- Oct 10, 2009
Some good snippets of information here , the GOI should speed up the process of selecting the second line of submarines so that we do not have yards lying empty afetr 2012, also why are the OEM prices not yet finalized?Interview: Chairman and managing director, Mazagon Dock Limited
Interview‘We have already imbibed this technology at the higher end of the learning curve’
Chairman and managing director, Mazagon Dock Limited,Vice Admiral H.S. MALHI (retd) AVSM, VSMFORCE December 2009
On Project 17
We are building three frigates of the Shivalik class, also called Project 17, of which the first ship is now in the final stages of being commissioned. Last time when we met, I had mentioned some issues with the GE turbine engine. That had set us back by a few months. We were keen on delivering the ship prior to monsoons this year. However, that deadline could not be met. The ship has undergone a number of trials at sea. At the moment, she is dry-docked, after which a final machinery trials are planned. The ship will be delivered to the Indian Navy early next year. We are conducting the trials in conjunction with Navy’s Overseeing Team as well as the ship’s staff and Naval Trial Agencies. The second ship of Project 17 will be delivered seven to eight months after the delivery of the first one. The third one will take that much more time after the delivery of the second one. Our biggest constraint is deploying limited number of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)’s representatives simultaneously on three ships for carrying out equipment trials and defect rectifications, if any.
On Project 15A
Our other major project is 15A, which is progressing very smoothly. The first ship of this Project will be out in August 2011 and the next two will follow in August 2012 and 2013. The first destroyer, which was launched nearly a year and a half ago, is being outfitted at the moment. The second one was launched on September 18 this year. This was the first launch at MDL and indeed in the country to be pontoon-assisted. Pontoon-assisted launch overcomes the tidal constraints, which we face owing to limited depth of water along our waterfront. The other advantage of this type of launching is that weight of the ship at launch is no longer a restricting factor and, therefore, much more pre-launch outfitting is possible.
We put pontoons fore and aft and take her out. This has been a big success and we are very proud of it. The third one will also be a pontoon-assisted launch, in March next year.
On Submarine Building
The third project that we are currently working on is Scorpene Submarine, where we have made considerable progress fabricating the pressure hull. The first boat is almost complete. In fact, we have progressed so well that the fabrication of the pressure hull for the fourth boat has also commenced. At the moment, we are waiting for the equipment to come from various OEMs. On receiving this equipment, it will be put on to the cradles and installed in the hull. Once all the equipment goes in, the hull will be welded together to form the submarine. For majority of the equipment, we are through with various stages of price negotiations and now we only have to place the order. Contrary to some press reports, our collaboration with the OEM is progressing very smoothly. Both sides are very happy with absorption of technology. All the issues that we had in the beginning pertaining to the infrastructure and industrial means (since we had not undertaken submarine construction for many years) have been resolved in very quick time. The skills of our workers are being admired by our collaborators, who consider them on par with the best in the world. In fact, the number of non-conformities or the defects that come up during construction have reduced drastically. We are really proud of our welders, structural fitters and other operatives. As far as infrastructure is concerned, we have procured additional equipment, so that work can be speeded up. At the same time, we are also setting up a full-fledged workshop with requisite facilities in order to carry out simultaneous construction of the hull at two different sites. This is being done to catch up, at the earliest possible, with delay which was not envisaged. This workshop will be set up at our Alcock Yard, where we earlier did heavy engineering work for the ONGC.
Despite our efforts in compressing the time-frame, there may be some delay in delivering all six submarines by the contractual date of December 2017, which is common in such complex project. To put this programme in perspective, TOT has been a huge success. We have imbibed the technology of constructing pressure hull very well.
On the Second Line of Submarines
Given the success achieved in TOT and immense capital invested in setting up enabling infrastructure and above all, intricate skills mastered by our workers, it would be downright silly, to put it mildly, in not throwing our hat in the ring for the next lot of submarines. As per our plan, the fabrication work on all six pressure hulls will be completed by 2011. Our workshops will then be ready to commence fabrication of the next lot by 2012. In fact, these facilities will lie idle in case the order for the next lot is not in place by then. In order to compress the time frame, as I said earlier, we are setting up a parallel line of construction in a new workshop at Alcock Yard. This second line can be used for the follow-on orders.
We are confident about our capabilities. It stands to reason, that a shipyard, which has in the past successfully delivered two SSK (Submarine to Submarine Killers) Submarines under German collaboration and is currently building six state-of-the-art SSKs, will have an edge over any other yard in the country in terms of skills and infrastructure to handle any such future projects. I would feel that there wouldn’t be anybody better equipped than us in the country. May I add here, that in terms of construction technology, building an SSK is far more complex than any other type of submarines, conventional or non-conventional, since SSKs are much more silent. It does not make sense for another shipyard learning on the job, since we have already imbibed this technology at the higher end of the learning curve. Moreover, capability aside, there are a number of intangibles. The workforce employed in submarine construction acquire a mind-set of their own, which lays greater stress on hygiene in work areas, use of correct tools and above all, a high degree of quality consciousness. I can see this difference on a daily basis between submarine construction and shipbuilding. All this comes from many years of submarine building work. I hope we don’t fritter away this capability like we did in the Nineties, which was really the Lost Decade.
On Future Projects
We are currently negotiating Project 15B for follow-on destroyers. While the project has been approved, we are in discussion with the Indian Navy and the ministry of defence. We are expecting an order of four ships. We are also looking forward to four frigates under Project 17A. The difference between Project 17 and 17A would be in the mode of construction. We will do ‘integrated construction’ in making 17A frigates. This is where the modernisation of the shipyard comes in.
