Military & Aerospace

Indigenous Warship Building
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Issue Vol. 27.2 Apr-Jun 2012 | Date : 14 Dec , 2012

INS Shivalik

A major objective of the 1969 – 1974 Defence Plan was self reliance in the field of warship design and warship production. The aim was to meet the Navy’s requirements through indigenous efforts and conserve foreign exchange. Accordingly, the indigenous construction of frigates, patrol craft, submarines, minor war vessels and auxiliaries had been accepted in this plan. In 1969, Naval Headquarters proposed to Government that a full fledged Directorate of Naval Design (DND) be sanctioned. At that stage, the Navy did not have either adequate design experience or capability. There was also an acute shortage of technical officers. Naval Headquarters had envisaged the induction of foreign designers on loan, with assurance of back up from their parent organisations.

In the post Independence years, the Indian Navy (IN) consisted of a few mostly second hand ships. Over a period of time, as the requirements of the IN grew, the acquisition of increasingly more sophisticated ships started from the late fifties and it led to its technological modernisation. The humiliating military reverses during the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 led to a comprehensive review of national security based on the premise of continuing hostility from both Pakistan and China. To enable the Army to concentrate its resources on the land borders with Pakistan and China, the Navy was handed over the responsibility for:-

  • Garrisoning and defence of the Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) Islands. This would also counter Indonesia’s substantial naval build up that had commenced in 1958 with massive Russian assistance.
  • Coastal defence.

In the post Independence years, the Indian Navy consisted of a few mostly second hand ships

According to Vice Admiral GM Hiranandani, “The priority accorded to Army and Air Force requirements to counter threats across land borders, limited the Navy to a ship replacement programme. The slowed pace of replacement by indigenous construction and acquisition from Russia helped successive inductions to be technologically superior to their predecessors. And the scarcity of foreign exchange for importing the latest technologies compelled the Navy to innovate and indigenise. Austerity imposed on the IN from these compulsions kept it lean and agile.”

In the post Independence IN, ship design made a modest beginning in 1962 with the establishment of a design cell in the Directorate of Naval Construction (DNC). By 1965, this cell had expanded to become the DNC’s Central Design Organisation (CDO). By 1968, CDO had successfully designed and handed over to the Navy numerous auxiliary vessels. In 1966, CDO had also assisted in the construction in Germany of the new Fleet Tanker Deepak.

INS Nilgiri

It was in 1950 that the Navy recruited its first Naval Architects and thereby laid the foundation for creating a capability to design and build its own ships. A modest beginning was made in the fifties and early sixties with designs of some yard craft. From the mid-sixties onwards Seaward Defence Boats and a Survey Vessel were attempted. These projects met with varying degrees of success but certainly proved to be a valuable learning process. The Government’s decision to build the Leanders at Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL) helped bring modern warship building technology into the country. Major changes and improvements incorporated in successive Leanders gave the Navy’s designers as well as the shipbuilders the confidence to attempt the Godavari.

According to Captain Lohana, “The Corps of Naval Constructors within the Navy was thought of and created sometime in 1951-1952. The training of the naval constructors of the first few batches was carried out in UK. When it was decided to train them in India, the faculty of Naval Architecture at IIT Kharagpur, which was the only faculty then in India for this discipline, was selected and a further two years course was given to these Naval architecture graduates to become Naval Constructors, by making them Naval Architects for warships. This was achieved by appointing two constructor officers trained in UK at IIT Kharagpur in the Naval Construction Wing set up within the Naval Architecture Department.”

The Leander Project was a new experience and was the transition to indigenisation.

By end 1964, all the major aspects of the collaboration had been finalised. In addition to the technical aid fees, an annual amount of £40,000 was to be paid for the Indian Frigate Project Organisation in Newcastle, whose function was to liaise with the Lead Yard, Yarrow (Shipbuilders) who were to provide the basic working drawings for the construction of the first Leander in India. The Memorandum of Agreement for the Leander Frigate Project, known as the “Blue Book”, was signed on December 22, 1964, between the Government of India and Vickers Yarrow. It was agreed that Yarrow would provide technical aid including the provision of basic technical drawings and the placing of 60 British technical and other personnel from senior managers down to foremen level to assist MDL in the project. Supplies of major items were to be from Vickers/Yarrows and supplies of materials would be from other suppliers in the UK.

The Government of India then placed an order on MDL for the construction of the first frigate. MDL was also re-organised to cater to the Frigate Project. In 1966, a Frigate Cell was established with those who had returned from UK after training. In 1968, Government sanctioned the new Directorate of Leander Project at Naval HQ (NHQ) to handle all aspects of design, to coordinate with Vickers and with Yarrow, to approve drawings and generally manage all the technical activity of the Leander Project at NHQ.

