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Russia steps in to bail out sinking Project 15-A

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To comprehend the size of a 6,800-tonne warship, one really needs to see it out of water. In Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL), we stare awestruck at two such vessels being built side by side, towering hulks of steel that are being welded and hammered into frontline destroyers for the Indian Navy. Then we are shown their eventual form at a nearby slipway, where INS Kolkata, the first destroyer of Project 15-A, is being kitted out for its commissioning next year.

is fighting to deliver this Rs 11,000 crore project on time. Holding it back is a default by a Ukrainian shipyard in delivering the propellers that drive these warships and the shafting that delivers power from the engines to the propellers. After three years of waiting fruitlessly for the equipment to arrive from Ukraine, MDL placed the order with a Russian shipyard.

Ukrainian shipbuilders, set up in the Black Sea by the erstwhile Soviet Union navy, have been an important source of components for Indian warships. Each of the three destroyers will be powered by four Zarya reversible gas turbines from Ukraine, which have already been delivered. But they can only be installed after Russia delivers the shafting.

MDL Chairman, Vice Admiral told Business Standard, “The Ukrainian shipbuilding industry is a mature one, but we have this problem of non-delivery. The answer is only to increase the level of indigenisation, and to develop and cultivate our own vendor base. As long as we are dependent upon foreign vendors, late delivery will remain a risk.”

Business Standard has already reported on 6th March 09 on the delay to India’s Project 17 stealth frigate, INS Shivalik, because General Electric (GE) failed to get permission from the US government to install its gas turbine engines on the warship.

Russia is assisting Project 15-A not only with shafting and propellers, but also the know-how for pontoon-assisted launches. Conventionally, a ship is “launched” into water once its hull is completed, after which the superstructure — the upper decks and masts that together weigh several thousand tonne — is fitted on in deeper water. The shallow water near the slipways, where warships are built, cannot accommodate fully built warships, which require a deeper draught.

The INS Kolkata, for example, was under 3,000 tonnes when it was launched into water just 4.5 metres deep. But the next two Project 15-A vessels will weigh over 4,000 tonnes at launch because they will have pontoons — steel compartments welded outside the deck — that will lift the ship in the water like inflatable armbands do to swimmers. The pontoons are removed once the ship reaches deeper water.

Explains Commander HC Dhamija, project superintendent of Project 15-A, “This will provide added buoyancy, which will allow us to launch the ship into shallower water. There are a greater number of days when the tide provides us with 4.5 metres, so that makes planning a launch easier. If, for some reason, you miss the date with the highest tide, you are still left with some options.”

Russia has also provided the warship-grade steel for Project 15-A. Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) now makes warship-grade steel, but the manufacture of these destroyers began before SAIL production ramped up. SAIL’s current production is barely enough for the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) being constructed at Cochin Shipyard Ltd, Kochi.

The first Kolkata class destroyer is to be delivered in May 2010. The next two are scheduled for delivery at one year intervals, i.e. May 2011 and May 2012, respectively.

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