In June 2009, the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC) cleared a Rs 45,000 crore project to build seven stealth frigates using advanced manufacturing process like modular shipbuilding.
The P17A warships will be India’s most advanced and stealthy frigates,
The ships will be manufactured in India, 4 at Mazagon Dock Limited, Mumbai (MDL) and 3 at Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE), Kolkata.
Defense Minister AK Antony told journalists at Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) complex in Mumbai on July 21, "Cost negotiations are on into the P-17 A project and once that is done, the proposal will go to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for approval."
In July 2012, a source told the TOI, "The CNC (contract negotiation committee) is currently underway for P-17A, which has already been approved by the defence ministry. The contract will be awarded after the final nod from the Cabinet Committee on Security. While MDL will build four, GRSE will construct the other three.''
The Project 17A frigates will be more advanced and stealthier than the P17 Shivalik class warships currently being inducted into the Navy.
The stealth features will include
P 17 ships are based on the Project 11356 (Talwar / Krivak IV class) ships being acquired from Russia, and were designed jointly by the Naval Design Bureau (NDB) and Russia's Severnoye Project Design Bureau (Severnoye Proyektno-Konstruktorskoye Bjuro - SPKB), the designers of the N11356 frigate.
Project 17 class ships were manufactured exclusively by MDL. By involving GRSE in the construction of P 17A ships, the DAC hopes to speed up construction of the seven warships as well as create the infrastructure at both the dockyard for modular building of large warships.
The new frigates will be 'longer, broader, faster and stealthier'' than the three 6,100-ton Shivalik-class frigates.
"The new frigates will also have the 290-km BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, apart from other advanced weapons and sensors, for a greater offensive punch in all the three dimensions (air, surface and underwater),'' a source told the TOI in July 2012.
Modular construction involves assembling a ship using 300-ton 'lego' like blocks, constructed to exacting standards. The blocks are constructed elsewhere complete with all the piping, electrical wiring and fitments that go into the section of the ship. During assembly, the piping and wiring neatly comes together end to end.
Both MDL and GRSE have no prior experience in modular ship building and the Navy had reservations about their ability to deliver the ships on time. However, the DAC appears to have brushed aside a Navy request to have two of the warships built at a foreign dockyard to enable the two Indian dockyards to imbibe the new technology and process.
The first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) INS Vikrant is also being constructed using modular technology at Kochi.
Security concerns are reported to have ruled out the use of a foreign shipyard since it would have entailed sharing the detailed design of the ship.
The project was expected to start by 2011, giving GRSE and MDL enough time to upgrade their infrastructure, with the first ship expected to be delivered within 3-4 years. All the seven frigates are expected to be delivered by 2021.
A fully equipped modular yard with a 250-ton Goliath crane being built at the Mazagaon docks will be ready by mid-2011.
MDL and GRSE plan to seek the help of a foreign collaborator to get them started with modular shipbuilding.
One of the companies likely to bid for the project is a joint venture (JV) between France’s DCNS, Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE), and Indian IT engineers Infotech Enterprises. The JV was setup to design ships for global clients and do back office work for DCNS, one of the world’s biggest warship builder.
DCNS already has a relationship with Mazagaon Docks Limited with whom it is jointly building Scorpene submarines under Project 75.
“We already have a relationship with DCNS; we are building the Scorpene together. They have the same infrastructure as we have, which means that the drawings they make can be easily translated into warships in our yard. But we will keep our options open by asking (Italian shipyard) Fincantieri to bid as well,” says Admiral HS Malhi, Chairman of MDL.
On April 17, 2013, the TOI reported that Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, will help the GRSE design the P-17A frigates.
Rear Admiral (retd) A K Verma, chairman-cum-managing director, GRSE told the TOI:
"We have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with IIT-Kharagpur. While building the Kamorta-class Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) Corvettes - three of which have already been launched - we have already fine tuned our capability of including the stealth features. In the last two vessels of this class, we have integrated composite material (a kind of plastic) with high-quality steel developed by SAIL and DRDO.
"It will provide us more technological know how about the frigates. Fortunately, we are close to the only IIT that has an ocean engineering and naval architecture department. If necessary, our engineers will also go abroad for training."
GRSE, India's oldest shipbuilders, are currently upgrading their shipbuilding infrastructure to facilitate modular construction of the P-17A ships, with work scheduled to be completed by June 2013.
Use of modular construction would allow the GRSE to double its shipbuilding rate.