Making warships happen - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 20 September 2010

Making warships happen

The 650-metre dry dock at the Pipavav shipyard in Gujarat. This dry dock can take two aircraft carriers simultaneously and still have space left over for the odd destroyer

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Sept 10

I was taken aback last week to receive an invitation from BAE Systems, the world’s third-richest arms corporation, for a four-day media tour to the UK. What surprised me was not the invitation. The rate at which India is buying up foreign weaponry, global arms merchants, eager for publicity, would happily pay for our small defence journalist community to globetrot through the year. What was remarkable in the BAE invitation was the company’s proposal to fly us to Glasgow for the launch of a new Royal Navy destroyer and a tour of other warships. Why, I wondered, was British shipbuilding being showcased to India in the absence of a plan to buy a warship from the UK?

A few phone calls later I had my answer! A cash-strapped UK defence ministry, unable to pay for the two aircraft carriers on order with BAE Systems, had offered one of them to New Delhi. In the circumstances, a few news reports in India on “high-quality British shipbuilding” could only be useful.

Given that the Indian Navy already has four aircraft carriers in the pipeline — the lame but functional INS Viraat; the infamous Gorshkov (renamed INS Vikramaditya), being constructed in Russia; a third (so far unnamed) carrier being built in Cochin Shipyard; and another to follow that — Britain’s offer of yet another carrier might be considered wildly optimistic. But desperate times demand desperate measures and the UK is conducting its greatest strategic downsizing since the 1968 retreat from the Suez. David Cameron’s new government has initiated a strategic defence and security review (SDSR), which involves defence spending cuts of 20-30 per cent to bring down military expenditure to below 2 per cent of GDP.
Amongst the several multi-billion pound programmes that seem certain to be pared is the Carrier Vessels Future (CVF) programme: the £5 billion ($8 billion) construction, mainly in British shipyards, of two 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers called the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales. These were ordered before the global economic downturn; the Labour government thought they were essential for the Royal Navy to retain its centuries-old capability to project power across the globe. Even amidst today’s cost-cutting, current defence secretary Liam Fox had hoped to build both carriers, operating only one with the other kept in reserve. But just days ago, BAE boss Ian King revealed that the government had asked BAE Systems to evaluate the cost of cancelling the CVF programme entirely.

With £1.2 billion ($1.8 billion) already spent on the CVF, and 4,000 skilled workers busy fabricating the Queen Elizabeth, London knows that an outright cancellation would ruin Britain’s shipbuilding industry. And so, one of the aircraft carriers hopes to wash up on India’s shores.

The government of India must quickly decline the British offer. London could be forgiven for concluding from the fact that four Indian warships are on order from Russian shipyards, and the Indian Navy wants to build more abroad, that Indian shipyards cannot meet the country’s maritime security needs. The truth, however, is that India looks abroad for warships because of the MoD’s inability to streamline planning, sanctions and procedures, and to bring together the skills of the multiple agencies that contribute towards developing and building a warship.

Consider our production facilities. The MoD owns and controls four defence shipyards: Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL); Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE); Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL); and the recently (and misguidedly) acquired Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL). Then there is Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL), a central PSU, which is building an aircraft carrier for the MoD since none of the MoD shipyards has facilities large enough for this. And, very recently, there is the emergence of state-of-the-art private sector shipyards — L&T, Pipavav and ABG Shipyards — with global-quality facilities.

Also in the production loop is the Directorate General of Naval Design (DGND), which has achieved notable success in the conceptual design of the Indian Navy’s recent warships. Each shipyard, too, has its own design department, which translates the DGND’s conceptual design into engineering drawings of the thousands of components that make up a ship. Then there are Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) laboratories, which produce high-technology systems like sonars, radars, torpedoes etc., many of which money cannot buy. The existence of these technology labs is a key attribute of a warship-building country.

Finally, there are the educational institutions that feed into, and off, these agencies: the departments of naval architecture in IITs and universities; research departments in colleges and universities that feed into DRDO laboratories and assist them by taking on research projects.

India has, in varying degrees, every component of this ecosystem. The MoD must bring them together, compensating for one component’s weaknesses by harnessing another’s strengths. Instead, South Block’s proclivity to view each entity individually creates the impression of a shortfall of capacity.

Consider how the MoD is processing India’s second submarine line, allowing two of the six submarines to be built abroad although massive capacities will lie unutilised in L&T and Pipavav (Business Standard has carried a four-article series on this from August 30 to September 2). Here is the MoD’s logic: Pipavav has the facilities but not the experience; L&T has the experience, but not the facilities; MDL has both, but it doesn’t have the capacity!

