India commissioned the first of a series of home-built, radar-evading stealth warships on Thursday, reinforcing the country’s technological progress just months after the launch of its first nuclear-powered submarine.
INS Shivalik, an S-Class frigate, was built in the Mazagon Docks in Mumbai, and is designed to escape detection by normal radar.
Its class of warship, with air defence and antisubmarine capabilities, is expected to be the mainstay frigate of the Indian navy for at least 50 years. India has plans to launch another seven stealth frigates, estimated to cost Rs28bn ($630m, €475m, £412m) a vessel, from Mumbai and Calcutta shipyards into its navy over the next 10 years.
Sweden, the UK and the US are some of the leaders in naval stealth technology. Carbon fibre and angular designs are used to deflect radar and allow warships to sail closer to their targets without detection.
AK Antony, India’s defence minister, said the challenge of guarding India’s sea lanes was increasing as south Asia became more dangerous and the threat of terrorism grew. He also said India needed to move towards a “builder’s navy” from a “buyer’s navy”.
“Sea routes in the past also faced threats but now after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the security situation around us and the Indian Ocean and far-off is becoming more and more sensitive,” Mr Antony said.
The minister stressed the navy’s greater role as India’s economic interests expanded across the globe. “India’s foreign trade is expanding substantially every year. [The navy] will have to look after ways and means to protect commercial interests also,” he said.
The commissioning of an indigenous stealth warship comes only months after the launch of a locally built nuclear-powered submarine . The submarine was produced at a cost of $2.9bn under the country’s Advanced Technology Vessel Programme and is based on the Russian Akula-I class submarine.
India already has four stealth warships, supplied by Russia, which has traditionally been the country’s main supplier of military hardware. But INS Shivalik’s makers said the frigate was the first of its kind.
“Nowhere in the world [has a] ship of this size has been incorporated with stealth features. It is a 6,000 tonne ship and is the largest stealth frigate in the world,” said Vice-Admiral (Retd) HS Malhi, the chairman of Mazagon Docks.
India’s government is channelling spending towards the modernisation of India’s armed forces, while also advancing an indigenisation programme to increase the emerging power’s own capacity. India is particularly keen to maintain its control over the Indian Ocean and feels threatened by China’s superior sea power. While India has about 14 frigates, China has 50.
One defence industry expert said India would remain one of the largest buyers of naval hardware from overseas as capacity to build locally was still limited. He said India ranked alongside Canada as one of the countries seeking to boost heavily its naval defence capabilities with purchases on the international arms market.
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