INS Visakhapatanam shows growing Indian ability to build warships economically - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 20 April 2015

INS Visakhapatanam shows growing Indian ability to build warships economically

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Apr 15

On Monday, eight months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi commissioned the first Project 15A guided missile destroyer, INS Kolkata, the first of its successor class vessels --- INS Visakhapatnam --- was launched into the water at Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL).

INS Visakhapatnam, the first of four stealthy destroyers coming up under Project 15B, began taking shape on January 23, 2013, when MDL started fashioning 2,800 tonnes of Indian-made warship steel into the warship’s hull. With this partly-build structure now floating in water, INS Visakhapatnam will be built up by 2017 into a 7,334-tonne behemoth. After trials, it will be commissioned in 2018 as India’s most heavily armed warship.

It will be joined in the fleet at two-year intervals by three successors: INS Paradip, INS Marmagoa and a fourth vessel, yet unnamed.

The most remarkable feature of these destroyers is not their 32 world-beating Indo-Israeli anti-ship-missile defences called the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), or Barak 8; nor the arsenal of 16 Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles that can sink ships or strike land targets 295 kilometres away; nor the heavyweight torpedoes that can destroy enemy submarines 100 kilometres away.

The most remarkable feature of these warships is that, tonne-for-tonne, they are not just one of the world’s most heavily armed but also one of the cheapest.

India’s warship building edge

Displaces (tonnes)
Cost per tonne (US $)

INS Kolkata (Project 15A)
Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai
Guangzhou-class destroyer
Jiangnan Shipyard, China
INS Visakhapatnam (Project 15B)
Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai
Daring-class (Type-45) destroyer
BAE Systems, UK
South Korea
KDX-III Sejong destroyer
Hyundai, South Korea
USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-51) destroyer
Bath Iron Works, Maine, USA
Akizuki-class destroyer
Mitsubishi, Nagasaki, Japan
Project 21956 destroyer
Severnaya, Russia
Hobart-class destroyer

Underlining the benefits of designing and building combat platforms in the country, the four Project 15B warships will cost the navy Rs 29,348 crore, an average of Rs 7,337 crore per destroyer. Tipping the scales at an estimated 7,334 tonnes, INS Visakhapatnam will cost the navy just about Rs 1 crore per tonne, or $159,750 in 2014 prices.

The Project 15A destroyers are built even cheaper --- at $92,210 per tonne --- but the fall of the rupee and inflation in labour and materials cost have raised the price of their successors.

Only China’s Guangzhou class destroyers were built cheaper, at $146,870 per tonne in 2014 prices. However, as combat platforms, Guangzhou-class destroyers are not in the same class as INS Visakhapatnam. Their anti-missile defence consists of 48 Russian-origin SA-N-12 Grizzly surface-to-air missiles, which have ranges of under 40 kilometres, depending upon the target. The LR-SAMs on the Visakhapatnam-class, in contrast, shoot down incoming anti-ship missiles --- the most significant threat to surface warships --- at ranges out to 70 kilometres, and have a far better hit probability.

Similarly, the Brahmos anti-ship/anti-surface missile, which is both supersonic and has a range of 295 kilometres, is regarded as superior to the Guangzhou-class’ YJ-83 anti-ship missiles, which have ranges of about 200 kilometres.

The Daring-class destroyers, which spearhead the Royal Navy’s surface fleet and which the United Kingdom boasts are the finest air defence destroyers in the world, cost an estimated 193,650 per tonne to build.

Few would dispute the technological pre-eminence of the US Navy’s DDG-51 destroyers, of which USS Rafael Peralta is the newest. Boasting the Aegis Combat System for air defence, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Tomahawk strategic land strike cruise missiles; these Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are the gold standard in multi-role capability. However, this capability comes at a prohibitive $205,000 per tonne, despite the economy of scale that comes from building about 100 of these warships.

Even more expensive is Japan’s Akizuki-class destroyer, which Mitsubishi is building for $232,370 per tonne; and Australia’s Hobart-class destroyer, designed by Spanish shipbuilder Navantia and built in Australia, which will cost the Royal Australian Navy an estimated $333,300 per tonne, more than double the cost of INS Visakhapatnam.

The capabilities that the navy has announced for Project 15B indicates the design of these warships --- rooted in the three destroyers of Project 15; and evolved into the three of Project 15A --- has continually improved. Although these vessels use the same power plant --- four Ukrainian M-36E Zorya gas turbines --- INS Visakhapatnam, which is significantly heavier at 7,334 tonnes than the 5,800-tonne Delhi-class destroyers of Project 15, can work up the same speed (30 knots, or 56 kmph).

The Visakhapatnam’s crew of 325 officers and sailors, include an air complement that operates the ship’s two helicopters. The destroyer carries 1,000 tonnes of fuel, which allows it to patrol the oceans for 8,000 nautical miles (15,000 km; 9,200 miles) at 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). For entering an area that has undergone a nuclear, chemical or biological (NBC) strike, the Visakhapatnam has a “total atmosphere control system”, which cleans the air through a filter system.