Astonishingly, South Block considers it preferable to buy submarines from a foreign shipyard, rather than bringing together Indian capabilities that could produce them far cheaper, create jobs and build capacities. The MoD must be stopped from building abroad. India needs a significant navy but it can only afford to build up quickly if the MoD brings together the warship-building eco-system. Indian money must build Indian capabilities, not pay for British shipbuilding industry to survive.


  1. Ha Ha. Wake up and smell the coffee. What you say will never ever happen. Remember this the conflict that happens when the MoD itself is the owner and the operator. And there is huge politics involved in feeding the labor and trade unions of each of the MoD run yards. Why will they give business to others. They would rather not give any orders at all, rather than shoot themselves in the feet. As for the private sector suckers who invested on MoD's promise , well, tough luck. Go ahead and build something else for the commercial sector like cruise ships, container ships, LNG carriers etc and atleast try to squeeze something back from your investment. The govt/babu controlled defense and even public sector business is too corrupt, riddled with vested interests and everything for anyone else to have a crack at it. Sorry.

  2. There may be an opportunity here. The British are in a desperate situation and may agree to a less favourabe deal. Not only we may get a good bargain but we may extract extra goodies in the form of technologies transfer. We should also ask for their future Type 26 frigates to be built in India in exchange of us buying their AC and saving them contract cancellation penalties.

  3. There may be an opportunity here. The British are in a desperate situation and may agree to a less favourabe deal. Not only we may get a good bargain but we may extract extra goodies in the form of technologies transfer. We should also ask for their future Type 26 frigates to be built in India in exchange of us buying their AC and saving them contract cancellation penalties.

  4. @Ajai sir

    this news that Britain had offered its 2nd aircraft carrier to India has been doing rounds for couple of months.

    Whatever the reason (strategic, monetary or anything) it makes me feel somewhat preplxed that Britain which once built the worlds largest empire, built Suez Canal mainly for faster transport of raw material from India, its most prized possession; is now looking upto its former colony to tide over a messy situation it is in.

    Few Querries

    Q1. Does it mean Britain is losing its relevance in global strategic scenario?

    Q2. You say 'functional Viraat' (there is difference I believe between battle worthy and sea worthy ship). Whats the status of Viraat. (anycase it will retire by 2020)

    Q3. You say 'The MOD recently (and misguidedly) acquired Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL)'. 'misguidedly' why?

    Q3. Ideally how many aircraft carriers India needs? I say post Viraat, we keep one each for west-east coast, one for Andaman unified command and fourth in reserve. Your view on that sir.

  5. Col Shukla,
    Can your reports be submitted to a joint parliamentary standing committee on defence? You know the lever better than any one else.
    The only way to bring it into public domain is by getting parliament to discuss the internal capacities. MOD treats treats the private sector capacity as belonging to some enemy nation or what?

    With a $100 billion to be spent on weapon systems, Why are we not looking at creating jobs in India rather than sustaining them in US/UK/ ITALY or FRANCE. Russia has been the only notable exception who has give critical TOT to sustain some level of manufacturing here, even though they have started fleecing us for that (T90, Crystal blade tech). The rest just cry about outsourcing and other nonsenses.

    Indian money should create jobs here. We must buy technologies from these bankrupt nations but manufacture here.

  6. "Here is the MoD’s logic: Pipavav has the facilities but not the experience; L&T has the experience, but not the facilities; MDL has both, but it doesn’t have the capacity!"

    how better can it be said!

    Ajay: i think i am becoming a fan of yours.

    - nanovacuum (US)

  7. Excellent article Ajay ! as usual.... But hopefully the MoD encourages private sector and not the inefficient public sector....

  8. Exactly Ajai, Instead of paying and help revive/sustain foreign defence manufacturing, it's time that we invest in India and Indian companies to ensure they not only develop capability but also develop the best ships in the world.

  9. Very nice and informative article Mr. Shukla. One of your best articles i must say. You have projected things very nicely. Indian private shipyards are ready to meet the challenges but the only problem is corruption in ministry. Every single person there is out for sale. And i really hope this article creates good impact on the someone whose voice is heard.

  10. I agree with you - 'Indian money must build Indian capabilities, not pay for British shipbuilding industry to survive' but look at the past, haven’t we done the same for bailing out the cash strap Russian yards viz 3 Talwar class frigates in late 90s and now the 3 follow on Talwar class frigates and the increased price for the refurbishment of aircraft carrier Gorshkov!! When will the decision makers at Navy and MoD learn to look within Indian competence and take pride in our national shipbuilding capability?

