Thursday, July 25, 2024

Indigenisation – The Navy Way

By Admiral Sunil Lamba (r.)

Former Chief of Naval Staff, Indian Navy 

It is a matter of great pride for India that the Navy has always sought and strived for self-reliance and indigenisation upon independence. The shipbuilding industry in the country has come of age and has built state-of-the-art stealth corvettes, frigates and destroyers. 

Maritime traditions are built upon a sound shipbuilding industry. India has inherited the world’s oldest dry-dock built during the Harappan period in Lothal, Gujarat, and the ancient dhow-building traditions ensured that Indian vessels sailed majestically along the maritime routes of the Indian Ocean through the ages. Many generations of Indian master shipbuilders sent Bombay-built sloops, schooners, merchantmen and men o’ war, sailing the high seas. 

Post-independence, India continued to evolve the warship building capability and in October 1966, the keel of INS Nilgiri, the first modern warship to be built in India, was laid at Mazagon Docks Ltd. The Navy and the nation’s warship building industry have indeed traversed a glorious journey within half a century. Defence Public Sector shipyards have emerged as major partners of the Navy for constructing indigenous warships and submarines, and have played a significant role in our transition from a “Buyers Navy to Builders Navy into a Designers Navy”.

From the commissioning of the first Leander class ship INS Nilgiri in 1972, over the last six decades, India has taken giant strides in the field of indigenous ship design and construction. Today, there are 37 ships and submarines, including an Aircraft Carrier, being built in Indian Shipyards – both public and private.  The Navy prides itself as, one of the few navies of the world, which has its own ship designing capabilities that is ably supported by indigenous shipbuilding. 

Partnerships with the DRDO as well as with public and private enterprises have resulted in many successes in the field of Electronic Warfare suites, Communication Systems, Advanced Underwater Sensors, Combat Management Systems, Radars and Metallurgy. The Navy has relentlessly pursued indigenisation and ‘Make in India’ remains an article of faith.

In order to give a further boost to indigenous capabilities, the Navy has outlined an Indigenisation plan, which has been shared with the industry. It is the Navy’s endeavour to encourage both the public and private sector to contribute towards progressively increasing the indigenous content so that future warships can be 100% ‘Made in India’.

Indigenous development of high-end technologies, their translation into defence hardware, induction into Service and standardisation is no mean task and the process requires overcoming multiple challenges for designers, manufacturers, and procurement processes. The primary expectations the Navy has from the Industry with respect to the platforms, systems and equipment that it seeks to induct is the completion of developmental projects and delivering them on schedule, within budget, without compromises on quality and performance. 

The combatant must have unflinching faith that the equipment will deliver whenever the need arises. Naval platforms are expected to be in service for 20-30 years and it is over this prolonged period that the weapons, sensors and equipment fitted are expected to perform, or rather outperform its expectations which makes it critical to have a robust Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul plan through the life cycle. 

The Navy, however is confronted by numerous challenges in spite of its achievements in indigenous shipbuilding, dependence on external assistance for niche technologies continues to hamper self-reliance. Complete self-reliance in ship design and construction is achieved through the indigenous development of high-end technologies, their transition into ship-borne equipment and systems, induction into service and standardisation. This is no easy task and requires dedicated efforts by researchers, designers and manufacturers.

The Navy has taken the first step in this direction by formally articulating its vision through documents such as the ‘15-year ‘Indigenisation Plan’ and the ‘20-year ‘Science and Technology Roadmap’. The ‘transfer of technology’ process, long used for international partnerships, is also set to undergo a paradigm shift with the Buy and Make in India and Strategic Partnership Models. This policy, along with initiatives like Make in India, would go a long way in building sustainable models for development of platforms and equipment requiring niche technologies.

The contract for indigenous construction of six conventional Scorpene submarines was signed in 2005 between M/s Naval Group of France as collaborator and Mazagon Docks Shipbuilders Limited is one example. Partnerships, such as these effectively nurture and develop indigenous capabilities and has helped MDL imbibe capabilities for indigenously building complex and technologically advanced vessels. 

The Navy’s commitment to indigenisation has helped India become self-reliant in shipbuilding and Indian Shipyards are building 37 of 39 naval platforms that are under construction.


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