India boosts its maritime capacities with stealth frigates

The construction for the third in a brand new line of stealth frigates for the Indian Navy began earlier this month with the laying of keel ceremony at Mumbai's government-run Mazgaon Dock Limited (MDL)

Col Anil Bhat (retd) Sep 17, 2020
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The construction for the third in a brand new line of stealth frigates for the Indian Navy began earlier this month with the laying of keel ceremony at Mumbai's government-run Mazgaon Dock Limited (MDL). The frigate is part of the navy's Project 17A, also known as the Nilgiri class of vessels, under which seven states-of-the-art warships have to be built -- four in MDL and the remaining three in Kolkata's Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE). 

Vice Admiral S R Sarma, Controller of Warship Production & Acquisition (CWP&A) of the Indian Navy, and V L Kantha Rao, Additional Secretary (Defence Production), laid the keel on September  10 in an online ceremony attended by Vice Admiral R B Pandit, Chief of Staff, Headquarters, Western Naval Command and Vice Admiral Narayan Prasad (retd), CMD, MDL.  

Project 17A is a follow on the version of Project 17 (Shivalik class), the first stealth frigates to be constructed in India. The Nilgiri class will have several improvements apart from the modular construction techniques that will cut short the production time.

It not only has increased stealth features and a new air defense missile. The Nilgiri class is fitted with Barak 8 missiles jointly developed by Israel and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). 

The P17A class frigates are being built using indigenously developed steel and fitted with weapons and sensors along with the Integrated Platform Management System.  The construction of P17A ships differ in the very concept of warship building by way of adoption of the modern technology Integrated Construction (IC) where the blocks are pre-outfitted before joining to reduce the build period of warships. 

India’s shipbuilding capability and capacity have both improved substantially. In MDL and GRSE, advanced ships being built for India’s navy and the Coast Guard. 

Boost India's maritime security

The latest stealth frigates are expected to play an important role in the Indian maritime domain by securing the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). While in the IOR, the deployment of India's military vessels is quite optimal, should the need arise to deploy in the South China Sea, the Indian Navy should be in a position to do so. 

There has been a steady spell of strategic maritime cooperation with countries in the Indo-Pacific like Japan and Vietnam. India has also been cooperating strategically with the US and some other countries. In fact, the Indian Navy is in great demand from various countries for strategic cooperation or joint exercises. 

According to a Defense News report of October 30, 2018, citing an Indian defence ministry official, India signed a $950 million contract with Russia for two upgraded Krivak III-class stealth frigates. A government-to-government contract was signed between India and United Shipbuilding Corporation of Russia last week for the supply of two stealth frigates after two years of negotiations. 

The deal came after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited India on October 5, 2018, and the ruling National Democratic Alliance government made a $5.43 billion deal to buy five Russian S-400 Triumf missile systems despite objections from its ally the United States.  

The procurement of the frigates would involve a rupee-rouble transaction instead of using U.S. dollars to avoid American sanctions on Russian defense companies under CAATSA, or the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.  

The frigates are built by Yantar Shipyard of Russia and will be powered by Ukrainian gas turbine engines. They will be equipped with Indian-built radar, sonar, communication suites, and anti-ship BrahMos missile systems, an Indian Navy official said. The ships are expected to be delivered by the end of 2022.  

India-Russia deal on stealth frigates 

India and Russia signed an agreement in October 2016 for the purchase and construction of four additional upgraded Kravak III-class stealth frigates, under which two frigates will be directly supplied by Russia and two others built at state-owned Goa Shipyard Limited in India though a technology transfer.

A separate contract was to be signed in 2019 for the construction of two similar stealth frigates in India. The 4,000-ton Krivak III vessels will also accommodate two multirole helicopters and will be used for anti-submarine and airborne early warning missions.

India has already built seven basic versions of Krivak-class stealth frigates under the Navy’s Project 17A scheme at state-owned shipyards MDL, and GRSE. The Indian Navy currently has a fleet strength of 140 warships, with plans to increase that number to 198 by 2027.

(The author, a strategic analyst and former spokesperson, Defence Ministry and Indian Army, can be contacted at wordsword02@gmail.com. The views expressed are personal)