The Baltic Connection
Vayu’s Angad Singh visited a number of Russian shipyards on the Baltic Sea, reporting on several key programmes relevant both to India and the broader Russian shipbuilding industry.
Vayu’s Angad Singh visited a number of Russian shipyards on the Baltic Sea, reporting on several key programmes relevant both to India and the broader Russian-shipbuilding industry.
Goa is a popular tourist destination in India, particularly among Russian travellers, so it was not surprising to hear that Yantar Shipyard’s General Director, Eduard Efimov, was enthused at the possibility of co-operating with Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) on production of frigates for the Indian Navy. In an exclusive interaction with Vayu at Yantar, in the strategic Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, he spoke at length about the work his shipyard has already done with the Indian Navy, and shared details about the proposed deal for four new warships.
“Discussions are being held,” said Efimov, “and we do hope that by the end of this year we have some clarity [on this order].”
Yantar has built the second batch of three Talwar- class frigates for the Indian Navy : INS Teg, Tarkash and Trikand, distinguished by their primary armament of BrahMos cruise missiles in place of 3M54 Klub missiles on the first three ships, and AK630 close-in weapon systems instead of the larger Kashtan CIWS. These vessels are significantly modified variants of the venerable Soviet-era Krivak- class frigates, and the Russian MoD was sufficiently convinced of their utility to order a six-ship run of frigates based on the Talwar- class.
Produced under Project 11356R/M (Russian/Modernised), the class is named for the lead ship, Admiral Grigorovich, differing only slightly from the Indian boats with two 12-cell vertical launchers for its 3S90 Shtil surface-to-air missiles instead of the older single-arm trainable launcher that is incapable of rapid firing. Crucially, the Russian frigates have retained the same gas turbine powerplant, supplied by Ukraine’s Zorya Mashproekt. The first vessel was laid down in December 2010 at Yantar, and by the time the Ukrainian crisis had boiled over into the annexation of Crimea by Russia, construction of five of the six boats was in full swing. However, only three sets of engines had been delivered by that time, and Ukraine’s embargo then left Yantar and the Russian MoD with three frigates under construction without any realistic hope of getting powerplants.
While an ambitious import substitution programme was put in place across all sectors of Russian industry, it became rapidly clear that it would be quite some time before Russia’s turbine manufacturers would be able to duplicate the Zorya powerplant for the Grigorovich- class vessels. The Russian government elected to find a buyer for these vessels, one that Ukraine would be amenable to doing business with. India was the natural first choice as an existing operator of the type, and on the sidelines of the BRICS summit at Goa in October 2016, the two nations announced an agreement on four Grigorovich- class frigates in addition to a multitude of other procurements ( see Vayu VI/2016).
Since then, talks on the frigates have rapidly progressed, with Efimov leading a Russian team to evaluate the facilities at state-owned GSL in March 2017, and receiving a GSL team for a familiarisation visit in June.
“I personally believe GSL is able to handle contracts for warships of this class,” stated Efimov. “If I am not mistaken, they plan to erect a new workshop for hull assembly, and the technological base appears broadly sufficient, but there may be a need to create specialised ‘branches’ of the company, and employ certain specialists for equipment installation and integration. The hull and propulsion is no problem at GSL.”
“Existing bilateral protocols already enable training of such specialists,” he continued. “[Indian Navy flagship INS] Vikramaditya was an example, in terms of crew training but also shipbuilding specialists. Should India place the order, a similar programme for training could certainly be implemented with Yantar.”
With two frigates to be completed at Yantar and two built from scratch at GSL, Efimov was confident the programme could be run smoothly. “After the contract is signed, the first ship will be completed within three years. After that it will take six months for the second ship to be built,” he stated. This tracks with the build rate of the first six Talwar- class ships, accounting for the fact that the vessels will not need to built from the keel up.
On the other hand, given that construction at GSL would entail all the pitfalls of building a ‘first-of-class’ vessel at that yard, Efimov estimated that “from keel-laying to delivery, GSL should be able to deliver their first ship in five to seven years.” With the two sets of frigates being built essentially in parallel, this translates to only a slightly staggered rate of delivery for all four. “At this time we are negotiating, so nothing is firm,” cautioned Efimov, before offering a solution to further shorten the delivery period. “We could deliver parts [to GSL] and are ready to do so. It could, in theory, reduce the construction time at Goa.”
