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The Indian Navy’s prestigious Project 28, the programme to build four of the world’s stealthiest anti-submarine corvettes, is on track to become even more cutting edge. By the end of this month, three international shipbuilders will be bidding to provide Kolkata-based Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) with the technology to build a major part of the corvettes — the entire superstructure — with lightweight composites.
By making the superstructure, which is the upper part of the ship that rests on the hull, of lighter composite material, the 2,500-tonne warships will become lighter, stealthier and far more stable in the water. Already acclaimed as world-class warships, composite superstructures will make them amongst the most effective submarine hunters in any of the world’s navies.
Business Standard has learned that the Ministry of Defence will shortly issue tenders to three shipbuilders with extensive experience in fabricating composites.
Kockums of Sweden, a subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), which builds the world’s stealthiest warships, the 650-tonne Visby class corvettes, is a leading contender; also in the fray are Greek shipbuilder, Intermarine; and Korea’s Kangnam Corporation.
With composite materials increasingly crucial to warships, this lucrative tender could open the door for broader partnership with Indian defence shipyards.
The three companies are maintaining a discrete silence for now, but an aide to the spokesperson of TKMS admitted, “India is an interesting market for TKMS at the moment because of the serious attention that the government of India is giving to the technical future of the Indian Navy.”
The first two corvettes of Project 28, which are nearing completion, have already been built with conventional steel superstructures. Subsequent corvettes, that is the third ship onwards, can have composite superstructures. The chairman and managing director of GRSE, Rear Admiral KC Sekhar, told Business Standard during a visit to GRSE in August that, “Composite materials technology can only be incorporated for the third and fourth ships of Project 28. The first corvette is already 90 per cent completed. Eighty per cent of the superstructure is ready for the second corvette.”
All the high technology going into Project 28 is boosting costs; GRSE and the defence ministry are locked in negotiations to finalise a price for the corvettes. Since 2003, when the order was placed, GRSE has worked on Project 28 based on nothing more than a Letter of Intent (LoI) from the ministry. The cost mentioned in that LoI was derived from the cost of the earlier Project 25A, for previous generation Kora class corvettes.
But now, that cost has ballooned, partly because of repeated changes that the Navy has demanded in order to keep Project 28 at the cutting edge of stealth technology. The LoI’s Rs 2,800 crore for the four ships of Project 28 (Rs 700 crore per corvette), has swelled to Rs 7,000 crore (Rs 1,750 crore per corvette). And, since the cost of the first ship of Project 28 was to determine the real cost of Project 28, the defence ministry has little option but to pay that amount.
But Business Standard has learned that the MoD-GRSE negotiations could soon have a happy ending.
Although the order was placed in 2003, the ministry is likely to agree to a “commencement of production” date of March 2006, to compensate for the delays caused by repeated changes in specifications.
Since the first Project 28 corvette is likely to roll out in 2012, that will amount to a notional build period of 6 years, in line with the time that most foreign shipyards take to produce the first ship of a class. Subsequent ships, however, are expected to be churned out much faster.