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MDL Augmented To Build 11 Submarines And 10 Ships At Any Given Time: RAdmiral AK Saxena, Director, Mazagon Dock

Mazagon Dock's Director Shipbuilding R Admiral A K Saxena speaks with BW Businessworld's Manish Kumar Jha on the occasion of keel laying of India's advance frigate Project-17A. He talks about the design capability, stealth feature and integration of weapon suits in building warship at MDL for Indian navy. He also brings out MDL's outreach overseas.

Photo Credit : MDL


Project 17A frigates are designed as stealth frigates with indigenous weapons and sensors. What are technological advancements that have been incorporated in design concepts as well into construction methodology?

The P17A stealth frigates are follow on of P17 Shivalik class stealth frigates, three of which were delivered in 2010-12. Under P17A, seven ships are going to be built, four by MDL and three by GRSE. MDL will also perform the role of the lead yard. While P17A ships are said to be follow on of P17 Shivalik Class, there are changes in design of the Platform, equipment fit and construction methodology.  New concepts of Shipbuilding have been used in design and construction of these ships. P17A Ships are larger in size compared to Shivalik Class, with 4.5% GeoSim expansion. Most of the weapons/ sensors on Shivalik Class Ships were imported from Russia. 

However on P17A ships these have been substituted by western or indigenous system. Also some additional weapons and sensors have been incorporated to enhance the combat capability. Stealth features have been improved by reducing Radar Cross-Section, Infrared signatures and noise signatures.

The Ship’s machinery including the propulsion system has been retained same as on Shivalik Class. There are various new technologies which are being adopted on these ships. MDL was the first shipyard in India to establish a Virtual Reality Lab (VRL), Extensive use of VRL is being made for optimization of layouts of highly congested compartments in a virtually immersed environment, This will reduce rework, efforts and time on board ships.

We are also implementing PDM/ PLM in Project 17A. Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) helps manage the entire lifecycle of ship efficiently and cost effectively right from conceptualizing the idea, to design and manufacture, to exploitation, maintenance, repair and subsequent disposal.  

Product Data management (PDM) makes it possible to have a single view of all the data by having a single reference point instead of searching it through different repositories. The whole data need not reside in the central location but is accessible from the single location through links. 

PLM uses the concept of digital twin or duplicating a physical system digitally. The digital twin simulates the characteristics of its physical twin so that the potential problems in designing and manufacturing can we predicted and simulated before the item is actually manufactured. In case of a ship, due to it’s massive size and complexity it can substantially reduce the time and effort in actual construction. Problems that would traditionally be identified once the ship is built can be identified in the digital twin.

Frigates like the P17A have an open structure, they have a lot of equipment, fittings and many weapons displayed in the open, how do you define the stealth character then?

The stealth features ( Radar cross section) are predicted by modeling of the above water structure of ship, including all fittings, weapons and sensors on upper deck and on the super structure. In fact, we have softwares in Directorate of Naval Design where I was Director General for about 6 years, to predict radar cross section.  The hotspots or  areas of higher RCS are reduced by shaping the geometry of relevant structure or by using radar absorbent or radar transparent material. Most of the weapons are vertically launched, and deck fittings are concealed to provide a much cleaner deck. By reducing RCS of ship, the ship becomes less vulnerable to detection by enemy ship.

P17 alpha(Frigate) Keel laying ceremony at MDL 

Stealth features not only include the reduced radar cross section but also reduced noise signatures and infrared signatures. Noise signatures can be further divided into hydrodynamic noise Generated by ship’s hull and by Propeller as well as that produced by Propulsion and Auxiliary machinery. Because when they run into water, they produce a noise.

The propellers have been designed to have onset of cavitation at higher speeds to reduce hydrodynamic noise. 

The machinery running inside the ship produce noise which is transmitted through ship’s structure into the water and then these sound waves travel to a long distance and can be picked up by a submarine or a ship’s sonar.

A lot of work has been done on designing of the suitable mounts for installation of  machinery to reduce structure borne noise. Also special acoustic enclosures have been provided for some of the machinery to reduce air borne noise from stealth and habitability considerations.

To reduce infrared signatures,  temperatures of exhaust from propulsion and power generation machinery have been reduced by using Venturi effect and fluid injection. These reduce the plume and hot metal temperatures of exhaust and make the ship less vulnerable to attack by enemy weapons.

So, on infrared signatures, radar signatures on the noise signatures, a lot of work has been done to improve the signatures on Project 17 Alpha ships compared to P17 ships.

