergency, the crew is prepared to mobilise quickly and efficiently to successfully effect a rescue with minimal TTFR. Training was provided at a specialist facility, The Underwater Centre in Fort William, with the first phase involving Indian Navy officers and sailors that lasted for five weeks. This initial phase covered chamber operation, ROV training and familiarisation, and in-water submersible training. After this initial period, JFD continued training on the operation of submersibles, culminating in cross-training on the Indian Navy’s two DSAR-SRVs, following their sea acceptance trials (SAT. In order to enhance the training experience for the Indian Navy, JFD also teamed up with U-Boat Worx, which provided its Super Yacht Sub 3, a three-person submersible, to allow the trainees to become familiar with submersible operations, ahead of more in-depth rescue submersible training.
However, the two DSAR-SRVs—one meant for each of the Indian Navy’s two operational fleet commands—will not become operational until their host vessels, the 3,000-tonne diving support vessels (DSV), become available by 2021. The Navy’s sole submarine tender, the USSR-origin INS Amba (A-54), was decommissioned way back in July 2006. In September last year, the MoD-owned, Vizag-based Hindustan Shipyard (HSL) emerged as the lowest bidder for building the two DSVs, each of which costs Rs.1,010 crores (US$156 million). The first DSV is due for delivery within three years of contract signature (concluded last December), while the second one will be delivered within 12 months of the delivery of the first vessel. HSL had won the contract for supplying the two FSVs through a competitive bidding process. HSL beat Larsen & Toubro, which quoted Rs.1,584 crores—the highest bid, while the MoD-owned Goa Shipyard Ltd’s bid price was Rs.1,086 crores and that of the MoD-owned Cochin Shipyard Ltd was Rs.1,188 crores.