On October 23, 1968, the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, launched INS Nilgiri, the first of the Leander-class frigates built at MDL, Bombay. INS Nilgiri was subsequently commissioned by her on June 03, 1972. The keel of the second frigate, Himgiri was laid on November 04, 1968, and the ship was launched on May 06, 1970. Installation of machinery was completed in December 1973, Basin Trials were successfully completed in January 1974 and Himgiri was commissioned on November 23, 1974. Fabrication work on the third frigate began in April 1970 behind schedule by three months due to delay in the supply of steel by Hindustan Steel Ltd – as there was acute shortage of steel in the period 1969-1970. The interval between keel laying and launching increased to 25 months. The main machinery, which should have arrived at the time of the ship’s launching in October 1972, was actually received in May 1974, thereby further delaying the ships commissioning till February 18, 1976. The fourth Leander INS Dunagiri was launched on March 09, 1974 and commissioned on May 05, 1977.

INS Taragiri

Rear Admiral (then Cdr) JJ Baxi was associated initially with the design recalls, “After Taragiri, (the fifth Leander-class frigate), there was a healthy competition between the Directorates of Naval Design and the Leander Project. By that time, the Directorate of Combat Policy and Tactics had suggested that Soviet weapon systems be inte­grated into the next design. Not only were they cheaper and more cost-effective; but would also enable standardisation of missile inventory.”

In 1972 and 1973, as operating experience was gained with the Nilgiri and the Seaking anti-submarine dunking sonar helicopters and in view of the continuing acquisition by Pakistan of modern submarines from France, it became clear that future Leanders would require greater anti-submarine capability. In early 1973, NHQ initiated studies to improve the anti-submarine capability of the fifth and sixth Leanders. These changes that crystallised in mid-1973 involved embarking the heavy Seaking helicopter and improving anti-submarine sonars and weapons. These design changes delayed the commencement of construction and production could commence only in April 1975. INS Taragiri was commissioned on May 16, 1980. The sixth and the last in the series, the INS Vindhyagiri, was similar to Taragiri. Construction commenced on July 05, 1976 and was commissioned on July 08, 1981. By the sixth Leander, the indigenous content of bought-out equipment had risen to 70 per cent. The fifth and sixth ships had an imported content of only 27 per cent as against 70 per cent in the case of the first frigate.

In early 1973, NHQ  initiated studies to improve the anti-submarine capability of the fifth and sixth Leanders.

The Leander Project was a new experience and was the transition to indigenisation. The first ship was made totally from sub systems imported from UK. The second ship had partial indigenisation in the sense that whatever systems were available within the country or could be developed, were utilised. The remaining systems were imported. One of the most important things which strengthened the confidence of NHQ was the transition from the first frigate to the second frigate. This was handled with a great degree of success by NHQ. Over a period of time and with experience, the Navy started to modernise its projects, redesigned the fifth Leander, the Taragiri, with one Seaking helicopter and went on to the seventh frigate, the Godavari with two Seaking helicopters.

Project 16 was the designation given to the three frigates that followed the six ships of the Leander Project. The staff requirements for this new design were formulated in 1972 before Nilgiri, the first Leander, had even been commissioned. They incorporated the lessons learnt in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War. Since the constraints precluded a totally de novo design with gas turbine propulsion, the Naval Staff approved this hybrid weapon package but retained the indigenous propulsion machinery and other equipment developed for earlier Leanders. Approval was also accorded for embarking two Seakings along with a system that would assist the recovery and movement of these heavy 10-tonne helicopters on a heaving deck. End 1975, the Naval Staff and the Government accepted this design. Detailed drawing and design work started in 1976. The work on the design of Project 16 commenced in 1974, the preliminary design was completed by 1975 and work then commenced on the detailed design in 1976. When they started the design, they had no data on Soviet weapons and systems.

INS Udaygiri

Captain NS Mohan Ram recalls, “The evolution of the new design involved assessment and management of risk, innovation and extrap­olation of available knowledge. The decision to go ahead was a bold act of faith on the part of the Navy. It reflected the confidence the Navy had in its young designers and the growing capability of MDL. From every point of view, the Leander Frigate Project was a monumental achievement. The courage of the decision makers, enthusiasm, perseverance and dedication of MDL, the Ministry of Defence Production and the Navy, assistance by the British Admiralty, British shipbuilding fraternity Vickers and Yarrow, the Dutch Design Bureau NEVESBU, all of these were essential ingredients of success. The astounding success of indigenisation was a direct result of the high powered Indigenisation Committee’s free, frank and helpful interaction with Indian industry through DWP and DPI (N). The enormous self confidence gained in this project by the Navy’s weapon planners, naval architects and the shipbuilder, laid the foundation for the more audaciously designed warships that later emerged from Indian shipyards.