  1. Not sure about others bot oz ship will not compromise for ergonomic comfort of crew hence the price could be high. Ajai if you could also highlight the level of automation incorporated to reduce the manned crew count that would be great. This is one area which may have added additional expenditure on these modern ships.

  2. It is isncerely hoped that besides the Israeli radar , a 3D Italian or french radar as on the Vikrant class is installed and not a outdated lw-08. The gold standard would be a collaboration of BEL WITH american companies to build under TOT the new radars being installed on the new genration American built destroyers and capable of inertcepting cruise , strategic missiles and 30 times more powerful than the aegis clas now being made redundant

  3. Dear Ajai,

    Does this cost estimate for the Indian ships include free/subsidized land and other freebies the government owned shipyards get which a private Indian or foreign shipyard would not receive. None the less I agree that India's ability to build these advanced naval vessels at home is impressive.


  4. Indian Naval Ships are fully air conditioned and provide world class crew comfort. This has been the case from early seventies. There is no compromise of habitability standards. A fit and happy crew is the first requirement of a fighting ship!

  5. Long time reader from North America, first time poster. Those numbers don't seem to compute to an extent. I.E. The Rafael Peralta had a contract cost of about ~680 million or about 82,000 a ton(the Peralta is flight II which is about 8400 tons). Even if we assume a doubling of the price, that still only comes out to about ~163k.

  6. Can anybody tell why we require so many war ships, destroyers and submarines? “The Indian Navy is one of the largest in the world, and as of 2014 possesses two aircraft carriers, one amphibious transport dock, 9 Landing ship tanks, 9 destroyers, 15 frigates, one nuclear-powered attack submarine, 14 conventionally-powered attack submarines, 25 corvettes, 7 mine counter-measure vessels, 10 large offshore patrol vessels, 4 fleet tankers and various auxiliary vessels and small patrol boats.” Despite this, the Navy failed to prevent the 2008 terrorist attack. They have also not been able to warn our fishermen about straying into enemy waters and getting arrested by Pakistan, Srilanka, Bangladesh etc. What useful purpose are our Navy personnel serving for the country? Except giving employment to so many people, majority of these equipments are not required to fight a naval war against China or Pakistan. Without a permanent base in the Indian Ocean China cannot attack India because Nicobar Island and Malacca strait is strategic location to impose naval blockage against China. The Only USA and Western countries are still spreading rumors against China, so that they can sell their defense equipments to India. None of the Naval vessels are fitted with effective array Sonar to protect the ships from submarine attack. One or two nuclear submarines are quite enough to destroy a few Chine oil carrying vessel near Malacca strait.
    It is unfortunate that majority of the Defense officers have no clear idea about our actual defence requirements and do not know what is happening in the world. The defence policies followed by all the previous Governments were to make this country one of the biggest military powers in the world and not a developed country like Japan, South Korea, Australia and Canada.

  7. Great Going Indian Navy ! This is a result of a far reaching vision by naval officers in the 70's who envisioned that the navy will have to at some point become indigenous thereby self reliant in many aspects .

  8. Ajai,
    I think you should also add the number of man hours that each country spends per tone displacement. As far as my knowledge goes, we are around 700+ man hours/ton and japan is somewhere around 80+ man hours/ton.

  9. @ Divay

    Much of that has already been amortised on previous warship classes, built over the years.

    What has been included in the calculation for 15B is all infrastructure specifically built for this contract.

    Let's not even go into the historical cost structure of foreign shipyards. You would find that they have been (like MDL, etc) almost entirely paid for by government.

    Private shipyards coming up now, of course, are another matter.

  10. @ Anonymous 11.41

    Welcome, Americano! Now that you've broken your silence, I invite you to post more regularly.

    To answer your question, the public figures that you have for the USS Rafale Peralta includes only the "construction" of the basic warship. To arrive at the price of the entire combat-ready warship, you would need to add a whole lot more. Let me refer you to a link:

    The relevant paragraph:-

    "Ship construction contracts do not include important equipment like guns, radar, combat systems, missile launchers, etc. Those are bought independently as “Government Furnished Equipment,” though ship construction contracts do pay to have that equipment installed in the ships. Many of those contracts are not publicly announced, or not broken out specifically by ship. As such, any ancillary contracts covered here are suggestive and informative, not comprehensive. Indeed, those “ancillary” contracts make up the largest portion of the ship’s total cost."

    Do I answer your question?

  11. The Vishakhapatnam is also going to be fitted with Nirbhay, right? And what about the Maitri SAM? Surely the navy wants another close range air defense option.

  12. We need at least 25 Destroyers including the current 10 in service & 5 under construction. We will have 15 Destroyers by 2024, but before that around 2018, we should continue to build these type of Destroyers with a new improved design of 9,000-10,000 tonnes catagory & we should build 10 of them.

  13. In order to build more warships, India have to increase the purchase of foreign equipment like radars, guns, missiles, sonars, electronic and electric parts and it take time to sourcing from different countries to merge.


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