There are 7 warships to be built under P17A . What is the time line and if this could be a potential export opportunity for India to our friendly foreign countries?

The timeline for all ships are very challenging, much lesser that the Shivalik Class Frigates. And to meet the stringent timeline we are adopting various innovative methods to shorten our build periods. We are first time following the concept of integrated construction in which the fitting out of blocks will be undertaken in more conducive environment of workshops and then these blocks will be joined on slipway. Pre-outfitting of blocks before joining will save lot of effort and time.

The other new concept we are using is of parallel construction. The blocks of these ships are being built in different geographical locations simultaneously, which increases production output and in turn compresses the build period. P17A ships are being manufactured at 5 different locations, in MDL premises using its own manpower, at a different location in MDL by Subcontractor, in Nhava yard which is about 10 kms away across the channel, in Gujarat by a MSE Shipyard and some parts are being manufactured by another MSE Shipyard in Goa. In a way, we are using the concept of Public Private Partnership, in Project 17 A.

Apart from these new shipbuilding concepts we have also evolved new method of shafting and shaft alignment by using software based simulation, which will reduce the overall shipbuilding period by 8-10 months. 

All these concepts will not only help in meeting the challenging timelines of P17A, but will also go a long way in reducing the build period for the future ships as well. 

With regard to the export opportunity for India to our friendly foreign countries, MDL certainly has capacity and capability to build these Ships for export. If the friendly foreign countries require minor changes in design, or want some specific equipment to be fitted, then that can also be carried out. However, warships export has to be with involvement of the Govt. Also since the basic design has been carried out by the Navy and detailed design by MDL, Navy will have to be onboard during the process of design and construction of Ships for the foreign customers.

Stealth Destroyer INS Visakhapatnam (P15-B) at Mazagon Dock, Mumbai 

Could you give us the update on Stealth Destroyers (Project 15B- Visakhapatnam Class) which is according to MDL is one of the world’s most technologically advanced guided missile destroyers. Along how does vessel ensure efficient helicopter handling of indigenously developed HAL Dhruv?

Project 15B- Visakhapatnam class destroyers include four ships, which are in advanced stage of construction. The first Ship is being made ready for Basin trials  and Contractor’s Sea Trials towards the end of this year. The first ship is likely to be delivered next year and the other three Ships with an interval of one year each.

These Ships are follow on of Kolkata Class destroyers, which were the follow on of Delhi Class destroyers. A lot of refinement in design and change in equipment have taken place from Delhi Class to Kolkata Class and now in Visakhapatnam Class. Although the Hull and machinery have remained same, the weapons /sensors have undergone complete change. Most of the weapons/ sensors on Delhi Class Ships were imported from Russia. However, on Kolkata Class and now on Vishakhapatnam Class Ships, most of the weapons/ sensors are from indigenous or western sources. 

 A lot of equipment have been indigenized on these ships including the weapons and sensors by PSUs and private industries. The overall indigenization has reached upto 75% on these ships, which does not only reduce our dependencies on foreign countries but also reduces the acquisition and life cycle cost. 

With regard to handling of ALH, Flight deck has been designed to take the load of helicopter.  Also the Helo-Traversing System and Helo Landing Grid being fitted on board are proven System to efficiently handle the helicopter for operations in various sea conditions.

There are new systems of handling helicopters, which are more reliable and less maintenance intensive and easy in handling which are being studied and if found suitable to be incorporated considering the delivery schedule of these ships, may be inducted into some of the ships of Project 15B. 

What has been the indigenization drive as far as MDL is concerned across the different type & class of warships?

The indigenization drive has been a priority area for MDL. Warship building in India started sometimes in late sixties with license production of leander class ships. At that time almost everything including the steel came from UK. Since then we have been continuously striving to increase the indigenous content of our platforms. We have jointly worked with Indian Navy towards indigenization of equipment and ship construction material have been able to increase the quantum of indigenous component gradually in successive projects.  Today we have developed all yard material including steel, electrodes, insulation material, cables, trunkings, pipes, pipe fittings, deck covering, paints etc. Also a large number of equipment have also been indigenized. 

If we divide the whole ship into Float, Move and Fight component, we have already indigenized more than 95% material for Float component, about 60% of Move component and about 30-40% of Fight component. 