Yantar is a 73-year old yard, with a history stretching back to the turn of the 20th century. Indeed, there is functional machinery being used for present- day projects dating back to the early 1900s! Apart from regular warship repair contracts, key projects at the yard include frigates, large landing ships (Project 11711 Ivan Gren- class), ocean exploration vessels, and large fishing trawlers. The yard has delivered nearly 700 ships in its history, with over 160 of these being naval warships for domestic and export customers. Efimov is confident in the work of his organisation, and expressed a willingness to accommodate customer-specified equipment on the Indian frigate order, to produce ships to the Indian Navy’s specifications, which he said “would not impact the build rate.”
From combat to rescue
Fresh from standing under the bows of 4000- tonne frigates in Kaliningrad, we moved further up the Baltic Coast to Saint Petersburg, this historic shipbuilding city and its yards now familiar to Vayu and its readers ( see Vayu IV/2015).
Admiralty Shipyards has produced the vast bulk of India’s sub-surface fleet, from the first Kalvari- class (Project I641, NATO reporting name: Foxtrot) to the modern Sindhughosh-class (Project 677EKM, NATO reporting name: Kilo). Alexander Buzakov, Director General of Admiralty Shipyards, noted that “India is the nation with which Admiralty has had the longest relationship.”
From fifty years of submarine cooperation, the Russian firm is now in talks with Indian Navy for an advanced rescue vessel to aid submarines in distress. “Project 21300 from the Almaz design bureau has a special diving complex to enable divers to go down to 400m. It also comes equipped with a Bester submersible to enable rescue operations down to 700m, and can carry unmanned submersibles that can operate as far as 1000m below the surface,” said Buzakov. The first ship of this class, Igor Belousov, is already in service with the Russian Pacific Fleet, and even stopped by at Visakhapatnam during its long transit from the Baltic to Russia’s Far East ( see Vayu V/2016).
The Indian Navy’s need for a submarine rescue capability has taken on urgent dimensions now that it employs multiple nuclear submarines, which will operate in deep waters far from home shores. In fact, during dive testing of the indigenous nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine Arihant, the Indian Navy had to turn to the Russian Navy in order to have a rescue ship available, the vessel in question being RFS Epron, an older Prut- class boat ( see Vayu II/2016).
Regarding the Russian offer itself, Buzakov revealed that there had initially been “some technical issues” to iron out with the IN, but that “they have been overcome and now we are discussing pricing.” Designed for operations in virtually all conditions and up to sea state 7, Buzakov stated that the issue was not to do with the rescue ship itself, but rather its rescue equipment, specifically the submersible carried on board. The Navy has already ordered two British-made James Fisher Defence LR5 manned submersibles for its deepwater rescue needs, and only needs a ship to carry them. “The Indian side wanted to know if additional [third party] rescue equipment could be added
to the ship. We have now confirmed that the British submersible vessel can be integrated,” said Buzakov.
Even as the Indian contract is being negotiated, Buzakov also anticipates additional orders for the class from the Russian Navy. “Igor Belousov has gone to Pacific Fleet, and we plan to have one such ship with each operational fleet [these are the Northern, Baltic and Black Sea fleets]. The orders are not yet placed because the new state armament programme [ for 2018- 2025] is being prepared. Meanwhile, Igor Belousov is being extensively tested in the Pacific Fleet to ensure it meets the standards required by the Navy, after which additional orders are more likely.”
On the subject of the shipyard’s traditional area of expertise – submarines – Buzakov was more circumspect, given the unclear nature of the Indian Navy’s Project 75 ( India) and the MoD’s recently-notified policy on private sector strategic partnerships (SPs). He noted that the Navy’s experience with Project 75 ( Kalvari/Scorpéne- class) should lead to a more gradual local construction programme, with greater OEM involvement in the physical build process, but that the final decision would rest with the MoD. On the possible requirement to integrate the indigenous DRDO AIP as customer-specified equipment, Buzakov highlighted his yard’s close working relationship with the Rubin design bureau: “If Rubin does the integration – we can build it!” he said with a smile, before pointing out that Admiralty has built a wide variety of submarines, from nuclear to conventional.
Rubin and the Amur-1650(I)
As the lead design agency for the Russian effort for P- 75( I), the Rubin design bureau was able to offer extensive briefings on technology readiness and the rough contours of Russia’s proposal for the project, particularly in the context of the new Strategic Partnership policy.
Vayu spoke with Rubin’s Deputy Director for Foreign Affairs, Andrey Baranov and Chief Designer Igor Molchanov at the International Maritime Defence Show (IMDS) at Saint Petersburg, where Baranov revealed that after “two years for almost no communication from the [Indian] Navy on P-75(I), we resumed contact in May this year.”