A major objective of the 1969-1974 Defence Plan was self reliance in the field of warship design and production. The aim was to meet the Navy’s requirements through indigenous effort and conserve foreign exchange. Accordingly, the indigenous construction of frigates, patrol craft, submarines, minor war vessels and auxiliaries had been accepted in this plan. In 1969, NHQ proposed to Government that a full fledged Directorate of Naval Design (DND) be sanctioned. At that stage, the Navy did not have either adequate design experience or capability. There was also acute shortage of technical officers. NHQ had envisaged hiring designers from abroad with assurance of back-up from their parent organisations. However, negotiations with the UK for the deputation of such designers did not succeed.

The astounding success of indigenisation was a direct result of the high powered Indigenisation Committee’s free, frank and helpful interaction with Indian industry.

Meanwhile, soon after the start of the Leander construction programme, a choice had to be made whether the second and subsequent Leanders were to be identical to the first, the advantage being standardisation though at the risk of obsolescence or whether design changes should be effected from the second Leander onwards to enhance combat capability. It was decided that indigenous frigates should, as far as possible, have the latest equipment.

Rear Admiral NP Gupta, former DG Naval Design says that, “In 1970, the Directorate of Naval Design, a multi-disciplinary organisation of professional naval architects, was created. Headed by the Director General, Naval Design, it was given responsibility for undertaking design of all types of vessels, a development that augured well for the Indian Navy. The Surface Ship Design Group has successfully completed 16 design projects, of which more than 70 ships have been built indigenously.”

The warship design organisation of the Indian Navy, Directorate of Naval Design (DND) came into being in 1970. It began with the design for a new class of Seaward Defence Boats (SDBs MK2), Survey Vessels, and a Landing Ship Tank (LST). In 1973, a team of designers from the USSR were invited to visit India to suggest an organisation to design frigates and submarines. They quantified a requirement of over 170 qualified designers each for tackling the design of a new frigate and a new submarine. These requirements of manpower were just not able to be implemented within available resources. The Naval Staff, therefore, accepted the revision of the staff requirements and approved a modified Leander hull with a different weapon package instead of insisting on an altogether new frigate design. This decision was to result in the Godavari-class frigates of Project 16, which retained all the indigenous propulsion machinery and other equipment already developed for the six earlier Leanders.

In early 1975, the Design Organisation commenced conceptual design work on Project 16. By end 1975, the Naval Staff and the Government accepted the design. Detailed drawing and design work started in 1976.

Project 16 Godavari Class Frigates

The lessons learnt in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War, the detailed discussions with Russia for the next series of Russian acquisitions and the progress made in the development of indigenous systems made it possible for the Naval Staff to consider major improvements in the combat capability of frigates. The Directorate of Combat Policy and Tactics suggested that the entire missile and gun package of the Soviet Nanuchka-class missile corvette be installed in the frigates which would follow the Vindhyagiri, together with two Seaking anti-submarine helicopters, the latest Indian APSOH Sonar, a mix of Soviet and Indian radars and Italian CAIO and EW systems. The Directorate of Marine Engineering suggested that steam propulsion be replaced by gas turbine propulsion.

INS Ganga

Godavari was launched in May 1980 and commissioned in 1983. This project took almost nine years out of which the actual construction took five and half years. Ganga was launched in 1982 and commissioned in 1985. Gomati was launched in 1984 and commissioned in 1988. The success of implanting Russian weapons systems in the Godavari-class frigates synergised with the momentum that had built up in the indigenous warship building programme. Confidence had grown in the capability of the Navy’s Design Organisation and the warship building yards (MDL, Garden Reach and Goa Shipyard) had begun to press the Ministry of Defence Production for long-term orders to keep their workforce gainfully employed. Russia continued to offer its latest weapons for installation in Indian-built hulls. There was willingness from the Russian side to assist indigenous warship design and production. All these factors culminated in the sanction for indigenous production of guided missile destroyers (Project 15) and frigates (Project 16 A), missile corvettes (Project 25 A), gas turbine propelled missile boats (Project 1241 RE), landing ships, survey ships, tankers and diverse smaller ships.

