By Kamal Shah
Cochin Shipyard Limited has created history by building the nation’s first-ever aircraft carrier. The INS Vikrant is a testament to Indian capabilities for future self-reliance. The project has successfully and squarely placed India amongst an elite group of carrier-capable countries and made the Indian Navy an even more formidable naval force. This achievement has given the shipyard the steely resolve and confidence to continue such sophisticated ship-building projects. CSL’s Chairman & Managing Director, Madhu S Nair, is determined and full of conviction that there is no limit to challenge and endeavour as he engages in a conversation exclusively with Indian Aerospace & Defence’s Editorial Director, Kamal Shah.
Q. Following the success of INS Vikrant, CSL has demonstrated its ability to build an aircraft carrier. How does the company see the discussions on the Navy’s need for a third aircraft carrier (IAC-2) being another opportunity for CSL to showcase its ship-building skills? What potential investment opportunities do you see it offering?
Ans: INS Vikrant is the first naval ship-building project undertaken by the yard, with its successful construction and delivery, CSL has clearly lived up to the expectations of the Indian Navy. The complete infrastructure facilities, skill sets, resources, ancillaries and supply chain ecosystem that have been developed or built up during the course of this project is readily available with CSL for the construction of a second Indigenous Carrier, if the Indian Navy decides so. CSL would only be happy to be associated with any future project requirements of the Indian Navy.
Q. Is CSL ready to undertake yet another massive indigenous aircraft carrier project? If finalised, how does the company plan to go about it, what are the expected timeframes, and what learnings from the development of INS Vikrant effort help streamline the process?
Ans: As we have been saying, CSL would be happy to put its best foot forward to ensure that the next aircraft carrier project is also a success. More so, if the decision is to build another carrier based on the existing base platform of Vikrant, with the necessary technological upgrades and inevitable modifications, CSL is confident of delivering it in a much shorter overall time frame than that of Vikrant.
Q. Does CSL possess the technical and human resources capabilities to build an aircraft carrier even bigger than INS Vikrant? If so, could you help paint a picture of what the Indian Navy could potentially expect?
Ans: CSL has demonstrated all the necessary capabilities to build an aircraft carrier of the highest quality. As already stated above, all these facets are readily available to be put into use for the next carrier construction of the country. The key additional requirement for a larger carrier, if so desired by the Indian Navy, would be the requirement of a larger dry-dock.
CSL is already constructing a large dry-dock of 310 meters in length at an investment of close to Rs 1800 Crore. This dry-dock will be ready by 2024. The dock floor loading capacity of this new dry-dock has also been designed to handle heavier and larger aircraft carriers of the future, both for construction as well as for refits. Hence CSL would cover all requirements to construct and deliver even a larger aircraft carrier, if the Indian Navy so desires.
Q. Apart from being a strategic game changer for the nation on its path to self-reliance, mega-defence projects such as aircraft carriers serve as a tremendous employment opportunity across the spectrum of ship-building, making both a direct and indirect impact. Furthermore, such projects accord defence start-ups and MSMEs across the board the much-needed exposure to bolster the nation’s indigenous defence development efforts.
Ans: It is a game changer for the nation. With 76% indigenous content, indigenous construction of IAC has resulted in direct employment generation for over 2000 employees of Cochin Shipyard Ltd. In addition, it has also resulted in indirect employment generation for approx. 13000 employees for over 100 MSMEs & OEMs and over 500 sub-contractors and ancillary industries, thereby bolstering plough back effect on Indian economy.
Q. How does CSL see itself as a partner to this ecosystem, and what aims does the company have to enhance defence manufacturing, skill and capacity building alongside research and development in India?
Ans: Building the IAC-1 acted as a catalyst for skill development at CSL, which is a present-day challenge being faced by many shipyards in India. Skill levels were progressively and proportionately upgraded in line with the complexity of this project. Apart from individual skilling, the project led to enhancement of the detailed Design and Engineering capabilities of CSL. The project also created a substantial and efficient defence ship building ecosystem in the region, including but not limited to logistics, spares, project support systems etc, resulting in the 76% indigenous content that the IAC-1 boasts of.
This consists of OEM’s, ancillary industries, and MSMEs. Active involvement of numerous indigenous suppliers served to enhance competition, increase efficiencies, facilitate faster and more significant absorption of technology, and created a multi-tiered industrial ecosystem, which, if sustained, will stand the nation in good stead. This will not only ensure a wider skill base, but will also trigger innovation, and promote participation in global value chains as well as exports.
Q. Apart from being a historic milestone in indigenous ship-building, how do you see INS Vikrant as a new platform bolstering India’s naval capabilities?
Ans: An aircraft carrier is the central platform for protecting and projecting naval power at and from the sea. Aircraft carriers usually operate with a composite task force, including multi-purpose destroyers, frigates and logistics ships. The Carrier Task Force (CTF) is a self-contained and composite balanced force, capable of undertaking the entire range of operational tasks. The induction of the INS Vikrant into the Indian Navy is the right step towards realisation of the Indian Navy’s requirement of having two operational carriers to guard our vast coastline.
Q. Apart from aircraft carriers, does CSL plan to make indigenous warships?
Ans: Currently, the yard is constructing eight Anti Submarine Warfare Shallow Water Crafts (ASWSWCs) for the Indian Navy. CSL has also been declared as the L1 bidder for the construction of six Next Generation Missile Vessels (NGMV) for the Indian Navy for which the contract is expected to be concluded soon.
Q. What is CSL’s outlook for ship-building until 2030 regarding commercial and defence, respectively?
Ans: CSL plans to handle both defence and commercial vessels simultaneously. We have shifted our attention to green energy and green shipping methods.
Q. India aims to achieve a $5 billion export target in defence. Does CSL expect foreign orders for ‘Made-in-India’ ships?
Ans: CSL has proven capabilities to build vessels of International Quality at Indian price. So if there is a requirement for construction of foreign defence ships, CSL is fully geared up for it. With the experience of building the mammoth IAC and the experience that we are gaining on the smaller defence platforms like the ASW SWCs, we are confident that we can successfully meet the requirements of the foreign navies and coast guards. This would however be subject to government clearances, as may be required.
Q. Does the company have a regional outlook for the Middle East and possibly Africa?
Ans: CSL in the past has joined hands with several clients in the Middle East. Currently we are focussed in the European market. We are in talks with a handful of West European clients (such as Norway, Germany and Netherlands etc) for various shipbuilding projects with advanced green technologies for decarbonisation in Shipping. For these projects CSL is partnering with major global players in the technology front also.
Q. Sailing ahead from the success of INS Vikrant, are there any new organisational developments that you would like to share which might be important to our readers?
Ans: CSL recently formed a separate division called Cochin Shipyard Strategic and Advanced Solutions (CSAS). We now have a pan-Indian presence with fully owned subsidiaries Hooghly Cochin Shipyard Limited, Kolkata and Udupi Cochin Shipyard Limited, Karnataka which have started their operations.