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This 'Made in India' warship is ready for export

By Ajai Shukla
December 19, 2014 08:16 IST
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On Saturday, defence shipbuilder Garden Reach Shipyard & Engineers will hand over to Mauritius a 1,300-tonne offshore patrol vessel named "Barracuda".

This $58-million (Rs 365 crore) vessel is the first warship ordered by a foreign country from an Indian shipyard.

Meanwhile, GRSE is bidding to build two frigates for the Philippines Navy, for an estimated Rs 1,000 crore each. If GRSE wins that order -- for which major global shipyards are bidding, including Navantia of Spain, STX of France and Korean majors, Hyundai and Daewoo -- it would be the first time a warship designed and built in India is selected in an international tender.

India has gifted several warships to smaller Indian Ocean countries such as Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius. It has sold used vessels, such as a Sukanya-class OPV that now serves as the Sri Lankan navy's flagship.

The GRSE is also finalising the design of a series of 140-tonne Fast Patrol Boats for the Vietnam Navy. New Delhi has offered a line of credit to Vietnam for that order.

Yet this is the first time an Indian shipyard has been commissioned to design and build a warship to specifications formulated by a buyer country. This marks an important first landmark in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government's drive to increase defence exports.

According to figures tabled in Parliament on November 28, India's total defence exports were Rs 446.75 crore in 2012-13; Rs 686.27 crore in 2013-14 and Rs 166.67 crore this year, till September 2014. The export of the Barracuda would, therefore, be a significant success.

The need to support defence exports has been understood for some time, with the United Progressive Alliance government formulating a "Defence Exports Strategy" and simplifying the procedure for granting export sanctions.

The BJP's election manifesto in 2014 pledged: "We will encourage domestic industry to have a larger share in design and production of military hardware and platforms for both domestic use and exports, in a competitive environment."

Senior naval officers have long argued for exporting warships to friendly countries in the Indo-Pacific

region. This, they said, would strengthen India's security partnerships, while providing economy of scale to India's warship builders and ancillary companies.

Amongst all three services, the navy has most decisively promoted indigenous warship design and construction. All 41 warships currently on order for the navy are being built in Indian shipyards.

"Building in India provides significant cost advantages like cheaper labour, when compared with most foreign shipyards", points out GRSE chief, Rear Admiral A K Verma (Retired).

As an example of successful indigenisation, Verma points to the Kamorta-class anti-submarine corvettes that GRSE is building. He says: "The challenge is not just to build warships in India, but to also increase the indigenous content of each vessel. In the Kamorta-class, we have brought the overall indigenous content to about 90 per cent."

Several navy chiefs have lamented the relative failure to indigenise engines, weapons and sensors. Earlier this month, the navy chief, Admiral R K Dhowan estimated the float component of our warships (i.e. the hull) was more than 95 per cent indigenous; the move component (engine and transmission) was sometimes just 60 per cent; while the high-tech fight component (weapons and sensors) was barely 35-40 per cent indigenous.

Even so, the Mauritius coast guard is said to be pleased with the performance of the Barracuda, which has completed a month of sea trials. The GRSE chief says the vessel delivered a top speed of 22.5 knots (42 kilometres an hour), against the customer's requirement of 20 knots (37 kilometres an hour).

The Barracuda has been designed for the usual OPV tasks -- anti-piracy; anti-smuggling; anti-poaching and search and rescue -- as well as additional tasks specified by Mauritius. The additional capabilities include: pollution response; external fire fighting; and the movement by sea of troops.

The Barracuda will be handed over by Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh to the Mauritius government at Kolkata on Saturday.

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Ajai Shukla
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