Project 25 Khukri Class Corvettes

The Petya-class submarine chasers had been acquired from the Soviet Union in the mid-1960s. They would, therefore, need replacement in the mid-1980s. NHQ decided that their replacement would be indigenously designed and constructed as “Corvettes” for the defence of the island territories and off-shore oil rigs. In 1975, design work commenced on ships of the Corvette Project, which eventually culminated in the commissioning of the Khukri-class corvettes of Project 25. Orders for the first two corvettes were placed on MDL in 1986. Khukri, launched in December 1986, was delivered in 1989. Kuthar was launched in January 1988 and delivered in 1990. As the lead yard, MDL provided drawings and shipbuilding material inputs to Garden Reach for building the next two corvettes. Kirpan was delivered in 1990 and Khanjar in 1991. Except for the Russian weapon systems, all four corvettes were fitted with indigenous equipment to the maximum extent possible. Later in the 1990s, orders were placed on Garden Reach for four more corvettes of Project 25 A.

The warship design organisation of the Indian Navy, Directorate of Naval Design (DND) came into being in 1970.


As in the case of the Leander Frigate Project, the Navy’s achievements in Indigenous Warship Design were astounding. The transfer of talented young officers between the Frigate Project and the Design Organisation generated enormous synergy. Soviet warship designers and weapons system supply organisations were generous and unstinting in their help. The exchange of detailed information in the 1970s regarding the new Soviet acquisitions enabled weapons planners in the Naval Staff to suggest cost-effective staff requirements which would achieve the much needed standardisation of systems and economies in weapons inventories. The confidence built up in the MDL during the Frigate Project helped to build the ships which earned much praise from the Navies of the world.

INS Kirpan

According to Rear Admiral NP Gupta, defence sector shipyards under the control of MoD (Production) have made a significant contribution in the field of indigenous warship construction. Together, the shipyards have built more than 90 warships for the Indian Navy, many of which are of indigenous design. The shipyard is currently building complex and sophisticated programmes like stealth frigate, follow on destroyers and Scorpene submarines. Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) have built three Brahmaputra-class frigates, six Sandhayak-class survey vessels, Magar-class Landing Ship Tanks, Fleet Tanker and Fast Attack Crafts.

INS Khanjar

The Godavari class frigates were originally built by MDL though the next series of three ships are being built in Kolkata at the GRSE. With the successful commissioning of INS Godavri, an indigenously designed and built, modern, general purpose frigate, India joined the select band of nations who can design and build their own front-line warships. This landmark was the result of combined and sustained efforts of the Navy’s Design Organisation, MDL, Naval Dockyard, DRDO, special indigenisation agencies such as the Directorate of Warships Projects, the Directorate of Production and Inspection (Navy) and a large number of contributing industries both in the public and private sectors.

The first in the Indian Navy’s stealth frigate series, INS Shivalik has already been commissioned in 2010 and the second INS Satpura was commissioned on August 20, 2011 and the third and the last in the series INS Sahyadri will be commissioned in 2012. INS Sahyadri was built and integrated by MDL. The Shivalik class frigates have low radar signature and a highly advanced Electronic Warfare Systems made by Bharat Electronics Limited. Three Kolkata-class destroyers, four advanced Anti-Submarine Corvettes, four Offshore Patrol Vessels are in various stages of construction. The construction of the first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier is in progress and it will be a jewel in the crown of the Indian Navy.

At present, the GRSE is engaged in building four ASW Corvettes. Goa Shipyard Limited has specialised in the construction of smaller vessels namely Missile Corvettes, FAC and OPVs. Rear Admiral Baxi, also later Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Electronics Limited recalls, “First and foremost, amongst the three services, the Indian Navy has shown the greatest determination to be self sufficient and self reliant. And this was by a genre of people over generations, not merely by one individual.” Presently, the Indian Navy is the first among the services in indigenisation. Former Naval chief, Admiral Arun Prakash admits that the Indian Navy takes great pride from the fact that up to 80 per cent of its ships are sourced indigenously.


  1. Singh, Rear Admiral Satyindra, ‘Blueprint to Blue Water: The Indian Navy 1951-65’, Lancer Publishers, New Delhi.
  2. Hiranandani, Vice Admiral GM, ‘Transition to Triumph: The Indian Navy 1966-75’, Lancer Publishers, New Delhi.
  3. Hiranandani, Vice Admiral GM, ‘Transition to Eminence: The Indian Navy 1976-90’, Lancer Publishers, New Delhi.
  4. Hiranandani, Vice Admiral GM, ‘Transition to Guardianship: The Indian Navy 1991- 2000’, Lancer Publishers, New Delhi.
  5. Gupta, Rear Admiral NP, ‘Warship Building in India: Strategies & Options’, article published in SP’s Naval Forces, Defexpo Special 08, Vol.3.
  6. India Strategic, Sep 16 – Oct 15, 2011, New Delhi.
  7. SP’S Military Year Book 2008 – 2009, New Delhi.
  8. Force, Vol 9, No.1, Sep 2011, New Delhi.
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Lt Cdr Kalesh Mohanan

Lt Cdr Kalesh Mohanan

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