New yards, techniques, to speed up warship building - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 20 August 2012

New yards, techniques, to speed up warship building

Mazagon Dock's new "modular" shipyard, which will begin functioning 
next month. The Goliath crane, which can lift 300 tonnes, looms over the workshop that is still under construction. 
(Photos: copyright Ajai Shukla)

By Ajai Shukla
Mazagon Dock, Mumbai
Business Standard, 21st Aug 12

A humming construction site in Mumbai’s Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL) holds the promise of a new era in warship building in India. Everything about this emerging new shipyard is enormous: the 200-metre-long workshop; a Goliath crane that dwarfs everything around; and an expansive “wet basin”, which is an enclosed harbour that will comfortably house two large warships.

This is MDL’s new Rs 826 crore “modular” shipyard that is expected to slash down the time taken to build warships for the Indian Navy. Defence shipyards currently take over ten years to build major warships like destroyers, frigates and corvettes. When the new yard is commissioned in June 2013, frigates will be built in 60 months; destroyers will take 72 months.

Building warships faster is crucial for the navy. Its Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) of 2005 envisions a 160-ship navy, with 90 capital warships like aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and corvettes. Today, however, the navy has just 134 ships, with less than half the destroyers and frigates it needs. Bridging this gap of 26 ships, while also replacing warships that are being decommissioned after completing their 30-40 year service lives, requires a major boost in indigenous build capability.

To achieve this, MDL --- along with the other big defence shipyard, Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE) --- is abandoning traditional shipbuilding. That involves welding a hull together and launching it into water, after which swarms of craftsmen painstakingly work in the warship’s cramped compartments, installing propulsion gear, electrically equipment, weapons, sensors and hundreds of kilometres of pipes and wiring. This is a slow process.

Instead, construction will now be like a giant Lego game: convenient 300-ton blocks will be built separately, and then assembled together into a complete warship. Each block will be fabricated in a well-lit, ventilated workshop with multi-level access, and will be complete with all the piping, electrical wiring and fitments that run through a ship. Each block must dovetail precisely with its neighbouring block, every wire, pipe and compartment coming together in perfect alignment.

PK Bhattacharjee, General Manager of the Mazagon Modernisation Project (MMP), who is conducting Business Standard through an exclusive, pre-inauguration tour of the shipyard, explains what happens next. After a block is completed in the worker-friendly environment of the modular workshop, the workshop’s roof is retracted and the rail-mounted Goliath crane reaches in and lifts out the 300-tonne block. It then transports it to the slipway where it takes its place in the warship that is taking shape. After about 20 blocks come together, the 3000-tonne semi-built warship is launched into the water and towed to the “wet basin”, where the superstructure, and weapons and sensors are put in.

“The capability to lift 300 tonnes is what makes modular shipbuilding possible. For decades, we have worked with 40-tonne cranes,” explains Battacharjee.

The first warships that will emerge from this process are 7 frigates of Project 17A. MDL will build four frigates, while GRSE will build three. The Project 17A frigates will be outwardly similar to their predecessors, the three Shivalik-class frigates of Project 17, which MDL has just completed. But modular shipbuilding is expected to ensure that Project 17A is completed must faster.

Back in MDL’s corporate office the new chairman, Rear Admiral (Retired) Rahul Kumar Shrawat, explains that the technological challenge of modular shipbuilding lies in designing each 300-tonne block so that it is fully kitted and fits exactly into the next. Since this process is new to India, Fincantieri, an Italian shipbuilder, will provide consultancy for the new design process.

“MDL’s board, in coordination with our partner shipyard, GRSE, will decide on the design consultancy for Project 17A. It will be a shipyard’s decision. The navy has specified only that integrated (modular) construction must take place,” says Shrawat.

Dutch company, Royal Haskoning, has functioned as prime consultant for the MMP, which has taken five years. Haskoning has prepared the design, organised site surveys and geotechnical investigations and is now supervising construction. Hyderabad-based Nagarjuna Construction has done the civil works, including the 8000 square metre workshop with a retractable roof.

