Thursday, June 13, 2024

EXCLUSIVE: United Shipbuilding Corporation In Talks With Indian Navy On At Least 5 Projects!

By Staff Correspondent

Inside Scoop On The Collaboration

Alexei Rakhmanov, the Chief Executive Officer of the Moscow-based United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) spoke to Indian Aerospace & Defence on the sidelines of the International military-technical forum ARMY-2023. The CEO exclusively told the publication about extensive ongoing discussions with the Indian Navy. 

In a major disclosure, Rakhmanov revealed that these negotiations encompass five to six projects that could significantly influence India’s naval trajectory, showcasing the resilience of Russia’s defence supply chain, even amidst global tensions like the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The top USC executive touched upon the project’s depth but was reserved about intricate details, a stance that mirrored the Indian Navy’s own discretion on these developments.The Russian state-owned company is already working in tandem with the service and the country’s shipbuilding industry, with big developments on the anvil.

The USC CEO has spoken about at least three such developments on different occasions.

First, the frigates. Rakhmanov revealed that two stealth frigates that are currently under construction for the Indian Navy in Russia will be ready for delivery by the second half of 2024. He said that he anticipates one Krivak-class (also known as Talwar-class) vessel to be ready for delivery in May next year, while the other to be prepared by October 2024.

What Is The Frigate Deal?

 Krivak II-class frigate Pytlivyy in Sevastopol Bay; File Photo

In October 2016, India and Russia signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for four stealth frigates, after which a $1-billion deal was signed for direct purchase. The basic structures of the first two frigates were lying at the Yantar shipyard in Russia, and are now being finished.

“The ship is in the final stages of development; in two months time, it will go for sea trials,” Rakhmanov said, in response to a question during ARMY 2023. The supply of some components has seen delays, he admitted, adding that some equipment has “made sort of a round-the-globe trip” to reach Russia due to the Western sanctions. Payment delays have also played a part, he said. These two frigates were originally supposed to have arrived in mid-2022, but COVID-19 disruptions caused the initial pushback of delivery dates.

Highly placed sources have said that such issues are on par for the course and are not anticipated to create any disruptions.

The USC CEO clarified that “the ship construction is moving ahead according to the refined schedules for testing and completion. While minor setbacks of less than six months have been observed in certain phases, we’re making commendable progress. The diesel generators on the first Frigate have had successful trial runs, and preparations for factory mooring trials are progressing rapidly.”

Pact With Goa Shipyard Limited

On the sidelines of ARMY-2023, Rakhmanov also told IADB that the Baltic Shipyard ‘Yantar’ will manufacture two frigates between 2023 and 2024. The subsequent pair will be constructed at Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL). In November 2018, Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) signed a $500 million deal with Russia’s Rosoboronexport for material, design and specialist assistance to locally manufacture the other two frigates.

The two stealth frigates that are currently under construction at GSL  will see their deliveries fixed according to the payment schedule, Rakhmanov explained. Going by the original schedule, GSL is scheduled to deliver the first ship in 2026, and the second one six months later.

As revealed by the United Shipbuilding Corporartion CEO, The primary weaponry for these frigates will be armed with the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles. This is expected to boost anti-ship capabilities of the abovementioned  vessels. 

 Krivak II-class frigate Pytlivyy in Sevastopol Bay; File Photo

Rear Admiral Arjun Dev Nair, the Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff (Staff Requirements) in an earlier interaction with IADB said, “Since its induction, BrahMos has solidified its position as the primary heavyweight Surface-to-Surface Missile (SSM) on major Indian Navy surface platforms, echoing the spirit of the Make in India initiative. Its versatility in undertaking Maritime Strike Operations, Anti Surface Warfare (ASuW) Operations, Sea Denial, especially off choke points, and Seaward Defence is unmatched. The BrahMos Missile system’s performance has been commendable, gifting the Indian Navy with unparalleled reach and precision for high-seas missions and coastal defence.”

Beyond being a potent weapon, BrahMos is a testament to Indo-Russian collaboration.

USC Campus In India On The Cards?

At ARMY-2022, Rakhmanov had said, “we are preparing ourselves to build a full-fledged campus in India. We want to become a shareholder in a shipbuilding yard in India. We understand that there are a bunch of interesting options still in front of us and hopefully we will quickly make up our mind.”  

During that conversation, he had highlighted that the USC had also looked towards acquiring Pipavav shipyard but it eventually went bankrupt before anything could materialise..

Russia’s robust engagement in India’s strategic self-reliance initiative signals a convergence of geopolitical and economic interests, reflecting a renewed commitment to strengthening bilateral ties.

Engine Supply Chain Resiliant 

In the complex realm of global defence procurements, the sourcing of engine supplies frequently becomes a linchpin—either bolstering or disrupting alliances. India had earlier chosen Ukrainian gas turbine engines for the stealth frigates, despite Russia’s own capabilities. The time, the gas turbine engines from Ukraine had been procured for the frigates being built in Goa. They were to be handed over to Russia to install them on the Admiral Grigorovich-class guided-missile stealth frigates that are being made for the Indian Navy by a Russian shipyard as part of a $2.5 billion deal.

Following the Ukraine conflict’s ripple effects, anxieties around engine acquisitions have heightened. During ARMY-2022, it was emphasised that the transition from Ukraine dependency had been made, spotlighting Saturn company’s development of the engines. 

Rakhmanov had stated that “the dependency on Ukraine has been dealt with a while ago and the Saturn company has developed the engines. We don’t have any dependency on Ukraine, that is history now. Should the Indian side choose the Russian engines (for the frigates under construction) we will be happy to supply them.”   

Strengthening Ties & Promising Horizons

The alliance, blending Russian technical expertise with India’s strategic aspirations and manufacturing prowess, paves the way for a new chapter in maritime defense collaborations, promising a future of mutual growth, security, and prosperity. As curtains fall on discussions, the narrative that emerges is one of strategic collaboration, and shared aspirations. 

The long-standing Indo-Russian maritime industrial collaboration is increasingly being seen in the corridors of power as a testament to what shared vision and trust can achieve. How the multiple projects under discussion between the United Shipbuilding Corporation and the Indian Navy shape up is yet to be seen. Further details are awaited.

Note: As of 23 August 2023, Andrey Puchkov was appointed as the new USC CEO. This story was filed ahead of the appointment

(Indian Aerospace & Defence was in Moscow for ARMY 2023: 9th International Military-Technical Forum organised by Russia)

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