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INS Visakhapatnam shows growing Indian ability to build warships economically

Ajai Shukla  |  New Delhi 

The Navy’s new destroyer, INS Visakhapatnam, with enhanced capability to operate in areas tainted by a nuclear, biological and chemical strike, at its launch at the Mazagon dock in Mumbai on Monday

On Monday, eight months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi commissioned the first Project 15A guided missile destroyer, INS Kolkata, the first of its successor class vessels - INS Visakhapatnam - was launched into the water at Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL).

INS Visakhapatnam, the first of four stealthy destroyers coming up under Project 15B, began taking shape on January 23, 2013, when MDL started fashioning 2,800 tonnes of Indian-made warship steel into the warship's hull. With this partly-build structure now floating in water, INS Visakhapatnam will be built up by 2017 into a 7,334-tonne behemoth. After trials, it will be commissioned in 2018 as India's most heavily armed warship.

It will be joined in the fleet at two year intervals by three successors: INS Paradip, INS Marmagoa and a fourth vessel, yet unnamed.

The most remarkable feature of these destroyers is not its 32 world-beating Indo-Israeli anti-ship-missile defences called the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), or Barak 8; nor its arsenal of 16 Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles that can sink ships or strike land targets 295 kilometres away; nor its heavyweight torpedoes that can destroy enemy submarines 100 kilometres away.

The most remarkable feature of these warships is that, tonne-for-tonne, they are not only one of the world's most heavily armed but also one of the cheapest.

Underlining the benefits of designing and building combat platforms in the country, the four Project 15B warships will cost the navy Rs 29,348 crore, an average of Rs 7,337 crore per destroyer. Tipping the scales at an estimated 7,334 tonnes, INS Visakhapatnam will cost the navy just about Rs 1 crore per tonne, or $159,750 in 2014 prices.

Three Project 15A destroyers were built even cheaper -at $92,210 per tonne - but the fall of the rupee and inflation in labour and materials cost have raised the price of their successors.

Only China's Guangzhou class destroyers were built cheaper, at $146,870 per tonne in 2014 prices. However, as combat platforms, Guangzhou-class destroyers are not in the same class as INS Visakhapatnam. Their anti-missile defence consists of 48 Russian-origin SA-N-12 Grizzly surface-to-air missiles, which have ranges of under 40 kilometres, depending upon the target. The LR-SAMs on the Visakhapatnam-class, in contrast, shoot down incoming anti-ship missiles - the most significant threat to surface warships - at ranges out to 70 kilometres, and have a far better hit probability.

Similarly, the Brahmos anti-ship/anti-surface missile, which is both supersonic and has a range of 295 kilometres, is regarded as superior to the Guangzhou-class' YJ-83 anti-ship missiles, which have ranges of about 200 kilometres.

The Daring-class destroyers, which is the spearhead of the Royal Navy's surface fleet, and which the United Kingdom boasts is the finest air defence destroyer in the world, costs an estimated 193,650 per tonne to build.

Few would dispute the technological pre-eminence of the US Navy's DDG-51 destroyers, of which USS Rafael Peralta is the newest. Boasting the Aegis Combat System for air defence, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Tomahawk strategic land strike cruise missiles; these Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are the gold standard in multi-role capability. However, this capability comes at a prohibitive estimated $205,000 per tonne, despite the economy of scale that comes from building about 100 of these warships.

Even more expensive is Japan's Akizuki-class destroyer, which Mitsubishi is building for $232,370 per tonne; and Australia's Hobart-class destroyer, designed by Spanish shipbuilder Navantia and built in Australia, which will cost the Royal Australian Navy an estimated $333,300 per tonne, more than double the cost of INS Visakhapatnam.

The capabilities that the navy has announced for Project 15B indicates the design of these warships - rooted in the three destroyers of Project 15; and evolved into the three of Project 15A - has continually improved. Although these vessels use the same power plant - four Ukrainian M-36E Zorya gas turbines - INS Visakhapatnam, which is significantly heavier at 7,334 tonnes than the 5,800-tonne Delhi-class destroyers of Project 15, can work up the same speed (30 knots, or 56 kmph).

The Visakhapatnam's crew of 325 officers and sailors, include an air complement that operates the ship's two helicopters. The destroyer carries 1,000 tonnes of fuel, which allows it to patrol the oceans for 8,000 nautical miles (15,000 km; 9,200 miles) at 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). For entering an area that has undergone a nuclear, chemical or biological (NBC) strike, the Visakhapatnam has a "total atmosphere control system", which cleans the air through a filter system.

First Published: Tue, April 21 2015. 00:33 IST
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