A key construction challenge has been the Goliath crane, a Rs 89 crore, 2200-tonne structure that traverses on rails and extends 138 metres across the yard. Designed by Konecrane of Finland, the Goliath crane was physically erected by Fagioli of Italy. Kolkata-based company, McNally Bharat, was the Indian contractor.

Most pleasing to MDL officials is the third element of the MMP: a new wet basin that offers 25,000 square metres of berthing space for under-construction warships. MDL has long functioned with just the 14,000 square metre Kasara Wet Basin, which was built in 1774 to service warships of the East India Company. But, with three projects simultaneously ongoing, MDL had to berth under-construction warships at the Naval Dockyard, several kilometres away, transporting labour, stores and machinery to the naval facility everyday.

From next month, the wet basin and the Goliath crane will start functioning. The rest of the workshop is scheduled to be inaugurated in June 2013.


  1. Ajai
    60-72 months is still a long time.

    you say ships will be ocnstructed of 20 blocks and launched sans superstructure into the wet basin.

    Two issues to note:
    a)20 X 300T/block = 6000 tons.
    b) why add the superstructure when it can be done during the build process?

    Other yards -Chinese warship bldg yards for instance - launch almost fully built ships into the water for final outfitting.

    so, MDL will still be behind the curve.

  2. Cochin Shipyard has a 600 ton crane. Modular ship building has been around since WW-II (okay ,just the hull). It is just MDL that has been backward.

  3. PIpavav has 2 goliath Cranes that can do 600 tons EACH and a combined of over 1100 tons.

    A dry Dock that can build 2 Nimitz Class Aircraft Carriers simultaneously (660 meters long)

    Over 200,000 sq. ft of engineering space, block making site and automated panel line

    And almost 700 mts of outfitting berths.

    This among a host of other technical/infrastructural accomplishments

    I don't understand why you have never covered Pipavav in a manner that befits this capability which is focussed for Naval Warship building?

  4. They need the will to work hard not all these gizmos. Useless PSU oafs.

  5. Sir come and see the granite factory's in Tamilnadu which can lift 500 tonnes easily

  6. I enjoyed the contrasting 'perspective' to your previous article.

  7. This change has to be appreciated. Although it is late but better than never.

  8. Dear Sir,

    This article seems to be making up for your previous article. I once took an Australian VIP around the Maz Docks with a mandate to get the Royal Australian Navy to build some ships there. Later, over a glass of beer he advised me to get the Maz Docks to some basic standards of hygiene and infrastructure before we ask any one to come there. Nothing has changed since. A 300 T crane will make no difference. We need more professional management ( An Admiral does not guarantee that ( Lions and Deers)) and better qualified manpower before any change can even be dreamt off.


  9. privt from r able to win race aginest gov.dock but govt.give small oppurnity to them i think pipva yard have quick make IAC-2 Rather then cochin,main problem of gov.yard there employee and management not work hard and they not have any target of time just like scorpion sub.they earn more time and money from govt ships r look like govt file (of steel)ha ha ha

  10. @Anon 21 August 2012 11:27 :

    "Two issues to note:
    a)20 X 300T/block = 6000 tons.
    b) why add the superstructure when it can be done during the build process?

    Other yards -Chinese warship bldg yards for instance - launch almost fully built ships into the water for final outfitting."

    Well, the hull occupying the building dock is the key bottleneck and the higher the throughput you get there, the more efficient the yard. That is why, the moment the hull is reached a stage where it can float, it is floated out and the superstructure (typically a 600 ton module), is lifted whole and welded on to the hull at the quay side , along with the remaining works that can be done on quayside like final outfitting.

    If the Chinese are lauching "fully" built ships, well, it is not efficient and sounds plainly dumb.

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


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