Surface Forces: India Becomes Competitive


August 6, 2017: In July 2017 an Indian shipyard completed the first warship built in India for export. The ship is a 105 meter (226 foot) long 2,400 ton OPV (Offshore Patrol Vessel) for the Sri Lankan Navy. The SLNS Sayural is based on four OPVs already built for the Indian Navy. OPVs typically have fewer weapons than equivalent size warships and instead carry more gear needed for boarding and inspecting ships and dealing with search and rescue. India has been also been building smaller OPVs for itself and export for over a decade. Warships are the next step, even if they are OPVs.

The Sri Lankan version of the warship sized Indian OPV has a crew of 118, is armed with a 76mm cannon and two AK-630 autocannon (similar to the U.S. Phalanx) and four chaff launchers for defense against anti-ship missiles but also effective against small boats up to 4,000 meters distant. There is a helicopter pad and hanger. Without anti-ship missiles or anti-aircraft or ASW (anti-submarine warfare) capability such ships have use in modern naval warfare but in the case of Sri Lanka that is not a priority. The SLNS Sayural is the largest ship in the Sri Lankan Navy and thus the flagship. A second ship of this type will be delivered in 2018. Each cost about $74 million. The low-cost is one benefit of not arming these vessels as warships. With a top speed of 45 kilometers an hour the Sayural has a cruising speed of 29 kilometers an hour and at that speed can spend 120 days at sea and cover up to 10,000 kilometers patrolling coastal waters, often out of sight of land. Sri Lanka is a large island at the southern tip of India and the only borders that matter are the maritime ones.

The delivery of the Sayural to Sri Lanka comes three years after the Indian Navy received the first (INS Kamorta) of four Indian made corvettes. These were the first locally built modern surface warships for India. The Kamortas displace 3,100 ton ships, are 109 meters (355 feet) long and have a top speed of 59 kilometers an hour. They are optimized for anti-submarine warfare and are armed with a 76.2mm gun, two 30mm multi-barrel anti-missile autocannon, two multi (12) barrel 212mm anti-submarine rocket launchers, 16 Barak anti-missile/aircraft missiles and six torpedo tubes. It has a hull mounted sonar and carries a helicopter that can be armed with four anti-submarine torpedoes. The ship has stealthy features (small radar signature and more difficult for submarine sonar to detect as well.) The INS Kmorta was followed by a second of this class in early 2016 and a third is to enter service by the end of 2017 and the last one by 2019.

India is also building its own nuclear submarines. The first locally designed and built nuclear powered submarine, the 6,000 ton SSBN (ballistic missile carrying sub) INS Arihant (Destroyer of Enemies), completed its sea trials and was ready for service in early 2017. This came after twelve years of planning and construction. Arihant was supposed to enter service before the end of 2015 but, as has happened so often with this project, there were more unforeseen technical problems to fix. India is still dependent on foreign suppliers for diesel-electric subs but is going to build three more SLBNs and six SSNs (nuclear powered attack subs). For surface warships, including aircraft carriers, India plans to design and build its own from now on. One carrier is already under construction.

India has long wanted to build its own warships but was late in developing the necessary shipbuilding capability. But in the 1990s India began to work on developing a local shipbuilding capability that could supply the Indian Navy. Progress was relatively quick because in 2013 when Russia delivered the last of three Talwar class frigates that was the end of depending on foreign suppliers for warships. These were the last surface warships India was buying abroad. India ordered these three ships (for $1.6 billion) in 2006. The 4,000 ton P-17 project Talwar's are 124.5 meters (386 feet) long, carry 24 anti-aircraft and eight anti-ship missiles, four torpedo tubes, as well as a 100mm gun, short range anti-missile autocannon, a helicopter, and anti-submarine weapons (rockets and missiles). The ship has a very complete set of electronics gear, except for a troublesome Indian sonar. There is a crew of 180. All of the Talwars are equipped with eight Indian BrahMos anti-ship missile each. The Talwar is a modified version of the Russian Krivak IV design.

The P-17A "stealth" frigates are the same size as the first three Talwars India ordered 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 chose 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 happen once 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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