An IDC Analysis 

(With inputs by Sayan Majumdar)


New Delhi, 31 May 2004

The Indian Navy became the first Navy in the world to climb the highest mountain in the world Mt. Everest from the Tibetan side (mountaineers never conquer a peak!). The conquering team included a bunch of Submariners. Recently the Navy also released its Naval Doctrine like the Royal Navy had been doing but it is India specific. It needs to be emphasised that new orders for operation of ships and submarines must flow out of it soon or as the CNS Admiral Madhvendra Singh put it there will be reduction in force levels. Now we have a full analysis of the future Navy in a star gazing form.

Surface Units

With the projected launching of the second Project 17 'Shivalik' class stealth frigate in early June 2004, the Indian Navy seems to have standardized a powerful general-purpose surface unit designed to meet the future operational requirements. While it does not feature extreme stealth features like the Swedish Visby or even the French Lafayette class, the Project 17 will have significant signature reducing features. Canada's Davis Engineering provided the IRSS (Infra-Red Suppression System) design tools and training. Italian RCS (Radar Cross Section) prediction software may also have been used for this design. As is common practice, all machinery will be mounted on noise and vibration proof mounts to reduce acoustic and vibration noise.

Thus the Indian Navy continues its tradition of building a formidable ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) force that gained momentum during the mid-eighties. The 'Godavari' and 'Brahmaputra' class frigates are primarily ASW vessels and even the Delhi class destroyers, (variants of Kashins with strong influence of Russian Sovremenneyy class destroyers), are primarily ASW vessels with distribution of armament somewhat similar to the US Spruance class destroyers.


The latest class of submarines, the Russian Kilos, the German Type 1500 and the projected Franco-Spanish Scorpenes are all SSKs (Submarines, conventional powered hunter-killer). It is also likely that the deadly Russian Project 971M Akula II class SSNs  (Submarines, Nuclear powered hunter-killer) like Gephard, will join Indian Navy service.

Maritime Reconnaissance

A formidable fleet of MR/ASW (Maritime Reconnaissance/Anti-Submarine Warfare) airborne platforms are also to be built with Russian Tupolev-142 'Bear-F', updated Illyushin-38SDs and US Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion under strong consideration. The updated Illyushin-38SD platforms with Morskoy Zmei (Sea Dragon) update can deliver significant surface and sub-surface punch and are also capable of aerial surveillance. The fully digital Sea Dragon avionics suite encompasses a new SAR/ISAR (Synthetic-Aperture Radar/Inverse-Synthetic-Aperture Radar), high-resolution FLIR (Forward-Looking Infra Red) sensor, a LLTV (Low-Light TV) camera, a new ESM (Electronic Support Measures) system and a MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector). The Sea Dragon is designed to detect and intercept surface vessels and submarines within a range of 150 kilometres. The suite can also detect airborne targets and can be linked to the Russian GLONASS satellite navigation system. The possible motive is perhaps to shift emphasis on sub-surface operations in the near and distant future to facilitate the operation and transition of friendly missile firing submarines like the ATV (Advanced Technology Vessel), acting as the nuclear deterrent capable of massive "second strike" retaliatory capability.


The provision of twin helicopters on the 'Shivalik' class is welcome since while the first acts as a dedicated ASW helicopter, the second can fulfill the task of either a dedicated ASV (Anti-Surface Vessel) platform armed with anti-ship missiles or an AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platform. However considering the emerging sophistication of future generations of nuclear submarines it may be logical to opt for destroyer sized vessels similar to Japanese 'Haruna' and improved 'Shirane' class, with the aft flight deck extending to one-third of the length of the ship. At least three ASW/ASV/AEW helicopters can then be operated. Helicopters are regarded as the primary ASW "weapon" of surface units because of their reach and flexibility of operations. An enlarged flight deck will also enable the ASW units to operate a tactical UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) to provide greater situational awareness to the ships control room. Such a facility should also be extended to the 'Shivalik' class.

Futuristic Stargazing

A dedicated AAW (Anti-Air Warfare) variant of the Project 17 frigate should be in consideration armed with futuristic SAM/ATBM (Surface-to-Air Missile/Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile) and AEW helicopters. Conversion of ASW or general purpose warships into AAW units is not a new concept. The Dutch 'Jacob Van Heemskerck' class is an AAW version of 'Kortenaer' class while French 'Cassard' class is the AAW version of Georges Leygues class destroyer/frigates. The Spanish 'Baleares' class is an AAW variant of American Knox class. Even the United States Ticonderoga class AEGIS cruisers are AAW versions of the Spruance class ASW units.

