Defence shipyards: designing for the world - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 15 April 2008

Defence shipyards: designing for the world

(Photo: A Scorpene submarine being assembled at the East Yard in Mazagon Docks Ltd, Mumbai. DCNS, the French company that made the Scorpene, is in talks with Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) Kolkata for setting up a joint venture design consultancy)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 15th April 2008

For decades, India’s three defence shipyards combined the inefficiency of the public sector with the indecisiveness of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). In Marxist Kolkata, Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) also blended in militant trade unionism to ensure that the warships it was asked to build were invariably delayed.

That’s history. Today, with the MoD loosening its hold over its shipyards, GRSE buzzes with a capitalist energy never seen before in the 124-year history of that shipyard. Business Standard has learned that GRSE is at an advanced stage of negotiations with French shipbuilding giant, DCNS (Direction des Constructions Navales Services), for jointly setting up a cutting edge design centre for warships and merchant ships. This will target both the Indian and the global markets.

GRSE’s Chairman and Managing Director, Rear Admiral TS Ganeshan, emphasises that negotiations are still underway, and that the GRSE board must clear the JV before any announcements can be made. But he is upbeat about the potential for the JV to handle design work outsourced from Europe and the US.

Admiral Ganeshan says, “The design centre is being set up with versatile, broad spectrum capabilities so that it can design warships as well as merchant ships. We also expect work from foreign shipyards, which find that the cost of their design manpower is too high. They may get the designs done from Kolkata… and then build the ships in their countries. Our foreign partner will, I hope, bring his work here, get it done and take it back.”

Interestingly, GRSE confirms that a third partner is in discussions for this JV: Indian IT engineering company, Infotech Enterprises, an international name in Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), or tools that allow users to extract information from digitised maps. Infotech Enterprises already designs systems for the US military, through a JV in Puerto Rico. Its 6500 software engineers generated Rs 750 crores in revenue last year.

Refusing to comment on the JV, Infotech Enterprises CEO, BVR Mohan Reddy says, “68% of our revenue comes from engineering. Admittedly 62% of that is in the aerospace sector, but Infotech Enterprises identified marine and shipbuilding as thrust areas a full two years back. We already have 150 engineers who are hardcore specialists in the domain of ship design. And we are looking to expand our footprint in this sector.”

Admiral Ganeshan says he would have liked the Design Centre to be up and running three months ago, but he expects the JV to be formed by August 2008, subject to clearance from the GRSE board. In racing ahead with its own partnerships, GRSE is proving far more ambitious than the Ministry of Defence --- which believes that the volume of work justifies no more than one Design Centre JV, which would handle design for all three defence shipyards: GRSE, Mazagon Docks Ltd (MDL), and Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL)

But with GRSE setting the pace, the giant MDL is also going ahead with its own JV, albeit more conservatively. MDL’s Chairman and Managing Director, Vice Admiral SKK Krishnan told Business Standard that four foreign shipyards have been short-listed and MDL has hired ICRA as consultants to recommend a suitable JV partner and to help with the legalities of the JV. MDL does not plan to bring in a third IT partner, as GRSE is doing.

MDL is in no hurry, because it does not have orders yet that would provide work for a design bureau. Admiral Krishnan says, “The government hasn’t officially sanctioned the next-generation frigate and destroyer projects (codenamed Projects 17-A, and Project 15-B respectively). We know these orders are definitely going to come, but there’s no rush; I don’t see these warship projects coming through for the next six months.”

The MoD’s discomfort with multiple design bureaus is tempered somewhat by the advantage of having more design options. Admiral Ganeshan points out, “If, for some technical or commercial reasons, the new JV fails, it should not become a breakdown point for all the shipyards. If my JV fails for some reason, I should be able to get my job done from the MDL JV… and vice versa. It’s a matter of strategy to have at least two design JVs.”


  1. fabulous photos and pieces ajai! please most more of the scorpene!

  2. Mr. Ajai Shukla, what's exactly new in your current three-part series on shipyard/design than the one you did in Decenmebr 2007? Nothing really. Further, you have already concluded today. Whither third part?

