Project 17-A: French shipyard, DCNS, leads in race to be design consultant - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 28 March 2009

Project 17-A: French shipyard, DCNS, leads in race to be design consultant

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th March 2009
Mazagon Dock Limited, Mumbai

Major global warship-makers are carefully watching the Indian Navy’s Project 17-A, potentially India’s biggest-ever naval purchase, a Rs 17,000 crore plan to build seven stealth frigates. And French shipbuilder, DCNS --- through a clever “first-mover” strategy --- is poised to play a major role in that project.

On 27th Feb 09, the DCNS board gave the thumbs up for a three-party design consultancy along with Kolkata shipyard, Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE), and Indian IT engineers Infotech Enterprises. The JV will design ships for global clients, including back office work for DCNS, one of the world’s biggest warship builders.

But the first design job that the JV is shooting for is Project 17-A. Despite the Indian success in designing and building quality warships, Project 17-A needs a design partner. This is because all seven frigates will be built using an advanced manufacturing process --- modular shipbuilding --- which is used by top shipyards in the US and Europe.

India has never done modular shipbuilding. This involves constructing a several-thousand-ton warship in 300-ton blocks, which are then brought together and assembled, like a Lego game, into a complete warship. Each 300-ton block is built separately, complete with all the piping, electrical wiring and fitments that would be a part of the ship. These must precisely connect with their counterpart in the neighbouring block, coming together in perfect alignment.

This is the expertise that DCNS is hoping to sell as the foreign design partner for Project 17-A. DCNS has positioned itself well for the bid. The DCNS-GRSE-Infotech JV will have the advantage of bidding as an Indian company. Besides the Scorpene programme with MDL, DCNS has worked with both shipyards on several projects. And, importantly, the modular construction infrastructure coming up in MDL and GRSE is very similar to that in DCNS’s shipyards in France.

Admiral Malhi points out, “We already have a relationship with DCNS; we are building the Scorpene together. They have the same infrastructure as we have, which means that the drawings they make can be easily translated into warships in our yard. But we will keep our options open by asking (Italian shipyard) Fincantieri to bid as well.”

With GRSE and MDL insisting that Project 17-A be built entirely in India (Business Standard had reported yesterday that the Indian Navy wanted the first two frigates to be built abroad by the design partner) they have joined forces, rather than competing for the order. For the first time ever, a project may be split between two shipyards. Admiral Mahli explains, “We have to ensure that the navy gets all these seven warships by 2021. That means GRSE and MDL might both work concurrently on Project 17 A; you might have four built in MDL and three in GRSE. There is enough work for both shipyards.

No Indian defence shipyard is equipped yet for modular construction; but so lucrative is the Project 17-A contract that both GRSE and Mazagon Dock Limited, Mumbai (MDL) are spending hundreds of crores on creating modular construction facilities by mid-2011, by when assembly of the Project 17-A frigates is due to start. The facilities include a covered workshop large enough for constructing 300-ton modules inside; a sliding roof for lifting out the completed modules; a 300-ton Goliath crane, on rails that extend across two or three slipways, for conveying the completed module to whichever frigate it is meant for.

Admiral HS Malhi, Chairman of MDL, says progress is on schedule. “Italian company, Fagioli, in partnership with McNally Bharat Engineering (MBE), is building the 300-ton Goliath crane. With a span of 138 metres, it will be the longest in India, stretching across the two slipways and across the modular workshop.”


  1. What is this about modular construction not being done in India? As far as I understand the ADC is being built using this technique in Cochin.

  2. Ah Shuklaji ,this "modular" construction story that the MDL guys seem to have told you ain't exactly rocket science, especially in this day and age of computers with advanced CAD/CAM software and visualization tools. 20 years ago, yeah it would have been something, but now with the entire ship first built on computers and visualized section by section, it is no big deal. The fact that Indian yards don't do it is a reflection on their stagnant capabilities. There are tens of private guys in the Engg Design Services field right here in India, who do lot of similar stuff for customers around the world.

    Also, about the Goliath crane, it ain't the "length" that matters (atleast here it doesn't) but rather the "width" / "span". Wider the span, less the max capacity of the crane.

    Anways, keep up the good work. But somehow I should say, regarding MDL and the rest of the yards, it really is a sense of deja vu, with history repeating themselves now as a farce (multiple times). This kind of "dynamism" happens just before every new project and then atrophies, in the lack of any fundamental reform.

    Write about that, and not the PR stuff handed out by the yards. Do they still get that guaranteed return 8% or 6% I dont remember exactly). What have they done for fundamental competitiveness , any change in direction, any thing at all , or is it more of the good old same ?.


  3. a question about the day of commissioning of INS Shivalik. The board mentions 58 days to go. However I havent found what date that board is of. What date did you take the picture ajai?
    In other words whats the tentative date for commissioning decided by the yard?

  4. ya isnt ASC built at cochin using modular designas far i can see they did build blocks and are now integrating all those together and anyone know of any desighn partner for adc

  5. how about the Shivaliks? didn't they use modular technique? ajai i think ur facts r wrong

  6. @Vina

    Whoa you don't have a job or what? I see you a lot in BR forums also.

  7. @AR, you are commenting about a person who you claim has no job, what does that say about you ?

  8. To start off, the IAC is NOT being constructed using "Modular" construction as described in these articles. Don't swallow everything that you read in PR handouts.

    Secondly, "modular" construction is not rocket science, but it is beyond our present design capabilities and software. Hence the need for a foreign design consultant.

    Where are these "private guys in the Engg Design Services" who can do this so easily? Maybe they're spending too much time bragging in bars in Bangalore... I see none of them in the Directorate of Naval Design, in the public sector shipyards, and certainly not in the private yards. Get real.

    Anonymous, the shipyards are keen on doing modular construction on their own... it is the Directorate of Naval Design that insists on doing it abroad. Do you read the articles I post, or do you just read the heading and then rush off to post your own two-bits-worth?

    The days of guaranteed returns are over. Nowadays, a lot of the construction is done on fixed cost basis. The shipyards will be paid a fixed amount, regardless of what the construction actually turns out to cost.

  9. The board was obviously there on exactly the day the picture was taken!!! The picture information will tell you the date it was taken. If I remember, it was the 26th of March 09.

  10. ^aah, I am not so computer savvy. but thank you very much for the info

  11. sorry to correct you but it seems the date is 26 feb

  12. it will be another decade for
    p15b,p17a rolling out of MDL

    first let MDL make and comnplete
    p15a,p17 and these ships will take another 3-4 years to comission

    on the other hansd russia is building next batch of krivaks pritty quickly

    and navy going for more krivaks


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