By Milind Kulshreshtha,
Over the weekend, the Indian Navy received the first of its modern generation Destroyer class warship, christened INS Visakhapatnam, under Project-15B (P-15B). The stealth destroyer is 163 m long, with a displacement of 7400 tonnes and can speed up to 30 knots using the four Gas turbine configuration propulsion system. The P-15B warships have been designed by the Indian Navy’s Design agency and the construction carried out by the Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) shipyard. In 2011, Indian Navy signed this contract for the indigenous construction of four next generation Destroyers under the P-15B project and keel for the ship was laid down in 2013 under the code Y12704.
Indian Navy Destroyers
In the traditional naval terminology, a clear distinction exists between the Frigates (like INS Talwar or Shivalik) and guided missile Destroyers (e.g. INS Mumbai) class of warships. Here, going by the naval role and tonnage of the warships, the Destroyers come next only to an Aircraft Carrier (INS Vikramaditya) in terms of their reach and endurance. Destroyer-class warships like INS Visakhapatnam shall play a crucial role as main surface combatant for any Air, Surface and ASW operations. These warships are highly capable of hunting and killing the enemy submarines in waters farther away from the Indian shores.
The Destroyers have always been the mainstay for the Indian Navy and the finest warships under this category have been fielded by the Indian Navy as their multi-role multi-mission battleships. For example, the Rajput class (Kashin) destroyers of the 1980s era till date participate in the Naval operations and exercises alongside other modern navies of the world. India’s indigenous Destroyer construction programme commenced in the late 1990s with the three Delhi class (P-15 class) warships and this was followed by three Kolkata class (P-15A) destroyers commissioned a decade later. Presently, under the P-15B (Visakhapatnam Class), a total of four warships are planned (Visakhapatnam, Mormugao, Imphal, Surat). This line of world-class destroyers aptly showcases the indigenous warship design and weapon system integration capabilities of the Indian Navy and is a reflection of the long and tedious journey towards the goal of self-reliance embarked upon by the Navy.
The Indian Navy’s responsibilities to safeguard a large coastline of 7516 Kms and about 1100 offshore islands along with 2.01 million sq km Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) have been enhanced in the present geopolitical scenario. Destroyers like the P-15B class shall play an important role in the larger oceans of the Indo-Pacific, making the Indian Navy a potent force.
The guided missile Destroyers are deployed for various responsibilities like escort duties with the Carrier Battle Group to protect the Naval fleet against any air, surface and underwater threats. For this role, the P-15B ships have the latest generation complement of sensors (radars, sonars, Electronic Warfare systems). The major weapons fitted on board are SSMs (BrahMos), MR SAMs, Gun mounts (76mm SRGM and AK-630 CIWS). The underwater package of the ship includes the latest generation HUMSA-NG, Active Towed Array Sonars, four deck-fitted Integrated Torpedo Tubes and two sets of underwater Rocket Launchers. An indigenization of up to 75% in terms of not only the hull, but many weapons and sensors has been achieved on board.
These modern warships shall also give an extended Indo-Pacific capability to the Indian Navy against an ever growing fleet of Chinese submarines. Though during hostilities, every submarine is wary of confronting a Destroyer due to the warship’s advanced ASW capabilities and longer endurance for continuing the ‘cat and mouse’ hunt. However, the modern submarines are getting stealthier, possess advanced sonars and carry torpedoes with much longer ranges and this makes the submarine chase ever riskier for any surface warship. On the other hand, an integrated approach with use of maritime surveillance aircrafts like P-8Is shall play a critical role in protecting such a high value target against adversary threats on the high seas.
Series Production of Destroyers
A guided missile Destroyer predominantly forms a part of a larger Fleet level operations as a Flagship or as a support ship in a Carrier Battle Group task force. Though, a one-to-one sea battle between guided missile Destroyers is not being considered here, but the Chinese shipbuilding program for guided missile Destroyers is highly advanced and noticeable. The Destroyers with China’s fleet may be considered as an indicator of their growing naval power in the Indo-Pacific region. As per the media reports, China plans to double its existing guided missile Destroyer fleet by 2025. Recently, in April this year, China commissioned Nanning, a modified Type 052D guided missile destroyer which is the third of its class to enter service. Presently 18 Type 052D destroyers are in service with the PLAN, while the first ship of this class was commissioned in 2014, the twenty fifth destroyer of this class was launched last year. Nanning is an improved version of the 7,500-tonne guided-missile destroyer of its class and is the second largest destroyer after the Type 055 destroyers. The Type 055 destroyers are 12,000 tonnes displacement warships, with two of these already commissioned and six more under construction.
For the Indian Navy, the P-15B Destroyers are seen as the follow-on of the three already commissioned P-15A Kolkata Class warships (INS Kolkata, INS Kochi and INS Chennai) so as to leverage the advantage of a series production. The keel for the first of the class P-15B warship was launched in 2013 with a design which was largely aimed towards maintaining the predecessor P-15 (Kolkata class) hull form and propulsion system. The weapons and sensors fitted on board were attempted to be maintained similar to the earlier possible configuration. Warship construction for any nation remains a highly complex activity and every class of ship has its own challenges. It is expected that the next of the P-15B Class ships may have a shorter delivery cycle and would also overcome any of the operational teething issues noticed during the sea exploitation of INS Visakhapatnam. It may be interesting to remark here that a similar approach in the submarine construction programme to garner the advantage of numbers through a series production for specific type and class of submarines (be it previous HDW or present Scorpene class) is yet to be achieved due to various reasons.
Integration of Weapons and Sensors
The Indian Navy has yet again demonstrated its unique capability to successfully integrate weapons and sensors supplied by diversified OEMs, thereby giving a flexibility to choose the best from an indigenous source or from anywhere in the world. This is an important aspect as the warship systems are required to operate in an integrated manner so as to achieve optimum war-fighting efficiency. This is an unavoidable constraint where the war-fighting resources on board the ship are limited due to space, however, these are required to provide a superior engagement capacity against an adversary. Here, the Combat Management Systems (CMS-15B) with C4I capabilities assist in providing the Common-Operational Picture for an offensive and a defensive role against any emerging Threat in the three dimensions. The Indian Navy too has achieved Fleet Level functionality by integrating the CMS systems of the individual warships through an indigenous Tactical Data Link. Through this Tactical Data Link, not only the warships within the fleet communicate amongst each other but also the aircraft and submarines operating in the close proximity of the Fleet. Thus, the Fleet Commander onboard the Flag-ship retains the Command and Control of the Naval operations at sea. The CMS-15B fitted onboard the Visakhapatnam class warships is yet another testimony to the indigenization of the Combat Management System and the Tactical Data Link capabilities under the technical stewardship of the Naval R&D. India is one of the handful nations which boasts of an indigenous CMS development capability.
The P-15B missile guided destroyers shall be seeing operations with the Indian Navy for the most part of this century. The warships shall undergo regular maintenance cycles as per the laid down engineering practices of the Indian Navy to keep the platform fighting-fit at any given time. An array of modifications and system upgrades are expected to take place throughout its operational life cycle to keep these warships potent and contemporary. The P-15B guided missile Destroyers are going to make a potent difference in the Indo-Pacific and shall be the pride of the Indian Navy, especially during the multinational exercises.
(The author is a Strategic Analyst with a keen interest in technology related to C4I solutions and Multiplatform Multi-sensor Data Fusion (MPMSDF). Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).