  3. Ajai,

    You seem to have swallowed the PR bait of the shipyards hook, line and sinker!. These "design" services for 3rd parties is so passe. IT companies in Bangalore and other places (like you mentioned Infotech , a small player really) have been doing it for ages under the business name called "Engineering Services" . There is nothing that metal bashers and welders like MDL/HSL/CSL etc are going to bring to their table. They let their design base atrophy. Much of the "design" stuff is PLM software driven today, which is just a step up for your typical draftsman in a design office. For fundamental design concepts , the kind for which you need real Naval Architects with design expertise and design infrastructure like towing tanks and sea keeping, maneuvering and test tanks and wave generators , you need to go to the institutes like IIT Kgp and Madras (suggest visit those two places as well..visit those depts and the aero space and also material sciences dept). The shipyards have nothing more than gloried drafting offices. The real design expertise is with the Navy in Delhi.

    Frankly,all this is just a game by the shipyards to get their fangs into the offset business and not lose out the "family silver" to the competitors like engg services guys in IT companies. They have nothing to offer to any foreign or Indian partner, except the insane bureaucracy and babu agenda driven dithering.

    Finally, for heaven's sake, get all the "vice" and "rear" and other "admirals" out of the shipyards . They might have been good in commanding a ship or a fleet, but building ships is actually a real business and needs a different skill base. The "admirals" have simply sat around and ruined the shipyards and also HAL. Give the shipyards a professional management and get them out of the hands of the MoD and into the industries ministry for a start /or better still, give them out on management contracts to private guys who have the expertise.. Send the "admirals" out into sunset in a blaze of glory after their service and not inflict them on the shipyards.

  4. what's project 15B?


  5. Interesting article, but I think that Anon has raised some interesting points:

    Nothing yet has been signed.

    Why on earth does DCNS require Indian help, given that we lack the engineering base of making the cutting edge ships for the international market? Seems like a PR/Marketing add-on to the more believable Indian-market focus.

    Are Admirals in charge of the yards? If so, surely their expertise would be better served in being consultants to the design of the warships (they, after all know exactly what the navy requires. And that would leave the management to the professionals.

    Finally - how has GRSE overcome past inefficiencies? i.e. How has it pacified its militant unions etc?

    Thanks in advance!

  6. Hey Ajai, nice work on the article. It's nice to read stuff about the smaller yards once in a while. An update on the P28s would have been a nice addition to the GRSE piece.

    Also, a story on the Indian naval design capabilities would be incomplete without mentioning what NPOL and NSTL are doing. That's where a major chunk of the naval research and design corporate knoledge base resides. The designers in the Navy and the SYs pull a lot of their knowledge from NPOL and NSTL.

  7. i too am not sure.

    Mr Ajai, what's project 15B? Please clear the air!

  8. The submarine seems to be small (only 2 story) when compared to the ones shown in hollywood movies (3 story).

  9. Project 15-B is (surprise!) the proposed successor to the 15-A. It will be made in MDL. The details are still being framed.

    Anonymous, pity that everything is so passe for you. But it clearly isn't for DCNS and Infotech. They're actively pursuing the design JV.

    I think your zero-sum attitude towards design says a lot: MDL and the shipyards are "metal bashers"... they have nothing to offer... the admirals need to be thrown out. In contrast, the private sector will solve everything... give the shipyards out on contract.

    It must be nice to have such simplistic views. I'm sure you never get a headache!

    Me, I'm still stupid. I still believe it can all come together and work. I believe that PSUs can deliver, provided a set of clear efficiency-based guidelines are laid down for managers. I still believe (like the naval design bureau does, read Part 1 of this series) that the shipyard designers have a role to play. I'm still of the belief that many admirals can be used even after they retire.

    Ankur, funny that you're asking me why DCNS would require Indian help. Why don't you ask DCNS why they're so eager to set up the JV?

    Left wing nut job... yup, need to do something on NPOL and NSTL. Will find the time some day.

    xtrak... what can I say? why don't you place the two articles side-by-side and see what has moved since the time I wrote the first one. If you still can't see the difference... I'll spell it out for you.