We are moving very rapidly on modernisation of the yard and will complete this process in 2011. This will entail making a new wet basin to enhance our berthing capacity. Every time a ship is launched, it needs a berthing area for outfitting. We will also have a 300 ton Goliath crane (136m long and 92m high), which will straddle two existing slipways as well as the new Modular Workshop. This will be below the crane and will have a retractable roof, so that the blocks can be lifted and placed on the slipway. All the shipyards across the world have these facilities. The defence shipyards have only now embarked on this Modernisation programme. Once all this is in place, we will be able to do build ships faster. Constructing a ship through completely outfitted blocks will also enable us to farm out some block construction to other shipyards, private or public, and thus hasten shipbuilding process.
The major challenge is to bring about a change in the mindset. We have not had any delivery or commissioning of ships at MDL since 2001. And eight years is a long period. There is quite a difference in fabrication and outfitting phases of shipbuilding and the ‘Delivery’ phase. The Delivery phase which includes extensive tests and trials, including sea trials, calls for a more proactive attitude. One has to be very nimble-footed, quick in decision-making, good at ensuring and better coordination amongst trial various agencies. The mindset has to change completely, from fabrication and outfitting to operation of machinery and weapon systems. Getting people to reorient their thinking and mindset has been a major challenge. The other challenge has been to upgrade and create infrastructure in keeping with our company’s plan to meet the current and future requirements. We are building new facilities at Alcock Yard. Earlier, since the Offshore work was going on, we weren’t sure how best we would be able to utilise this space. Now, that we are no longer in Offshore business, our roadmap for Alcock Yard is quite clear. We will have second line of construction and third line of frigate destroyer construction there. We also have some land with waterfront at Nhava. This area is on lease from ONGC. We are talking to them for some sort of division of this area, so that we utilise the water front to launch ships from there or for outfitting work and to hasten the pace through parallel construction.
On Limited Capacity of Indigenous Shipyards
One could certainly look at private shipyards to bridge the gap in capacity available. As regards capability for integrated construction we will need some hand-holding from shipyards abroad, who have adopted this method of construction. This will be in the area of Build Strategy and detailed design.
On Making Ships Abroad or Within the Country
There is no gainsaying that all avenues for shipbuilding must be explored to meet the requirement of the navy, so that Maritime security imperatives are not compromised. We need to consider whether to build ships indigenously or go abroad to meet this requirement. Considering that indigenous warship-building is a strategic capability, it would be in the country’s interest, in the long run, that we encourage this activity. A fine balance really will have to be struck in between these two imperatives. It is possible that in the short term, one may get a ship a couple of years early from a foreign shipyard than if it was to be built indigenously. However, the spin-offs of building indigenously will tend to outweigh advantages, if any, of procuring from abroad. This is especially evident in areas of ancillaries’ development, standardisation and spurring infrastructure growth. There is certainly more comfort and confidence in building a ship within the country and this should not be compromised.
On Public-Private Shipyard Partnership
At present, there is no private shipyard in the country that has built a warship. Considering that we are moving towards integrated ship-building, the way forward is, to farm out construction of some Blocks. These blocks of up to 250-280 tons could be built at private shipyards. This will help the private shipyards initially to undertake warship construction with overseeing provided by the navy. In due course, the private shipyard will be well-poised to construct an entire warship. This ‘Lead Shipyard Concept’ exists all over the world. I think that both the public and private shipyards have their pluses and minuses and we should come together in a partnership to derive maximum benefit from each other.
On Level Playing Field for the Defence Shipyards
Once a naval order is placed with the defence shipyard, it becomes a captive supplier for the Service. In the case of foreign shipyards, when a contract is signed, it is made clear that the design would be frozen at a certain point. This does not happen with us. Though, as the ‘fixed price’ contracts take hold, we will have to insist on this. It is not uncommon for design modifications to happen at very advanced stages of construction, where some modifications are charged and others are absorbed. Partly due to this, slippages take place. Moreover, there is the C3I factor, that is, the CVC, CBI, CAG and Information as in RTI. They certainly provide the necessary checks and balances, which have made PSU, weather the storm, even in times of recession. However, on the flip side, they hang like the sword of Damocles over the PSUs, leading to slow decision-making, and in some cases, stifle initiative. The private shipyards have an edge here. Their procurement processes are certainly faster. However, they are looking only at the bottom line. As a DPSU, we have a certain responsibility towards the nation and the armed forces. No matter what happens, the ship will get delivered irrespective of how much the Company has made or lost.
As you may know, GRSE is in a very advance stage of forming a JV with DCNS. We are looking to tap that for our requirement. Most shipyards abroad will not agree to provide inputs for design alone. They want some ship construction order placed on them before they provide assistance with design. Designing a ship for modular construction, after all, is an important IPR.
On the Future of Navy’s Directorate of Naval Design
Over time, the role of the Directorate of Naval Design should ideally be confined to providing the concept design. They should formulate general staff requirements and ask the shipyards to take on from there. In the short term, DGND must leave the detailed design entirely to the shipyards. Project 17A should be a big step in this direction as the DGND, in any case, has not undertaken detailed design for modular construction before.
SOURCES: Key Publishing Ltd Aviation Forums - View Single Post - Indian Navy News and Discussions
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