    I do understand MoD mindset to have the high technological weaponry platform to exist within its core domain DPSUs, however, in my opinion, there is enough for all, be it the private or DPSU yards.

    Our Indian yards should be globally competing and not fight within. I feel we could have a scenario where say let MDL specializes in building the Destroyers and Frigates, GRSE in Corvettes, XFACs, LST(L)s and Fleet Tankers, GSL for OPVs and STS and CSL for Aircraft Carriers. To start with the private yards like Pipava could be nurtured for building the LPDs and Floating Docks, ABG for PCVs, Training ships etc and as regards the conventional submarines – there could be a consortium consisting of MDL, HSL, L&T, Navy, DRDO with outside technological support rendered from premier educational intuitions like IITs IISc, etc to get the feel of the fresh, young thinking power.

    Each of these Indian yards could specialize with their core product and not bite into other yard's slice and be globally competitive. If this gets workable, I am sure this could encompass the assets of each of them for providing a complete indigenous win-win solution and who knows a time will come when we could well emerge from a defence buyer nation to defence supplier nation!!

    Remember “Do bandoron ke beech mae hamasha lomadi bazi maar jati hi’. Its just a food for thoughts. Any takers!!

  11. Maybe all this
    china's string of pearls thing is a hype to frighten India to keep on buying foreign weapons and the world knows that the Babus are so corrupt that they will sell their daughters for money let alone pride of India.

  12. Terrific! Now our man is in full scale battle with the Babudum for and on behalf of India

    India for Indians!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. You are the man Mr. Ajay.

    Fantastic article. Now this is what we call as patriotism.

    Looking forward to days when INDIA will build and deploy world class carriers within short periods.

  14. A big NO to foreign arms dealers. Whether UK defence budget is 36.5 billion pound but they buy mostly UK built arms so the money goes to the people but in India buy happy Indian armed forces are more eager for foreign arms and the tax payers money gone.

  15. I generally agree with what youo have put across but there is one point, that the AC might be offered to China !!! Should we let that happen? Any thoughts on that

  16. You are Iron Man,
    But sorry to say these small articles about big problems in INDIA will not change anything.

    If you really want to change something, change GOI and change the way we choose to make GOI. We choose thief and crooks.

    Tell me anyone in the GOI who has formal education in public administration and planning ?

    Mamta banerjee ? AK Antony ?
    The job of a leader is always given to a person who doesn't know what is meaning of leader.

    The only time babus agreed with each other, when they wanted to raise salaries of babus.

    Every time I read a article like this I feel ashamed of my leaders

  17. Ajay, In next 10000..00 year India will be importing weapons as it helps the politicians and their family to live lavish life and study abroad. All the import of foreign made weapons and killing of Indian R&D in defense sector was initiated in Nehru and will continue for ever. In short we are responsible for electing these thugs.
    Above all we Indians are fools to vote for the D H Politicians, whose only objective is live like royal and make the rest Indians as beggars, sell Kashmir, export jobs to EU/UK/US by importing all weapons indirectly creating trillion dollars of job in these countries. For the sake of Nehru legacy and summer holiday these politicians are giving our tax to Kashmirs.
    Away from the legacy of politicians,I hope I have taken a right decision to do work in algorithms to optimize the learning curves of UAV's and UCAV in a defense lab in foreign organization. The research in this above area is not possible in India as our beloved politicians would never allow this project in India for short gain of money. I have understood that its impossible to change the thugs, all I could do is export my knowledge to a foreign nation.

    We love to live divided and fall flat on our face in front of thugs.

  18. We are a banana Republic, export our tax money to feed the foreign citizens and force us to live life like beggar.

  19. You all are stupid babus who want the taxpayer for your stupid ass poor quality military equipment made in India so as to benefit your stupid unions and corrupt politicans rather than get the best military equipment for those who live and die on the front lines.

    Better to let the humble jawan die with a malfunctioning weapon and sink screaming with water in his lungs around the burning pieces of his ship than you lose out on a piece of the spending pie, eh.

    One day, we will find all of you and hang you from the lamposts.

  20. Guess what Col. Shukla? You ain't the favorites of BAE no more. No more free tickets for you from now :)

  21. Dear Ajai,

    Really missing your eye opening visits to HAL, MDL, GRSE etc. Its nice that you are visiting Pipavav. Can you please also add to your schedule the following places:

    1. MDL (update on P15A and Scorpene construction)
    2. GRSE (update on P28)
    3. HAL (update on IJT)
    4. CSL (update on IAC)

    The reason I am asking is that news from these quarters has been very quite recently (barring scorpene). It would be great to get some update on any one of the above.

