Monday 14 June 2021, 02:51 PM
Evolution of Naval shipbuilding in India
By Rear Admiral Anil Kumar Saxena, NM. Retd | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 4/15/2021 2:27:34 PM
Evolution of Naval shipbuilding in India

Historical Perspective

India’s supremacy in shipbuilding can be traced back to 2300 BC, the period of Harappan civilization.  It  is    believed  that  the  first  tidal  dock  of  the  world  for  berthing  and  repairs  of ships was built in Lothal in Gujarat during that period.For many centuries indigenously built ships took Indian trade and culture to distant corners of  the  globe,  during  the  reign  of  the  Mauryas,  the  Guptas,  the  Satavahanas  and  the southern kingdoms particularly the Cholas and the Pallavas.During  the  18th and 19th  centuries  many  new  shipbuilding  yards  were  set  up  in  Bombay, where large number of ships were built for the British Empire. Some of the historical shipsbuilt by Indian shipbuilders included HMS Asia ( which participated during the Battle of Navarino in 1827), the frigate HMS Cornwallis (onboard which the Treaty of Nanking was signed in 1842),  HMS Minden (on which the lyrics of “The Star Spangled Banner “were composed by Francis Scott Key and which became official US anthem) and the most famous  HMS Trincomalee, which was launched  on  19  October  1817,  carrying  46  guns  and  displacing  1065  tons.

This ship was later renamed  HMS  Foudroyant,  and  is  reputed  to  be  the  oldest ship afloat, built  in  India.  The  ship   has   now been converted into National Museum of the Royal Navy and is berthed at Hartelpool. The  ship  is  the  living  testimony  to  the  fine  shipbuilding  skills  of  Indian  craftsman  that  existed centuries back and supremacy of Malabar teak which was selected as the construction material against Britishers’ preference of British Oak.In   spite   of   India’s   glorious   maritime   heritage,   there   was   no   indigenous   design   or shipbuilding  capability  at  the  time  of  independence  in  1947.  We  missed  Industrial revolution  during  colonial  rule  due  to  British  policies  and  shipbuilding  in  India  stagnated when the world was transiting from Sail ships to Mechanized ships. India had only 33 ships at  independence  ,  mostly  second  hand  ,  inherited  from  the  Royal  Navy  ,  which  were grossly inadequate for India’s Maritime defence required to protect 7500 kms of coastline,  2million square kilometers of EEZ and other maritime interests.

Post Independence

Post independence, the decision makers and naval visionaries had the foresight to realize the importance of shipbuilding as a vital sector of national importance and they embarked on the   path   of   reversing the status quo by spelling out a vision for self reliance in naval preparedness.Two significant actions were taken by the government of India and Indian Navy in the late 50s  and  early  60s.  Firstly  ,  the  Navy  in  early  fifties  recruited  its  first  naval  architects  and created  the  Directorate  of  Naval  Construction(  DNC)  as  a  nodal  agency  at  Naval Headquarters, for the acquisition and induction of all ships from abroad. Subsequently, the Central  Design  office  was  set  up  in  1964  for  carrying  out  full  fledged  design  of  ships  for acquisition  through  indigenous  construction.  This  laid  the  foundation  for  creating  a capability to design and build Indian Navy’s own combat platforms. Initial batches of naval architects were trained at UK , later the training was shifted to IIT Kharagpur and finally to the  Naval  construction  wing  at  IIT  Delhi.

The  Central  Design  office  later  became  the Directorate  of  Naval  Design(  DND)  in  1970  from  which  the  Directorate  of  Submarine Design  was  carved  out  in  late  eighties  and  the  Navy’s  Design  organization  was  divided into  surface ship group DND(SSG)and submarine  design group DND(SDG).Secondly  the  Government  acquired  Mazagon  Dock  shipbuilders  limited(MDL)  in  Mumbai and  Garden  Reach  Shipbuilders  and  Engineers(  GRSE)  in  Kolkata  and  also  got  the possession  of  Goa  Shipyard  Limited(GSL)  in  the  wake  of  the  defeat  and  unconditional surrender of Portuguese to India following the 1961 Indian annexation of Goa. Hindustan Shipyard Limited at Visakhapatnam which was under Ministry of Shipping was taken over by the Ministry of Defence in 2010.Indian  Navy’s  design  organization  and  the  DPSU  shipyards  played  a  major  role  in evolution of warship building in the independent India.

Warship  building  was  ushered  into  the  country  with  the  license  production  of  six Leander  class  frigates  in  the  1960s  at  MDL,  largely  with  British  support  for  the design.  The  aim  was  to  bring  in  the  modern  war  shipbuilding  technology  into  the country.

Modest Beginning

Indian Navy’s   Design organization made a modest beginning in the sixties and seventies with  indigenous  design  of  auxiliary  vessels  like  water  barges,  hopper  barges,  victualing barges,  ocean  going  tugs,  bucket  dredgers,  Landing  craft  utilities  (LCUs)  ,  Seaward Defence  Boats  and  Survey  Vessels  and  also  assisted  in  construction  of  the  new  Fleet Tanker Deepak which was being built in Germany. Although a modest start, but it proved to be  significant  in  the  learning  curve  of  the  organization  as  it  helped  in  design  and construction of future warships.

