The Navy’s design chief, Rear Admiral MK Badhwar informed that the cost of each destroyer being built under Project 15-A is Rs. 3800 crore taking the total cost of the project to Rs. 11,000 crore. Project 15-B should be logically cheaper. Project 15-A is taking longer than expected as it incorporated significant changes and upgrades compared to its predecessor, Project 15 – Delhi Class destroyers. But Project 15-B will have fewer design challenges; it will differ from Project 15-A only in weaponry and sensors. The MDL thinks that if the order is placed by end-2009, the first 15-B destroyer will be commissioned in the mid-2015 as the design and planning will take about 1.5 years, and once the design is finalized, the first ship should roll out in about four years.
Under another indigenous project, follow-on order of four more Shivalik class guided missile stealth frigates has been approved by the government. The MDL is currently building the first batch of the frigates that are expected to be delivered to the Navy by 2012. Consequently, the MDL will start constructing the next batch of four frigates. GE LM 2500 gas turbines will be used to power the frigates. Earlier this year, the US State Department gave “stop all work” instructions to GE as these engines are dual-use power plants. They can be used on civilian as well as military vessels. For this reason, these were listed in the US Munitions List and did not require any export license from State Department’s Directorate of Defence Trade Controls (DDTC). However to be able to use the turbine on a military vessel, GE needed to obtain Technical Assistance Agreement (TAA) from the State Department. After the “stop all work” instruction, GE applied for TAA from the Political-Military Bureau at the State Department and obtained the same on March 12th, 2009. That brought the work on the Shivalik class frigates back on track.
The MDL and other shipyards are looking for larger orders to reduce the cost and construction time of the ships, but the Navy has its own problems. The Navy gives smaller orders of 3-4 ships because construction delays by the shipyards make the design outdated by the time the ship is rolled out.
In 2012, the Navy will start inducting a number of new vessels of different types, but the real challenge that it is going to face will be with its underwater arm. The Navy has 16 submarines – 10 Russian Kilo Class, 4 German HDW class and 2 Russian Foxtrot class. By 2016 the Navy will be left with about 50 percent, or even less of its current submarine strength. In October 2005, New Delhi signed a contract with French companies DCN-Thales and MDL to build 6 Scorpene submarines in MDL. Now the MDL is constructing hulls for the submarine but there is nothing to fit in them as French companies are asking for virtually double the money to supply the critical components. The MDL has sent a proposal to the Cabinet Committee on Security to approve the additional funds. This will cause a huge price escalation and delay of at least two years. The Navy was expecting to receive the submarines (one each year) from 2012, but now it is not possible before 2014. The Navy is hoping to cover this delay by getting a quick approval for its Project-75 for additional six submarines.
The Navy is looking for more stealth features, Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) system and land attack capabilities in the new submarines. Pakistan has already strengthened its submarine arm by induction of three Agosta class French submarines, one of which has AIP system and is now looking to acquire three advanced Type-214 AIP-equipped submarines from Germany. China already has a strong fleet of 60+ submarines with 10 of them being nuclear powered. China also has at least one Xia-class and 2 Jin-class SSBN submarines. Indigenous nuclear submarines, Advance Technology Vehicle, will be launched later this year but will not be delivered to the Indian Navy before 2013. The Navy hopes to receive Russian 12,000 ton Akula-II class nuclear powered submarine on a 10-year lease this year. This will strengthen its depleting submarine fleet to an extent, but New Delhi has to give a serious thought to the Navy’s future requirements keeping our hostile neighbors in mind.