Missile Systems

While the 'Shivalk' class will possibly be armed with Russian SA-N-7/ SA-N-12 SAM systems it is time to look for a deadlier combination. Since the European missile and smart munitions manufacturer MBDA now enjoys a close co-operation with Indian defence industry, it may be logical to go for MBDA developed PAAMS (Principal Anti-Air Missile System) being developed for Franco-Italian Horizon class frigates, working with Empar C-band radar.

PAAMS is a combination of vertically launched rapid reaction, active-radar Aster 15 and Aster 30 missiles. Aster 15 has a range of 1.7 to 30 kilometres and is operational aboard French PAN (Porte-Avions, Nucleaires nuclear powered aircraft-carrier) 'Charles de Gaulle' with a combination of the Arabel X-band radar. Aster 30 in addition to self-defence has area defence capability with 3 to 100 kilometres range. This family of missiles differs only in booster design and shares the same kill vehicle with focussed fragment warhead. Such a SAM combination will make the AAW/ASW units less reliant on land or aircraft-carrier based air cover that may prove to be invaluable while making a rapid dash towards reported enemy submarine contacts, away from the "task force" while the "main body" turns away from the source of the threat.

An ATBM (Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile) capable SAM is considered a prerequisite as aircraft-carrier battle groups if detected, may invite ballistic missile strikes with considerable damage if a nuclear warhead is applied. The French are working on an ATBM capable Aster version while the option of United States Standard SM-2 now seems to be open. The SM-2 Block IVA naval ATBM was to utilise a side-mounted imaging infrared seeker to detect and track incoming ballistic missiles and guide to a lethal intercept over a 100-km-by-50-km area, while retaining previous SM-2 Block IV capabilities. Development has run into problems but the Americans are known to be persistent. Recent reports suggest that the US had resurrected the ship-based ATBM project. The Indian Navy should pursue such systems for a few of their principal surface combatants as the Indians are cooperating with the United States on BMD (Ballistic Missile Defence) projects.

In Project 17 the Russian Novator Alfa/Klub (SS-N-27) cruise missile provides land attack capability with a stated range of 300 kilometres. Supersonic BrahMos will be an option on future units. The merits and demerits of supersonic and subsonic anti-ship missiles are hotly debated as are the merits and demerits of wire-guided and wake homing torpedoes. While supersonic anti-ship missiles posses the sheer speed and kinetic impact and are less vulnerable to countermeasures, subsonic anti-ship missiles are credited with less infra-red signature, better target discrimination and more importantly the ability to re-attack the target even if once fooled by decoys. Klub however is a good compromise with a subsonic flight profile with supersonic attack phase.

Space Based Assets

The Project 17 ships more importantly need to be fitted with LACMs (Land Attack Cruise Missiles) to influence the land battles. LACMs are invaluable assets of any major navy, and may be used in decimating enemy overland communications, command and control centres and air defence installations, before extensive barrage air attacks are followed by ground invasion. If the foreign LACMs are not available because of MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) restrictions, efforts should be made to develop an indigenous LACM of fair range and capacity, or re-engineer and enhance the capability of BrahMos or the Alpha/Klub (SS-N-27) family of missiles.

This aspect will enhance the Indian Navy's capability to influence an "air-land" battle and already a very respected media source indicated the "presence" of the Lakshya 2 programme, which is destined to be a dedicated LACM. India is also rumoured to be actively involved in multinational STAR cruise missile programme along with Israel, South Korea and Turkey. Extensive space based sensors and reconnaissance, navigation, targeting and ranging assets need to be set up for securing optimum performance from SAM, ATBM and LACM assets and as an interim measure the Russians and Israelis can provide technical assistance before an extensive "indigenous" infrastructure is set up.

In particular, the Russian GLONASS series of satellites for navigation, targeting and ranging and to provide reliable GPS (Global Positioning System) may prove vital. "Information dominance", a vital aspect of modern warfare needs extensive support from space-based assets. The capability of LACMs in the shape of Tomahawk was well proven during the American campaign over Iraq and Kosovo.

Nuclear Propulsion

Less known but of special significance, reports had appeared in the media a few years ago of an "indigenous" 148 MW marine nuclear reactor nearing completion and if one has not missed a decimal point, the reactor is well capable of propelling Cruiser and Destroyer sized warships. Whether the report is valid or Indian navy will be equipped with nuclear powered surface combatants in course of time need to be seen.

Indigenous Design Capability

Finally the pursuit of indigenous capability by the Indian Navy qualifies for special mention. Through the years the Navy has encouraged unique indigenous designs for mating equipment, engines, electronics and armament from different international sources. Incidentally while the design is indigenous there has been a progressive standardisation of equipment. The result is a proud display of Indian designs in warship construction in both Indian and foreign respected literature and encyclopaedias with hopefully much more to follow. Effective collaboration with established foreign consortia in fields of design and consultancy will hasten the delivery of surface units and submarines to the Indian Navy in proper time.

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