Survey Vessels

One of the early  design for a major ship produced by the newly formed directorate was for the survey vessels. These vessels were required by the Indian Navy to undertake shallow  water   coastal   and   deep   sea   hydrographic survey   and   collect   oceanographic   and geographical data used for  production of digital navigational charts and other publications.  These ships had a length of 88 meters and displacement of 1950 tons and also operated  a helicopter for extending the area for survey as well as for search and rescue operations. Eight ships of this class were built by GRSE and delivered between 1981 and  2002.


After  the  Indo  Pak  war  in  1971,  Indian  Navy  was  looking  for  a  platform  where  all  the lessons learnt from the war could be incorporated and also the surface and air capabilities could be packed onboard in addition to the anti submarine capability of the earlier Leander  class frigates. This implied that  a new frigate had to be designed to take care of additional requirements  except  for  the  propulsion  package  which  was  to  be  retained  same  as  on Leanders.  The  design  of  the  new  frigate  (  called  Godavari  class)  under  Project  16 commenced by DND(SSG) in early 1975   and three ships ( Godavari, Ganga and Gomti)  were built to this design in MDL and commissioned between 1983 and 1988. Indian naval designers  surprised  the  world    with  Godavari  class  ships  which  were  20%  bigger  in  size and heavier in displacement than the Leanders, used the same propulsion package as that of the Leanders but achieved higher  speed and endurance.


During late seventies , Indian navy  wanted to replace the Petya class ships of the Russian origin  with a new generation of Corvettes with it’s own specifications. This corvette  was to  also  accommodate  a  helicopter,  Russian  surface  to  surface  missiles  and  a  Soviet  gun mount. This amounted to packing a much heavier weapon package on board corvette than that  on  the  Leanders  with  displacement  less  than  half  and  added  capability  of  helicopter operation  on  such  a  small  platform  which  was  a  very  challenging  task.  However  the challenge was accepted and design of corvettes under Project 25 completed successfully by DND, in late 70s itself.    The design was subsequently validated by the model testing at SSPA Sweden. The orders for first two   corvettes were placed on MDL in 1986 and ships  were  delivered  in  1989  and  1990  respectively.  The  first  ship  of  the  project  of  was christened  as  Khukri    in  the  memory  of  the  old  INS  Khukri  which  was  a  British  Type14 frigate    and  sank  off  the  coast  of  Diu,  Gujarat  during  the  1971  Indo  Pak  war.  18  officers and  176  sailors  were  lost  with  the  ship.

The  captain,    Mahendra  Nath  Mulla  chose  to  go down with the sinking ship. He  was posthumously awarded India’s second highest military honour, the Mahavir chakra. In    memory  of  the  brave  martyrs  the  first  ship  of    new  corvettes  was,    christened  Khukri  and  it’s  launching  ceremony  was  aptly  solemnized  by  Mrs  Sudha  Mulla,  poignantly reminding  that old soldiers never die. These ships were known as Khukri class corvettes.Two more ships of this class were ordered on GRSE   with MDL performing the role of the  lead yard. These were delivered in 1990 and 91 respectively. Later in 1990s orders for four more  corvettes  with  slightly  different  weapon  package  under  Project  25A  or  Kora  class were placed on GRSE which were delivered  between 1998 and 2003.


The success of design of Godavari class and and Corvettes gave the required confidence to  the  Indian  designers  to  undertake  a  more  ambitious  design  of  a  large  destroyer  in  the early 80s. While Godavaris turned out to be 20% bigger than the Leanders, the destroyers were expected to be 80% bigger than the Godavaris. Lessons learnt from the Falkland war with  respect  to  use  of  aluminum  and  survivability  features  in  case  of  a  missile  damage were  to  be  factored  into  the  design. The  destroyers  were  envisaged  to  be  equipped  with long  range  surface  to  surface  missiles  for  area  and  point  defense,  surface  to  air  missile capability, anti submarine warfare capability, naval gun fire support, capability of directing aircraft and hangars for two helicopters to provide support to other units at the time of war. The propulsion package and weapon/ sensor fit was largely Soviet , speed expected was more  than  30  knots  and  ships  were  to  incorporate  useful  characteristics  of    platforms  of western and eastern origin based on Navy’s experience of   exploitation and maintenance of those ships. The design of destroyers with all these features carried out under Project  15  resulted  into  a  160  m  long  ship  with  displacement  of  6500  Tonnes.  The  first indigenously  built  destroyer  was  named  INS  Delhi  and  three  ships  of  Delhi  class  (  Delhi, Mysore  and  Mumbai)  were  built  by  MDL  and      delivered  in  1997,1999  and  2000 respectively. 