Baranov visited NHQ as part of a Russian delegation invited by the Navy, and discussed the technology transfer elements of the Russian offer for P-75(I). “At that time, SP was in the final stages of approval and we were informed that the technical requirements of P-75(I) had been finalised and were only awaiting the notification of the chapter.”
During the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2017, Baranov met with Indian delegates and was informed that the SP chapter had been approved, and that L&T and Reliance Defence were among the private sector firms under consideration to build submarines. “Now we are waiting for certain steps and actions to be taken in India because we understand [from the SP chapter] that these firms will have to meet certain requirements and this process might take several months,” said Baranov. “We hope the issues will be finalised by end-2017 or early next year, so the tender process for P-75(I) can begin.”
Although the RFP has yet to be issued, Baranov indicated that there might still be some flexibility on the AIP, with the Navy preferring a proven module over the DRDO AIP currently under development. He revealed that Rubin has already opened dialogue with the DRDO, with Rubin specialists visiting the Naval Materials Research Lab (NMRL) in Mumbai earlier in the year.
“All shore trials [of the Rubin AIP] are complete. We have met all the requirements of the Russian Navy for this AIP plant, and are now preparing for the next stage of trials for our Navy,” stated Baranov. “To reach the status of a plant that is considered ‘proven’ by the IN, we have to complete this next stage, and we have no doubt we can achieve this in the shortest time and that the Russian Navy will accept the plant.”
Baranov also revealed that DRDO head Dr S Christopher had visited Rubin’s AIP test stand in March 2017 and observed the plant in operation. “He was satisfied with what he saw and we made a plan for certain areas of cooperation, with the aim of bringing the Indian AIP to a state where it can be installed on board a submarine,” he said. “Right now we have extensive interactions between Rubin and DRDO, and I can say that we are hoping to sign some contracts on cooperation before the end of this year.”
Rubin has also been engaging with private sector firms vying for the submarine strategic partnership – from legacy issues such as Kilo- class refits to focused discussions on Project 75 (India). “All these discussions were more or less informal because of the nebulous nature of the programmes at the time. Of course, we plan on meeting with these companies again,” said Baranov.
By his assessment, “L&T already have certain submarine construction capacities, particularly a very good hull construction capability in Hazira and a world- class shipyard in Katupalli. So they need less investment to start submarine building. But this is not for us to decide – we await a decision from the IN and MoD. If they decide to work with another SP, we are ready to work with them.”
On the possibility of a DPSU yard being nominated, Baranov said, “We understand that MDL is best prepared for submarine building in India. In principle we are ready to cooperate with them, but if we look at
the situation realistically, MDL is fully equipped and ‘oriented’ toward French submarine technology. DCNS (now Naval Group) is also actively participating in the P-75(I), and it is difficult to imagine how we can cooperate with MDL, as they are not likely to establish a separate Russian line – they don’t have space and it would be very expensive.”
Perhaps most crucially, Chief Designer Igor Molchanov indicated that the Indian Navy’s technical requirements for P-75(I) would require Rubin to design a new submarine, with the Amur-1650 serving as a ‘proof of concept’ prototype for the programme. Depending on the extent of customisation required for the Indian order, design work alone could take up to four years, with construction of the lead submarine overlapping with the final year of the design process and taking a further two-to-three years. Subsequent boats would be built at intervals of no more than a year.
Baranov stated that Rubin was absolutely open to the involvement of the Directorate of Naval Design’s Submarine Design Group (DND SDG) in the design process, and that this would indeed be “logical,” but also admitted that the programme RFP would decide the organisations involved in transfer of design and build know-how and the extent of transfer required. The design for India would leverage lessons from not only the Lada- and Amur- classes, but also from the in-development Kalina- class, to be Russia’s next generation of conventional submarines. The new type would receive a variant letter ‘ I’ ( for India), and be designated Amur-1650(I) at Rubin.
“If India buys the Amur-1650 as-is, it can be delivered in four years,” said Baranov. “But with requirements for ‘Make in India,’ transfer of design authority, and so on, the design and build time will be stretched out and a quick result cannot be expected. A decade would be optimistic!”
Why then is Rubin still keen to participate in the programme? It all hinges on the AIP and the technology used therein, according to Baranov. The new trend in AIP technology is fuel- reforming to generate hydrogen, thereby obviating the need to store the gas on board, significantly improving safety as well as alleviating space constraints. Baranov believes that the Indian Navy will insist on fuel-reformation based AIP technology, because if not, “they would have completed P-75(I) with Germany long ago! Their hydrogen fuel cell AIP is proven in service across multiple platforms.” On the other hand, he believes Russia has a clear lead in fuel-reforming AIP technology, noting that while most other countries, including Germany with their proven fuel cell AIP, have begun working on diesel-reforming AIP, none are as far into development as Rubin’s product.