  10. Ajai, you mean successor to the Kolkata Class? Kolkata hasn't even started construction i think! What successor? Are you 100% positive? I doubt it.

    But in any case will you make a coverage on Project 15A and/or B?

    Feedback: I seriously expected some better pictures from you. But anyway its a great effort as these are the best pics available of the Shivalik.


  11. More pics of Shivalik please. She must have been decently fitted out by now getting ready for sea trials. Hope things are also moving ahead on P-17A. Please keep up your efforts wrt to P-17 and P-15A as you did with Tejas and IJT. Thanks in advance.

  12. Ajai Ji,

    Thanks for the info on new JV. How will it work with IN? What will be it's role wrt Navy's design centre?

    BTW will you be posting details of 29th report of Standing committee on defence (which was tabled in Loksabha yesterday)? Are these available online (Latest I could find online was 17th report)


  13. Dear Ajai,

    Thanks for the fast reply. Short and sweet. :-)

    Oh how I wish I could ask DCNS - but I am neither the government of India nor a reporter.

    I am not aiming to annoy you (your work carries an unnaturally high standard, and that breeds rather high expectations!), and am sorry to see that it did.

    I guess my indirect point was that the JV will do Indian yards wonders, and cracking the Indian market is a priority for DCNS. But I am just not sure that the "designing for the world" tag is quite accurate just yet.

    Everybody is hoping to see that stage come true in the near/mid future, as I am sure that you are.
    But without seeing the contract dynamics, I guess that DCNS would most likely be indulging the smaller shipyards in a tech-transfer role to tick their "offsets" clause. I hope that I am incorrect, and that the two are genuinely hoping to design for the future. Only time will tell.

    I was hoping that your contact in GRSE could be so kind to elaborate.

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. Ankur, sorry to sound snappy. I'm not annoyed. If I'm posting, I'm also up for criticism and questioning and I accept that.

    Cheran, the first of the Kolkata class... INS Kolkata... was launched a year back. It's already afloat and is being fitted out in the Kasara Wet Basin of MDL.

    The second... they're being secretive about what they'll name it... is not far from launch. It'll certainly happen this year.

    I'm deafened by the clamour for more photos!! Believe me, I'm not holding back. Will surely post as I get my hands on them.

  16. Ajai ji
    can u tell me the current status of the IN Il-38SD planes..was their upgradation accepted?? are all the planes accepted? and can u throw some light on the suites that are installed in them??

  17. Really, thats great to hear Ajai!

    And i'm a bit confused Ajai. Can you please tell me what's meant by 'launched', 'in fitting' and 'inducted'?

    OK Inducted: in service in the Navy.

    Launched and Fitting? I'm dead confused.


  18. Another thing Ajai.

    I heard our western **neighbour** is buying some Chinese f22 frigs. How are they in comparison to our Talwars and Shivaliks (in construction)?


  19. In the traditional style of shipbuilding, the hull is first constructed on dry land... it's called a slipway.

    Then... when the hull is ready... the ship is "launched". It slips off the slipway (hence the name) into the water, which is quite a spectacular sight. Badly built ships sometimes break into pieces as they slip into water. The "launch" is a big event... champagne bottle are broken on the hull. A warship is traditionally launched by a lady.

    Then.. again in the traditional style... the launched hull goes into a "wet basin" and is "fitted out". That means that the superstructure -- the bridge, the radars, the weapons systems etc -- are "fitted out" onto the hull.

    When that's all done, the ship goes for sea trials. And when it passes muster... the ship is "commissioned". Big bash. The navy likes bashes.

    Is that okay?

  20. The Chinese F-22 frigates are not in the same league as the Indian Project 17A frigates.

    They are not even in the neighbouring league.

    They are just about adequate warships. You can easily see the technical details of the F22 on the web, and judge for yourself.

  21. Thanks for your patient response Ajai. I get it now. BTW you said they use ladies to launch the ship. Are they models / actresses?

    Yea, I saw in the internet regarding f22 and i'm wondering why would anyone buy such an old ship!



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