The  design  prowess  of  naval  designers  got  demonstrated  to  the  world  in  1999-2000 when  INS  Delhi  encountered  the  cyclonic  weather  during  sailing  off  China  sea.  Despite facing  waves  as  high  as  30m,  the  ship  came  out  of  such  rough  seas  with  no  structural damage and with all systems functioning properly. It was unprecedented for any ship in the world  and  this  real  life  test  of  structural  design  and  sea  keeping  qualities  boosted  the confidence  of  naval  designers  and  MDL  to  take  on  more  challenging  platforms  with  new technologies.

Stealth Frigates

One of the important aspect of survivability of a ship is its reduced vulnerability to detection by  the  enemy.  In  other  words  approaching  enemy’s  territory  without  being  detected.  The ship has many signatures that make ship vulnerable at sea e.g  to mines laid by the enemy and  to  attack  by  enemy’s    torpedoes  and  missiles.  These  signatures  include  the  Radar Cross-Section (RCS), Infrared signature( IR), Noise signature, Magnetic signature and the Extra  low  frequency  emissions  (ELFE  )  etc.  The  technology  required  to  reduce  the signatures   was available with only advanced nations who were not willing to part with it. They  rather  preferred  to  get  ship’s    parameters  and  do  the  assessment  of  signatures  by themselves. However this was not acceptable to the Indian Navy as it would have revealed the ship’s signatures to them. So it was decided to do the assessment in house by training some of the officers of design organization on softwares which were available for signature predictions. It also involved close interaction with various OEMs, the designated shipyard and development of signature suppression materials and a number of other activities.

The  stealth  features  were  incorporated  first  time  in  new  design  of  Frigates  (  Shivalik, Satpura  and  Sahyadri)  called  Shivalik  class  stealth  frigates.  These  were  built  by  MDL under  Project  17  and  delivered  in  2010,  2011  and  2012  respectively.  These  Ships  had many  firsts  to  their  credit,  in  areas  of  stealth  ,  CODOG  (  Combination  of  diesel  or  gas), increased  automation  through  Integrated  Machinery  Control  System(  IMCS),  enhanced survivability     under  damage  by  ‘zoning  of  weapon,  power  and  ventilation  systems,  Command Action  information  system  (CAIO)  with  fleet  functionality  , ATM( Asynchronous Transfer  Mode)  based  Integrated  Ship  borne  Data  Net  work(  AISDN)  and  Automated Power management system ( APMS) with EDC (Energy Distribution Centre) concept.A  big challenge was to integrate equipment, weapons and sensors sourced from different countries. In these ships the  equipment/ softwares came from US, Canada, UK, Germany, Israel,  Netherlands  and  Russia  in  addition  to  those  from  multiple  PSU  and  private companies  in  India.  Each  country  had  different  protocols,  different  power  requirements (  voltage  and  frequency)  ,  different  standards  of  systems  ,  they  worked  in  different  time zones  and  even  spoke  and  wrote  different  languages.  The  integration  of  systems  was  a mammoth exercise and integration required was   not only of hardware and software but if one may call it of humanware too. With successful completion of design and construction of project 17 ships the Navy and MDL has acquired the capability, of integrating any kind of complex  systems  on  board  ship,  which  was  extensively  used  on  follow  on  classes  of Frigates and destroyers.

Air Craft Carrier

The  most  ambitious  ship  that  has  been  designed  by  the  Indian  Navy  and  is  being constructed at Cochin shipyard  is the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier,  being built under Poject 71. Any surface  warship is required to meet the requirements of Float, Move  and Fight. In aircraft  carrier  an  additional  element  of  aviation  facilities  is  added  that  makes  the  design and  construction  more  challenging.  The  design  of    Indian  Navy’s    aircraft  carrier  went through series of iterations varying from 35000Ton Sea Control ship to 19,500 Ton Harrier Carrier  to  24000  Ton  Air  Defence  Ship  (ADS)  to  the  present  day  Indigenous  Aircraft Carrier(IAC) displacing about 40,000 Ton. With the design and construction of IAC , India has  joined  the  elite  club  of  few  countries  who  have  the  capability  of  building  an  aircraft carrier of this size.


Today India can boast to have the capability of designing and building any type of Frontline warships. The Government of India has taken slew of measures to encourage indigenous shipbuilding. As  a  result  large  number  of  big  and  small  Indian  equipment  manufacturers have come forward to develop ship borne equipment and systems. It is truly heartening to note that starting from scratch in sixties , today all naval ships and submarines, except two follow on ships of Russian 1135.6 project , are being built in Indian shipyards in true spirit of Atma Nirbhar  Bharat.

R. Adm. AK Saxena (Retd.)





भारत डिफेंस कवच की नई हिन्दी पत्रिका ‘डिफेंस मॉनिटर’ का ताजा अंक ऊपर दर्शाया गया है। इसके पहले दस पन्ने आप मुफ्त देख सकते हैं। पूरी पत्रिका पढ़ने के लिए कुछ राशि का भुगतान करना होता है। पुराने अंक आप पूरी तरह फ्री पढ़ सकते हैं। पत्रिका के अंकों पर क्लिक करें और देखें। -संपादक

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