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Explained: Where two new ships will figure in the Navy’s overall expansion plan

Surat is a Visakhapatnam Class guided-missile destroyer, which has the capability to attack other ships; Udaygiri is a Nilgiri Class frigate, which are usually faster and more manoeuvrable.

Frontline warship of Indian Navy 'Udaygiri', a Project 17A Frigate, during its launch at Mazgaon Docks Limited, in Mumbai, Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh launched the ship. (PTI Photo/Kunal Patil)

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday (May 17) launched two different types of surface ships, which will be inducted into the Navy later.

What are the two ships?

Named Surat and Udaygiri, and both frontline vessels, the ships will go through rigorous sea trials before they can be commissioned into the Navy, after which they will add the INS prefix to their names.

Surat is a Visakhapatnam Class guided-missile destroyer, which has the capability to attack other ships. Udaygiri is a Nilgiri Class frigate, which are usually faster and more manoeuvrable.

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During the launch, Singh said these warships will be among the most technologically advanced missile carriers in the world, and will cater to the present as well as future requirements. In the times to come, he said, India will not only fulfil its own needs, but also meet shipbuilding requirements of the world.

Under what projects are they built?

Both ships are designed by the Directorate of Naval Design.

Surat is the fourth ship built in India under Project 15B. The class gets its name from the first vessel commissioned under the Project, named INS Visakhapatnam, which was delivered to the Navy in October 2021. The second ship, Mormugao, is undergoing sea trials and the third, Imphal, is in advanced stages of outfitting and trials of various auxiliary equipment.

Frontline warship ‘Surat’, a Project 15B Destroyer of the Indian Navy. (PTI Photo)

Vishakhapatnam Class destroyers draw their lineage from the P15 Delhi class destroyers. Three such warships inducted between 1997 and 2001, until then the largest naval ships built within the country. The second series of vessels were P15A, Kolkata Class destroyers, under which three ships were inducted between 2014 and 2016.

Udaygiri is the second warship produced under Project 17A of the Nilgiri Class frigates. The first vessel under the project, INS Nilgiri, was launched in September 2019.

The Nilgiri Class follows the production of three Shivalik Class frigates commissioned between 2010 and 2012, which are “multi-role frigates and are the first-of-its kind warships built in India incorporating stealth features”.

Ships under the P15B and P17A projects are being built at the Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd.

At the moment three guided-missile destroyers, four stealth frigates and two submarines are under various stages of construction at MDL.

What other shipbuilding projects of the Navy are ongoing?

At the moment, 39 ships and submarines are being built for the Navy, including 37 at various Indian shipyards, as per the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s report submitted in March this year. In addition, the Navy has got the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) from the government for 43 ships and 111 Naval Utility Helicopters for to be built indigenously.

The first warship constructed in India for the Navy was in 1960, and since then 130 warships and submarines have been made in India. India’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier, which will be called INS Vikrant, is expected to be commissioned later this year, and the Navy is trying to convince the government to approve the construction of a second one. The Navy’s only aircraft carrier at present, INS Vikramaditya, commissioned in 2013, and is on lease from Russia.

What kinds of capability does the Navy have?

Its present fleet includes more than 130 ships and submarines and over 230 aircraft.

The Navy divides its combat capabilities under three large categories: Surface ships, Naval aviation; and sub-surface.

Surface ships form the largest part of the Navy’s fleet. It includes corvettes, frigates, destroyers; amphibious warfare vessels like landing platform docks, landing ship tanks; amphibious boats like landing craft utility; large offshore patrol vessels; several types of auxiliary ships; small fighting ships; fast attack craft; survey ships and training vessels.

In aviation there are more than ten Naval Air Squadrons, flying aircraft and helicopters including MiG29K, Dorniers, surveillance and anti-submarine capable P-8I, Chetak, Dhruv, Seaking 42B and Kamov helicopters.

In underwater capacity, the Navy has 16 conventional diesel-electric submarines, which are classified as SSKs, with two more Kalvari Class subs launched but yet to be commissioned. India also has two nuclear ballistic submarines, classified SSBN, but these are under the Strategic Forces Command.

What future capabilities is it looking at?

The three main focus areas are unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance, intelligence gathering and possibly even air dominance; unmanned underwater vehicles which are smaller unmanned submarines; and underwater domain awareness.

The kinds of equipment and vessels the Navy is looking for include next-generation missile vehicles; fleet support ships; high- and medium-altitude long endurance remotely piloted aircraft systems; multi-role carrier borne aircraft; a second indigenous aircraft carrier; next generation corvettes, fast-attack vessels, destroyers; extra large unmanned underwater vehicle; and various categories of missiles for them.

Features of Udaygiri and Surat

Why is modernisation of the Navy important right now?

While the Navy has always had a significant role for India, its importance is bound to grow in the coming years because of the over 7,500-km long coastline and the wide expanse of the Indian Ocean Region that it needs to look after to defend itself.

There are two main reasons. First, India is largely dependent on the Indian Ocean for most of its international trade, which includes getting oil and gas. The second is the modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) by China.

According to a report on China’s military might released by the US Department of Defense in November, China has “numerically the largest navy in the world with an overall battle force of approximately 355 ships and submarines, including approximately more than 145 major surface combatants”.

It noted that as of 2020 the PLAN is “largely composed of modern multi-role platforms” and in the near term it will have the capability to conduct “long-range precision strikes against land targets from its submarine and surface combatants using land-attack cruise missiles”. It said China is also enhancing its anti-submarine warfare capabilities and competencies to protect the PLAN’s aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines.

In comparison, as mentioned, the Indian Navy has just over 130 ships and submarines. As China develops a more aggressive stance, it is bound to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean, both military and civil. Strengthening of maritime capabilities in the Indian Ocean Region will bring China in the direct threat perception for India.

While the Indian Navy had earlier planned to have 170 ships, that number is likely to come down, given financial constraints, along with the gains made in technology. Former Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh had stated that to protect its growing interests, the Navy needs to become an outgoing force, and cannot remain tethered to the shore.

Days after he took over as the Navy Chief in December, Admiral R Hari Kumar noted that the Navy’s “Mission Based Deployment” philosophy has “enhanced Indian Navy’s presence across the region enabling rapid responses to emerging security challenges” and it has “established a persistent footprint in our areas of interest” and Navy’s deployments also serve “as a deterrent to inimical interests, clearly signalling the Navy’s reach, capability and intent”.

Along with the direct threat from China, the Navy’s role is also bound to grow as India projects itself as a preferred security partner in the Indian Ocean Region for countries such as the US, Japan, Australia, France, etc. All these nations have deep interests in the Indian Ocean Region, but none can have the presence that India has for a large swathe of that area.

As most of these countries try to contain China’s increasing global footprint, India has to build its naval capability so that it can be responsible for the region from Malacca Straits in the east to Sudan in west. The navies are working together and conduct regular joint exercises to increase interoperability.

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First published on: 18-05-2022 at 06:49:37 pm
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