In a later interaction, Rubin CEO Igor Vilnit was similarly sanguine about P-75(I), despite the challenges. “Our foreign competitors will participate in this tender, and I respect their technical capabilities; they are strong competitors. They force us to provide more advanced proposals, and as a result of past discussions, I view our chances positively. If I thought differently, we wouldn’t bid at all,” he stated !
“Technical parameters of conventional submarines worldwide are broadly similar, and we have a good understanding of these. Nevertheless, there are differences and I am positive about this tender because our offer is based on the latest-generation Lada- class submarine, the first of which has passed all trials,” explained Vilnit. “As of today, this boat is the latest design. Other countries’ offers are based on submarines developed much earlier, while we are offering a future Indian submarine based on the latest technologies, so this is very important.”
“The principle of operation [of Rubin’s AIP] is acknowledged worldwide as the most promising, because both the French and Germans are now moving in this direction. We started work much earlier than them, however, so I believe we hold the advantage. This advantage will be put into action with P- 75( I), alongside Indian systems,” he concluded.
Elaborating on the details of Rubin’s offer and the possibility of using Indian-nominated systems, Vilnit expressed his openness to working with the DRDO. “We consider this part of the project as a ‘Make in India’ element,” he said. “I am sure that India would like to have its own AIP on these submarines and the Indian Government would be justified in insisting that that [the DRDO AIP] plant is to be installed. We envisage assisting India in integration of their AIP into our platform or in helping complete development and integration of the AIP module itself. Given the similarities between our systems, we are also open to transferring technology to improve the plant or accelerate development and integration.”
State of the Union
USC President Alexey Rakhmanov also spoke to Vayu at IMDS 2017, providing some insight into the Russian shipbuilding industry as well as programmes involving India.
He revealed that the Russian engine manufacturer NPO Saturn “is working on a complete substitution” of the COGAG M7N power plant built by Ukraine’s Zorya Mashproekt, with the intention of delivered “a more efficient and reliable plant overall. The first complete prototype will be tested before the end of 2017 and the first production power plant will be ready by 2018,” he said. This first set of gas turbines would be tested on a Gorshkov- class (Project 22350) frigate at the Severnaya (Northern) Shipyard. Future turbine- powered ship classes would all incorporate Saturn engines, making Russia self-reliant in this field.
In the meantime, said Rakhmanov, USC was committed to working toward a contract that would allow its stalled Project 11356 frigates to enter service with the Indian Navy. The goal, he said, was to sign a contract in the fourth quarter of 2017 so as to commence work as soon as possible. Indian requirements for domestic weapons and equipment are key sticking points in the negotiations, and are adding to the engineering costs and extending timelines.
Another issue is the completion and testing of the vessels. Final delivery of all four ships is likely to be done from Indian shores, owing to the pre-delivery testing and training requirements, which will require Indian ranges, telemetry and crews. Discussions are underway regarding the best way to deliver the two Yantar-built frigates – whether to transport nearly-complete hulls by barge to Goa or to complete the vessels entirely in Russia and sail under their own power to India for delivery trials and commissioning.
Rakhmanov also highlighted an interesting characteristic of USC that he believes could help with P-75(I). Describing the programme itself as “still a mystery” in terms of process, he pointed out that the USC structure of separated design bureaus and shipyards would allow closer parallel cooperation on both the development and construction sides of the programme.
“We are the oldest friends of India,” said Rakhmanov, sharing a Russian saying : “one old friend is better than two new ones !”
A hydraulic press at one of Yantar’s production workshops
One of Yantar’s Waldrich Siegen shaft-machining lathes, dating back to 1941!
Vayu had unprecedented access to a number of yards
Workshop No.12 at Admiralty Shipyards is solely equipped for machining, cutting, treating and bending tubes and pipes
Under the bow of the fourth 11356R/M frigate under construction at Yantar
Workshop No.1 at Admiralty is where steel plates arrive and are fashioned into hulls for ships and submarines
The slipway at Admiralty Shipyards, with a surface vessel under construction
A plasma cutter in action at Admiralty’s Workshop No.1
A Kilo-class submarine moored at the Admiralty Shipyards
Shaft sets for a number of Indian warships have been delivered by the Baltic Shipyard, with a P-15B (Visakhapatnam-class) shaft seen under production in this image
Part of IMDS involves an excursion to the nearby Rzhevka