SOURCE: ANIMESH MISHRA / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
India aspires to make its navy a formidable force in Asia and at the global level. Like Japan and South Korea, India is also in hostile waters which has always encouraged it to think about the future. The dream to become a Blue Water Navy with the capability to act at any place in the region requires dramatic expansion. Indian Navy is currently undergoing a massive expansion process. New aircraft carriers, frigates, aircraft, helicopters, submarines of all categories (SSK, SSN, SSBN) are either in planning, procuring, or in the building stage. Another huge component of the navy is its surface fleet of Destroyers. Kolkata class (Project 15A) and Visakhapatnam class (Project 15B) destroyers are the two new destroyer class of the Indian Navy.
Among these new and advanced warships, there is one class of destroyers that silently sails in the background, the Rajput class. This old workhorse class of 5 ships was once the backbone of the Indian Navy and has served India for a long time in the Eastern Naval Command. INS Rajput, the oldest ship in the class has been in service for the last 38 years while the youngest ship has 31 years of service. This clearly means within a decade these ships will be at the end of their service and need replacement. INS Ranjit the third ship of the class, ends its 36 years’ service on May 6 2019. This comes a week after INS Imphal was launched, the old destroyer goes into the sunset and new vessel gets ready to step in.
The Rajput Class despite some recent upgrades won’t be able to keep pace with the changing scenario. Visakhapatnam class can serve as an interim measure but stopping at Visakhapatnam class will leave India with a smaller number of ships than it initially had before the modernization process (pre-modernising = 11; post modernising = 9).Thus, the need for Project 16 Rajput Class Replacement arises and how this class can change the face of Indian Navy.
In the past few years, much attention has been given to the submarine arm of the Indian Navy. The Kalvari class (6 Scorpene Submarine), Project-75I (6 Diesel-Electric submarines), Arihant Class (Indigenous Ballistic Submarines-SSBN) have been the main topics of discussion. Submarines and Destroyers play different and vital roles. Let’s take the simple analogy of football, submarines are the strikers, they are used for only one purpose, to inflict maximum damage to the opposite side. While the destroyers are the mid-fielders, they can switch roles from offensive to defensive when need be. Destroyers provide multi-mission capability to attack the opponent, defend a fleet or area, and project power. All the navies with aircraft carrier need these ships, USA, Russia, UK, France and now new carrier operating countries like China, Japan,and South Korea all have a strong fleet of destroyers.
INS Ranjit getting decommissioned should ring the bells for the Indian Navy. Agreed the other vessels of the class will not be decommissioned subsequently, but eventually yes. If India starts working on the prospect of replacing these ships, it would provide them with a head start of at least 8-10 years. This means a lot more time for R&D and design, also decreasing the reliance on imported equipment. With the completion of Kolkata class and Visakhapatnam class in the shipyards, the experience and insight gained from these projects will certainly help India going forward. Both these classes of ships (Kolkata & Visakhapatnam) are exceptional warships but to some extent are under-armed. Unused spaces are left in the ship which can easily accommodate 8 more Brahmos/ Nirbhaya missiles andBarak 8 (surface to air missile). This practice is understandable as both Brahmos and Barak 8 were new systems and Indian Navy didn’t want to bet everything on them. But now that the world knows about the capability of these weapons, so using them to their full extent would be the logical way forward.
At the moment 16 Brahmos and 32 Barak 8 are present on current class, which is impressive but way less compared to the Type 52D class (China), Sejong the Great class (South Korea), Arleigh Burke-class (USA). Increasing both strength and capability of these missiles is something that the Indian Navy will certainly do. The range of Brahmos missile has already been increased from 290 km to 450 km and the newer missiles will have a range of up to 600 km. The work is going on to increase the range of Barak 8 from 90 km to 120-150 km. It seems apt that Indian Navy will use Brahmos-ER and Barak 8ER. Efforts will be made in future for the integration of the Hypersonic Cruise Missile Brahmos 2. India will also integrate the Nirbhaya sub-sonic cruise missile, this missile when fully ready will provide capabilities similar to that of Tomahawk (USA) or the Klub Missile (Russia).
Another thing that should be improved is the air defense of the ship. The factor that separates a great ship from a good one is the layered air defense of the ship. The complementary missiles systems like the RIM-162 ESSM and the RIM-174 ERAM of USA. The HQ-10, HQ-16 (Chinese version of Shtil/Buk missile system) and the HQ-9 of China provide a layered defense to the naval vessel on which they are placed. While much of the workload of protecting the ship falls on the Barak-8. Indian navy is looking for new secondary layer short-range air defense system. Some of the prime contenders for this is the MBDA VL Mica, MBDA Sea Ceptor (naval CAMM), Indian QRSAM and we might even see the naval variant of DRDO Astra SAM system. The Navy has already issued an RFI (request for information) for 10 short-range missile systems to replace the aging Barak-1 air defense system.
The above points have discussed what should be done, but the mere existence of a strategy doesn’t ensure its success, that relies on the execution of the plan. The normal time taken by countries like USA, China,and the UK to produce a ship of this class is 2-3 years, while it takes 7-8 years in India. This largely due to the fact that the shipyards of these countries have tons of experience and have worked at the magnitude of huge scale. China is the biggest ship manufacturer in the world, the Jiangnan shipyard alone churns out 4-5 military ships every year. Matching the pace like this certainly going to be an uphill task. But some key things can be learned. A common design for larger class; Kolkata and Visakhapatnam class are so similar that they can even be called Block 1 and 2 respectively. Ideally, the Navy should have clubbed these two designs as one class and started the process of producing 7 ships directly. Secondly; the development of indigenous technology should be done before. This reduces the time wasted in waiting for the equipment to arrive through domestic vendor or imports. For example, the radar is the prime component of the ship and waiting for it results in delay and cost over-runs. The early work on Project 16will give India to develop or co-develop a new AESA Radar system and also develop new Sonar system which is currently imported or are of a quality below par. Off-course these measures won’t be enough to bring down the time of production to 2 years but will certainly save some precious time and bring down the production cost.
I believe that Project 16 would be the missing piece of the puzzle and will make a huge impact. This project will gradually make the shipbuilding sector more efficient and have larger geopolitical impact.India is stable vibrant democracy which has always favored free trade and the Indian navy is always there to protect that liberty. With the inclusion of this model of Project-16 Indian Navy will have exponentially improved capabilities. And India will become a prominent, self-reliant force and a reliable strategic partner in the IOR (Indian Ocean Region). Allies like USA, Japan,and Australia can benefit from these possible future developments.
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