In fact many of the weapons/sensors are also being produced now indigenously by PSUs as well as by Private industry. The participation of private industry is a very heartening step and will go a long way in enhancing the indigenous element in our shipbuilding program. Some of the weapon/sensors developed indigenously include Gunnery system, various missile systems, Torpedo Launchers, Rocket launchers, Electronic warfare, Surveillance Radars, Fire Control System for Gunnery & Missile systems and underwater weapons and sensors.  Due to the joint efforts of MDL and Indian Navy, the indigenous component in our current projects Project 15 B and Project 17 A has increased up to 70-75%. MDL with it’s our initiative has also developed certain equipment such as Sonar Dome, Ship installed chemical agent detection system, Bridge Window Glass, main batteries for submarines, multiple cable transit glands and remote controlled valves. 

However, it is a continuous journey.  We are encouraging MSEs as well as startups and providing handholding for development of substitutes for imported items. 

Defence export has seen the healthy growth.  MDL with advance expertise in building warships is expected to lead in this direction.  How MDL is planning to reach out to the worldwide market?  Could you share your export portfolio?

MDL has exported a variety of ships to various countries in the past.  A total of 243 vessels have been exported which include Multi purpose support vessels to Mexico, Bahamas, dredger to France, General Cargo Vessels to UK, Bulk Carriers to Singapore, Tugs to Yemen, water tankers to Iran, Cargo Barges to Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arab, Water Barges to Yemen & Iran, Launches to Yemen & Mozambique, Pontoons & lighters to Yemen.

However, when we started focusing purely on warships, our Infrastructure was not available for any other work. So we stopped exports completely.  In fact, our last export was more than 10 years back of multi purpose support vessels to Mexico & Bahamas. 

But now we have undertaken the augmentation of infrastructure by installing a 300 T Goliath Crane, creating a new wet basin, constructing module shop, extending the slipway length, and creating a submarine section assembly shop.  With this modernization we have augmented our capacity to build 11 submarines and 10 ships at any given time.

Scorpene submarine(MDL)

With this augmented capacity we have started diversifying into exports and refits. MDL is having a broad spectrum of products for exports both for military and merchant marine end-use. We can offer platforms like OPVs, FACs, FICs, Corvettes, missile boats which can be deployed for benign and constabulary roles and littoral combats. Piracy, extortion, drug trafficking etc are plaguing a number of developing economies and these vessels will be of immense help to these countries. MDL can offer a comprehensive offer with a premium on quality and build timelines and also attractive funding proposals through the EXIM Bank of India.  

On the commercial front, MDL can build and deliver tugs, dredgers, fishing vessels, barges, pontoons and other vessel types. We have established an international marketing team and we envisage an international foot print for exports in the future. We have also appointed agents in many countries to keep us apprised of the requirement of the respective country, and also facilitate our interaction at Govt Level or with individual customers. Our teams have visited the prospective countries and also submitted bids for more than 100 vessels.  However, the result of these bids are not yet known view lockdown in these countries.  But we expect some of the orders come our way. Our export portfolio includes MSVs, OSVs, Tugs, Dredgers, OPVs, Cadet Training Ships, Missile Vessels, Fast Attack Crafts, Frigates, Corvettes and new build submarines.

Recently, the Chiefs of foreign navies gathered to discuss the regional international maritime collaboration. They sought India’s help in building together niche naval platforms. Can MDL being the nation’s leading DPSU collaborate?

Yes, MDL can certainly collaborate and by virtue of it’s status of the leading shipyard of India, can spearhead and front end such initiatives.  MDL has experience of building wide range of vessels varying from small Naval Platforms such as missile vessels, OPVs to most complex warships and submarines.  We have already exported 243 vessels to various countries as I mentioned earlier. We can build ships of foreign navies with our existing designs.  We can tweak our designs to customize it to meet their specific requirements. Or, we can design ab-initio for foreign navies and build ships for them. 

We can also help foreign navies in creating shipyard infrastructure or upgrade their existing infrastructure to assist them in building vessels in their own country.  We can also help them in acquiring ships by building first ship in MDL, provide TOT to them so that they can build the balance ships in their country under the supervision of MDL. We can also provide training to their shipyard personnel. 

There can be different models of collaborative shipbuilding with foreign navies.  We can build ships on turnkey basis for other countries including procurement of complete material and equipment package.   We can also build ships with material and equipment being fully or partly supplied by the respective Navy.  

The similar models can be worked out in respect of executing refits and repairs of their vessels. We can also sign Annual Maintenance Contract for the entire refit or for specific equipment.