Surface Forces: India Joins The Club

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May 30, 2022: At the end of 2021 India put the first of four Visakhapatnam-class destroyers into service. These 7,400-ton ships are improved versions of the Indian built Kolkata and Delhi-class destroyers, and the most advanced surface warship India has ever designed and built. The three Delhis began construction in 1987 and the last one did not enter service until 2001. Many key components came from Russia and the design borrowed much from late-Cold War Russia destroyer designs.

This year India puts into service the first of seven locally designed and built frigates, the 6,600-ton Nilgiri. Construction began in 2017 and the ship was launched in 2019. Then came three years of fitting out and sea trials. The other six are to enter service by 2025. The Nilgiri’s are much improved and westernized Russian Krivak IVs. India bought (from Russia) or built in India most of the Krivak IV ships.

The Talwars were more ambitious and ten were ordered. The first eight were built in Russia with the last two built in India. This did not begin until 2021 and these two ships won’t enter service until 2026. The design and construction of the Visakhapatnam-class destroyers owed much to what was learned during the three decades it took to complete the Talwars and transfer warship building skills to India.

Russian Krivak frigates are a basic design that first appeared in the 1950s and so far, 40 have entered service or are on order. The first Krivaks were 3,000-ton ships that emphasized the maximum number of weapons and less emphasis on sustainability (ability to do all maintenance or repairs while at sea) or crew comfort than Western designs. The last 14 were Krivak IVs, and ten went to India as Talwar while four (so far) were for Russia as the Admiral Grigorovich-class.

Krivak IVs are 4,000-ton ships that are 125 meters (386 feet) long, carry 24 anti-aircraft and eight anti-ship missiles, four torpedo tubes, as well as a 100mm gun, close in anti-missile autocannon systems, a helicopter, and anti-submarine weapons (depth charges and missiles). The ship has a very complete set of electronics gear and a crew of 180. Krivak IVs cost over $600 million each.

Since 2013 India has been designing and building its own surface warships. India has long wanted to build its own warships but that required shipyards, workers and management that could do the work. It took nearly two decades for that to happen in India. In 2013 India ordered its last foreign built warships from Russia. These two P-17A Talwar-class frigates are to be delivered by 2023 while another two Talwars were built in India. This transition from Russian built frigates to Indian built frigates of the same design took longer than planned but about as long as historical experience predicted. India was late in developing the necessary shipbuilding capabilities for large warships because India never became a major manufacturer of commercial ships. This is now the United States became the leading warship supplier after World War II. Meanwhile, European nations rebuilt their shipbuilding industries and became and remain major competitors. Later in the 20th century China, Japan and South Korea became (and remain) major commercial shipbuilders and that enabled them all to design and build their own warships. India began to work on developing a local warship building capability in the 1990s. Progress was relatively quick because in 2013 the last Russia-built Talwar class frigates began construction. That was the end of depending on foreign suppliers for warships. Like China did two decades ago, India is gradually adopting Western warship design features. China now builds destroyers very similar in design and capability to current American destroyers.

The new P-17A "stealth" frigates are the same size as the first three Talwars India ordered from Russia in the 1990s. The Stealthy Talwars have their superstructure changed so as to reduce the radar signature (making the ship less likely to show up on enemy radars). Improved weapons and electronics are installed as well, making it a more formidable warship than the original Talwars.

India learned a lot of using Russian warships, which have been a staple of the Indian Navy for decades. India is still buying some Russian weapons and other equipment for locally built warships, but only if the Russian product is a better choice than those offered by other foreign vendors, especially from the West. But India is not ordering any more warships from Russia. India has developed the capability to build what it needs locally. This now includes aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines as well as aircraft carriers, frigates and corvettes. Eventually diesel-electric submarines were be built as well but that will probably only happen when India reforms (and cleans up) its notoriously corrupt and incompetent defense procurement bureaucracy. That will be helped along by the Indian shipbuilding industry, which is nearly all privately owned and very competitive in the export markets.

 


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