    I know its a lot to ask for but I am a greedy jingo.


  22. Ajay Shukla ji - After this article - I have become your airconditioner - not fan - comprende Amigo?

  23. There is nothing new here - any educated person can see what the problems are and most people with some common sense know how to fix it. But then there is the reality of the situation as many have pointed out. Choking beurocracy, Vested interests, corruption, etc. We cannot eliminate these outside forces, only try to lessen its effects. In that regard I think the Navy has a good compromise by allowing some arms to be imported and at the same time work towards more and more local content. You just can't force a wholesale change on this situation.


  24. Shukla ji, how do you expect our government to "bring together the warship-building eco-system" when we cant even organise ourselves for the Common Weath Games.
    Frankly I dont care from where they get an AC from as long as they get something and not make the armed forces starve.

  25. where is lsp -5 is it dead and any info about lsp-6 what changes are made in lsp6

  26. Hats off to you Ajay Sir. Nice article. hope the politicos turn a ear to your forum

  27. In Response to,
    21 September 2010 18:26
    "We are a banana Republic, export our tax money to......."

    Dear friend,
    Your language says how corrupt you are. No more to judge your point of argument. India has 10% unemployment today. and if we give some opportunity setting up defense production line in India, it will help to check the growing unemployment.

    And your other point. "malfunctioning weapon" failure and success is a part of a development process. Unless u rectify that bug no single weapon is inducted.

    Unless we start our self... towards self-reliance, no one going to feed our mouth for free.

    "One day, we will find all of you and hang you from the lamposts."--
    You don't need to do hard. We are living in India.
    Come on Stop your open beak to be fed by other country. Grow up man!!!

  28. As a reader of Broadsword from day one, would just say, its just keeps getting better :)

    V r ur troops Col. Shukla. We(readers/citizens) can send in letters in writing to buttress your battle with Babus(if it helps)

    Bring it on !

    As Anon said,
    Bharat for Bharatiyas !!!!!

  29. Now West is passing through their own versions of glasnost and perestroika. Nobody bothered for the fall of Soviet empire and none shall bother for other empires. For us primarily India is to rise and that can be possible only with the enhancement of internal capacities and maximum internal coordination and cooperation.

  30. One of the most daring article i have ever read! Precise, clear cut but we have to consider positive things from such a deal. Negotiate for a bare minimum price, get the technology, start building new ones immediately. Of-course UK will do no harm to India other than extracting money, but for us important things are security, technology, becoming self-sufficient. We can always build vessels for a cheaper price and can compete with UK & such countries once we master the technology! This is better than what China is doing!(stealing). Learn India, learn business my dear Indians!!

  31. very good article, so there is advantage of being a ex fauji in journalism, u can seperate the wheat from chaff on defense subject. keep up the good work

  32. Threre no strategic thinking or vision in this country is a given fact. That MoD is the most corrupt and useless of all the government departments is also a known fact. On top of this we have the most incompetent defence minister whose only job is to make sure that India totally defenceless and unprepared for any type of situation. I suspect that CIA moles that have infiltrated Congress party are in a large majority still within the CWC. Antony and his minions are a good example of how foreign intelligence agencies are controlling India and nibbling away the root of this country.

  33. India has to leap-frog in its Indigineous Defence Manufacturing setup. Sorry to say, oldies need to retire and make way for fresh blood. Too many bureaucratic hurdles make private indegenious participation highly un-rewarding.
    There needs to be Indian Private Industry competitors to the Government owned defence Research and Manufacturing Institutions such as DRDO, HAL, NAL, ISRO, and others so that the incompetencies in such govt institutions is high-lighted for everyone to see. What India needs is few devoted men who can do effective Project Management and not some "boot-lickers". I am surprised by the fact that our defence scientists get carried away by small successes and don't follow through to complete a marketable system. Prototypes/Demonstrators are not enough. Hope somebody in leadership reads this to correct their behaviour and bring some discipline in their approach. Otherwise its not difficult to understand why CWG is such a mess. Its totally due to the lack of integrity and devotion to duty in the leadership ranks.

  34. Aha! Col Shukla.. This is what I like about you.. you have the ba!!s to commit to a stand and make a statement, instead of beating around the bush like most do...

  35. To optimize our resources and develop synergy among the assets which we already possess, we need a Defence Minister who is committed to such issues. I can think of no better person than Suresh Kalmadi.

