In the salty sea breeze of an overcast Mumbai monsoon day, the country’s latest warship, the INS Sahyadri, joined the Indian Navy on Saturday. The tricolour and the naval ensign were hoisted, the national anthem played, and AK Antony, the defence minister, formally commissioned the bristling 5,600-tonne warship, urging the crew to “promote peace and stability in the Indian Ocean Region.”
Whatever Antony says, the INS Sahyadri, however, like frontline battleships through the ages, is less about “peace and stability” than about projecting Indian combat power. A muscular addition to India’s ongoing naval build up, the Sahyadri is the Indian Navy’s 134th ship. Another 46 vessels are under construction, 43 of these in India including three 6,800 tonne destroyers under Project 15A; four similar warships under Project 15B; four 2,500 tonne corvettes under Project 28; and six Scorpene submarines under Project 75. Meanwhile three warships are being built in Russia: the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Admiral Gorshkov); and two more stealth frigates slightly smaller than the Sahyadri.
Multirole frigates like the Sahyadri are essential for protecting the three aircraft carrier battle groups that India plans to deploy by the end of this decade. The aircraft carrier is a mobile air base that is floated to coastal flashpoints, from where fighter aircraft can be launched against even inland targets. But an aircraft carrier must be protected from enemy aircraft, submarines, and missiles and that is a key wartime task for frigates like the Sahyadri.
|THE SAHYADRI: ARMED TO THE TEETH|
|Anti-air defence||Radar-guided (Russian) Shtil missile system.|
|Point Defence||Two Barak-1 Vertical Launch|
|Systems (VLS) and Two AK-630 Rapid Fire Guns|
|Eight Russian Klub cruise missiles with a range of almost 300 km|
|Anti-submarine||RBU 6000 rocket launchers, total 24 barrels. Also, two onboard helicopters, with sonars and torpedoes|
|Main gun||OtoMelara 76 mm Super Rapid Gun Mount (SRGM) manufactured at BHEL, Haridwar. This can engage ground and aerial targets 15-20 km away|
Naval sources say that each aircraft carrier is protected by at least 7 warships. Given that the country plans to deploy three aircraft carriers by the end of this decade — the INS Vikramaditya and two indigenous carriers built by Cochin Shipyard — frigates like the Sahyadri are badly needed.
The Sahyadri is the third and final frigate of Project 17, Mazagon Dock Limited’s (MDL’s) now completed line of three stealth frigates. Preceding the Sahyadri were INS Shivalik in 2010, and INS Satpura in 2011.
Project 17 will be followed by Project 17A, in which MDL and Kolkata-based Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers will construct 7 stealth frigates even more advanced than their predecessors.
The Sahyadri, a 142 metre-long arsenal of radar-controlled missiles and guns, moves swiftly for such a massive vessel. Two French Pielstick diesel engines power the warship during normal running. When a burst of speed is required, for example during battle, two General Electric (GE) gas turbines kick in, propelling the frigate at over 30 knots (over 55 kmph).
Controversy has surrounded the GE gas turbines —the formidable LM 2500 —that the navy is installing in several warships, including the indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) being built at Cochin Shipyard. In 2009, the INS Shivalik was delayed for months while Washington bickered over allowing a warship to use the LM 2500 turbine. Now the MoD’s proposal to build the LM 2500 in India is embroiled in protracted negotiations with Washington.
Fortunately, the Sahyadri’s sensors and electronics are indigenous, an important aspect in an era where naval battle is a long-range, high-stakes video game.
Warships no longer need to “close alongside” the enemy, raking him with cannon fire. Instead, an enemy is a blip on a radar, which is destroyed with the click of a cursor.
The Sahyadri’s fully integrated electronics, built by Bharat Electronics Ltd, make it easy to do that. Digital information from the systems and sensors —e.g. engines, navigation devices, radars, weaponry, radio sets and control systems —goes to multi-function displays over a backbone network called AISDN (ATM-based Integrated Services Digital Network).
Another network, the Computer-aided Action Information Organisation (CAIO), provides the Combat Centre with a complete electronic picture of the battlefield, including target information from the Sahyadri’s sensors and radars. This goes to the ship’s Executive Officer (XO), the weapons chief, who electronically assigns a weapon to destroy each target.
The Sahyadri draws her name from the 1600-km long range of mountains along the Western Ghats, which dominate the Arabian Sea through 250 forts built over the centuries by dynasties that ruled on the Deccan Plateau.
The INS Sahyadri will exert its influence on a larger playfield extending from the Strait of Hormuz, India’s energy lifeline, through the Malacca Strait, to the South China Sea and the Western Pacific.