- Feb 23, 2009
Can They or Can't They? : Is there Any Shipyard in India capable of modular Shipbuilding?
Is there any existing shipyard in India that can undertake modular warship-building? For that you ought to look for some visual signs of it, instead of asking any of the existing shipbuilders, be it Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL), Kolkata-based Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Ltd (GRSE), the Mumbai-based Mazagon Docks Ltd (MDL), or Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL). Because one will only get a warped answer that skirts the entire issue of modular shipbuilding and tries to oversimplify the industrial challenges. Before we go any further, let us examine in simple terms what modular warship-building is all about. Simply put, it was pioneered by Germany’s Blohm + Voss and ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (now grouped as the German Naval Group, or GNG), with the scope of work to be performed consisting of integrated modular designs (using TRIBON CAD/CAM software) for both onboard and off board systems that are designed specifically for the varied deployment of standardised modules (weapons, electronics and the ship’s technical equipment) which, in addition, are connected with the power supply, the air-conditioning and ventilation system and the data network for example, via standardized interfaces. All the components needed to run a specific system are accommodated in a single module. Depending upon the particular task they are required to perform, a distinction is made between weapons, electronics and the ship’s technical modules. Containers, pallets and mast modules are installed during the construction phase. Such modularity allows a wide range of choice in the selection of the on-board systems, whether it be with regard to the integration of customer-supplied systems or the use of products that the customer already has in service from various manufacturers. By simultaneously building the warship’s platform at a shipyard and the modules at the suppliers’ premises, a significant savings in both time and cost can be achieved. The modular construction principle also reduces the costs of maintaining and modernising the vessels during both periodic refits and service life-extension programmes (SLEP). Following the example and standards set by the GNG, other European shipyards like The Netherlands’ Schelde Naval Shipbuilding, the UK’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Fincantieri have actively embraced such shipbuilding practices and processes.
This now leads us to the question at hand: can shipyards like GSL, CSL, MDL and GRSE presently undertake modular warship-building? The answer is a clear no, as they are not only not equipped with the required industrial infrastructure, but do not have a standardized industrial roadmap or time-bound infrastructure development implementation plan. A cursory look at any of these shipyards will reveal that none of them have syncrolifts, which must be accompanied by related shiplift piers, and a dry berth. For modular shipbuilding the syncrolift (for transferring the various modules into the final enclosed assembly hall), dry berths and assembly halls must all be connected by a modern, land-level ship-transfer system. The only such syncrolift that exists within India is the one at INS Kadamba (Project Seabird) in Karwar, having been ordered on May 20, 2002 at a cost of US$32 million and delivered by Rolls-Royce Marine Systems in late 2004. Configured as a 10,000-ton shiplifter, it is a large marine elevator used for lifting warships out of, or lowering ships into, the water. To dock a warship, the platform and cradle are lowered into the water, and the vessel is then moved into place over the platform. When in position, the syncrolift raises the platform, removing the vessel from the water. Work on the vessel can then be done in situ, or the vessel transferred offshore, leaving the syncrolift available to dock other vessels. On completion, the process is reversed. The hoists, platform and associated ship-transfer system were all made in India and the project was managed by Syncrolift Inc, the world leader in shiplift systems with 224 installations in 67 countries.
Making matters worse is the disparate state of military-industrial cooperation between the Indian shipyards and their foreign counterparts. For instance, GSL has a longstanding agreement with Schelde Naval Shipbuilding, The Netherlands’ Maritime Research Institute (MARIN) and Haskoning Nederland BV, and Germany’s Raytheon Anschutz GmbH. MDL, on the other hand, openly declares its preference for ARMARIS of France, while CSL is now in bed with Fincantieri, with GRSE preferring to team up with the GNG. These varying and competing industrial tie-ups are now indulging in intense lobbying within the MoD for securing the contract for supplying the Indian Navy with seven Project 17A guided-missile frigates (FFG), seven Project 15B guided-missile destroyers (DDG) and up to three amphibious assault vessels. While the Navy’s Directorate of Naval Design (DND) has clearly indicated its preference for adopting the GNG’s proven and globally popular MEKO concept of modular design/construction, BAE Systems, ARMARIS, Schelde Naval Shipbuilding and Fincantieri haven’t yet lost hope and are exerting intense pressure on the MoD to at least share the cake (comprising the projected FFG, DDG and LPH projects) as a compromise. The latest entrant into the fray is South Korea’s Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction, which is offering the Dokdo-class LPH and KDX-3 DDG.
As far as selecting the design of the Project 17A FFG goes, ARMARIS’ Fremm FFG, the GNG’s F-125 FFG and Navantia’s F-310 FFG are likely to be shortlisted. The foreign shipyard whose FFG design wins the tender will be required to build two FFGs at its own yard, using craftsmen from the selected lead Indian shipyard. For the Project 17A FFG, the Navy is seeking revolutionary solutions aimed at seamlessly operating under various scenarios under a global deployment spectrum. For instance, the Navy wants the vessel’s dwell-time in the area of operations of up to one year, without having to return to its homeport for scheduled maintenance during this phase. This concept of operations is thus aimed at doubling the warship’s time-on-station between major overhauls by maintaining the warship’s uninterrupted operational availability, and drastically cutting down (by several weeks) on long-transit times. In addition, a high degree of on-board automation will be specified to enable the warship to be manned by a crew complement of less than 100, with the crew complement on deployment being swapped at-sea according to a four-monthly cycle. An identical concept will be specified for the three planned seven Project 15B DDGs.
On the Indian Navy’s plans to acquire up to three LPH-based multi-role support ships (MRSS), a total of eight companies from The Netherlands (Schelde Shipbuilding with its Enforcer LPD), France (Armaris’ Mistral LHD), the UK (BAE Systems Marine’s Ocean-class LHD), Germany (ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems’ MHD-150), Italy (Finantieri’s 20,000-tonne LHD), the US (Raytheon’s San Antonio-class LPD-17), Spain (Navantia’s 21,500-tonne Strategic Projection Ship, two of which were ordered by Australia on October 9, 2007) and South Korea (Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction’s 14,500-tonne assault landing ship, three of which have been ordered for the ROK Navy) have begun lining up for marketing their respective solutions. It is believed that the Indian Navy originally desired a LPD design capable of undertaking sea logistics and humanitarian relief operations. Now, however, the Navy has projected a requirement for helicopter carriers (LHD) that will also host rear flooding decks to accommodate armoured wheeled/tracked amphibious assault vehicles and LCAC-type assault hovercraft. This means the MRSS will in essence be a LHD that will also be capable of supporting ‘over-the-horizon assaults’ by heliborne and LCAC-borne infantry forces. That being the case, the Navy’s to-be-selected MRSS will have to host on board at least six medium-lift utility helicopters.—Prasun K. Sengupta
Discuss here, the importance of modular shipbuilding and its relevance to construction of advanced warships; lament the lack of modular shipbuilding facilities at Indian dockyards; discuss strategies on incorporating modular shipbuilding into Indian shipyards, as also lessons that can be learned from other modular shipyards, including the Ingalls- that remained, until the 1990s, the only shipyard of its kind in the United States; whether modular shipbuilding is indeed the 'way of the future', or a hazard we can do without; and finally the relevance of modular shipbulding techniques to other sectors, including the civil nuclear industry.