  36. I personally think that it would be a great idea to get this from the know it will be delivered on time(relatively) will work. it will also massively upgrade your capabilities....the price is not so bad either...especially consider what you will be paying for the c-17s. India will always remain an importer of weapons, its a fact, get used to it. There are many reason but to me the simplest is go to any neighbourhood in india and offer them a foreign passport...they will eat your hand...people in india (on the whole) whether rich or poor have no love it. It is something that is to be used whilst you have no other choice. I know many won't like my post but that is the reality of your current place of residence.

  37. Mertz,

    I agree that there is a certain amount of truth in what you say with respect to the aspirations of Indians in general to aspire to move to pastures greener.

    You say you are Austrian..irrespective of whether you are Austrian or Chinese, let me ask you this... have you looked at the annual immigration numbers of our favorite place on earth, i.e., the USA? Are you telling me that Europeans and Chinese and others dont wish to cross over? Your condecension reeks of patronizing attitude coming from either the hubris of becoming a "great power" or the superiority complex of being from a place with pretensions to a great past.

    Either way, India, in its own dithering, bumbling, maddeningly slow manner will be ahead of whatever place you are from... both in terms of the freedom its people enjoy while still a developing country... or by virtue of becoming one of the epicentres of the world in economic terms.

    As for arms and imports, surely we will do what is finally good for the nation ( and a few political pockets for sure, just like in Europe or China). Getting a carrier from the English by itself wont be a bad thing, but letting our private shipbuilding industry rot is a massive mistake. Despite the accepted shortsightness of our beaurocracy, we wont go completely off the track dear Mertz. In the meantime, enjoy your Sachertorte or your kǎo yā as the case might be... and quit worrying about us and our troubles.. people like Col. Shukla will ensure that the common ma here will try and make his voice heard.

  38. Heberian,

    Why are you so defensive? Truth generally hurts, though the smart usually learn from it. I have spent lots of time in india and know it quite well. I say the things how i see it.

    Is this the future you are talking about?

    Please don't talk about freedom in just killed over a 100 stone throwing innocent people including children. Guess those people don't qualify as humans, right? or will you make another "indian" centric justification.

  39. I think it is an issue which requires serious thinking.If we r indeed offered these Elizabeth class carriers we should buy it as these would be state of the art ships that would give us a huge leap in sea dominance.these carriers would carry 36 f-35B/C ,AEW like E2D HAWKEYE, don't forget the fact that China is building 4-5 carriers on VARYAG model.By the end of next decade u willfind them moving into indian oceanand needling us the way they do now at our borders.So 2 elizabeth class carriers in addition to 3 carriers(vikramaditya+IAC 1+IAC 2)will give us air power that will secure the entire indian ocean.We can also negotiate for ASTUTE sub tech to build our own SSN's.I see no harm in buying from BRITS if we simultaniously support indegenous shipbuilding.for this we need more budjet for NAVY compared to what we have now.In the past too we have bought VIKRANT and VIRAAT from britain which have served us well.Also this will enhance strategic partnership with british which DAVID CAMEROON is keen to have with us.Shipmakers like PIPAVAV/L&T are just taking off and PIPAVAV already has a huge contract to build patrol vessels for NAVY and L&T is already building hulls for ARIHANT class SSBN.AIRCRAFT CARRIERS are complex projects and these shipbuilders are not ready for that yet. SHAZ

  40. Jayant:

    I have not permitted your response to Mertz to be posted. It is factual, concise and makes a valid point, but responding to (shallow) comments about India only endows them with authenticity.

    Best to end this discussion here.


  41. Suddenly you are gung-ho about L&T and Pipavav. You have visited both the shipyards & enjoyed their hospitality. You have been advocating their participation in the navel projects, especially L&T’s for “P-75I sub”. I hope you have not been enrolled by them for their PR job.
    I do hope for the sake of this country you are independent and fair. In the past also you have changed positions. You had been avid Opponent of Arjun Tank at one point of time favouring import of T-90’s and then suddenly you changed position and supported Arjuns.
    I hope you are credible.

  42. If Great Britain and the US go down, we will have lost some of our greatest allies. Yes, so far we have been at loggerheads, but look, going forward these two countries are the ones with whom we have the best relationship and common shared values. Who else would you trust? France and Germany? Those guys will happily sell to Pakistan. Russia keeps behaving like con artists, a la Admiral Gorshkov. And India certainly doesn't look like it can go it alone against China+Pak!


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