Last week, India launched the INS Shivalik, its first indigenously built stealth warship that will be capable of both offensive and defensive combat. It will also have the capacity to attack in-shore targets. Built at the state-run Mazgoan Dock Ltd. (MDL) near Bombay, the 473 feet long and 56 feet wide ship is christened after one of India's Himalayan peaks. Further details of the ship were not available, but sources said it was likely to be fitted with the joint Indian-Russian 300 kilometer-range anti-ship cruise missile BraHmos.
India intends to increase its maritime influence in the turbulent Indian Ocean and the Shivalik is part of a national naval project to build three stealth ships under "Project 17". It will be assigned operational duties when fully armed by December 2005, with the remaining two commissioned in 2006 and 2007. When the project left the drawing board in 1994, it was estimated at $42 million and the cost would jump 10 times in two years time.
Observers have theorized that the Nilgiri (P-17) class stealth frigates can trace their origins to the Talwar (Krivak-III) class frigates, although they are 66 feet longer and three feet wider than Krivak-IIIs. However, the Nilgiri class can carry two Sea King type multi-role helicopters. Whether the Brahmos missile will installed be in addition to the 8 Klub anti-sub/ship cruise missile silos is unknown. The Klub silos could carry a mix of the anti-shipping and anti-sub missiles.
A $1 billion contract to build three Krivak-III class stealth frigates for the Indian Navy was signed on November 17, 1997 by the Russian state defense company Rosvooruzhenie. Work on the first of the frigates (the Talwar) began on March 10, 1999 and it was launched on May 12, 2000. Work on the second frigate (the Trishul) began on September 22, 1999 and it was launched on November 24, 2000. Work on the final frigate (the Tabar) was begun on May 26, 2000 and it was launched on May 25, 2001. The Indian Navy refused to accept Talwar, after the Shtil-I medium-range surface-to-air missiles (SAM) failed to hit any airborne targets during 2002's trials. Final tests on the Talwar and sea trials of the Tabar would begin as soon as ice in the Gulf of Finland cleared enough for tests. The INS Talwar should be commissioned in St Petersburg at the end of April and reach Indian waters by June.
At the beginning of April, the Indian Navy's Chief of Staff, Admiral Madhavendra Singh emphasized the need for an even more powerful naval force. He said Indian Navy required a fleet of submarines and destroyers in view of the growing threat perception. Admiral Singh also said that they needed three more aircraft carriers in addition to the one on the books. The Indian navy currently plans to build an aircraft carrier to double its fleet of such maritime combat platforms to two.
French military ship-builders are trying to sell or build stealth ships for the 137-ship Indian navy, although with limited success. On April 11th, a contract was awarded to Cochin Shipyard for the construction of three air defense ships (ADS) based on a design developed by a French company but modified to suit local requirements. Two days prior, the Indian Government proposed to build (rather than buy) six French-designed Scorpene submarines at Mazagon Dock Limited.
Why is India spending so much money to upgrade her fleet? The most obvious use for the stealth frigates is to counter Pakistan's acquisition of Agosta 90-B submarines. Considering how much the Indian economy relies on the free movement of commercial shipping, control of the Indian Ocean is a paramount concern. When one considers who poses a threat and looks in an ever-widening circle, the 21st century Chinese Navy is the most likely and most dangerous threat to Indian naval interests. - Adam Geibel
Reference information on the Indian Navy, online at:
Of particular interest is the Klub missile information: