INS Delhi completes 25 years of service.Delhi class destroyer catalysed transformation of Indian Navy into a blue water force

Source – Firstpost

Transformation Of Indian Navy Into
25 years of INS Delhi: How the Delhi class destroyer catalysed transformation of Indian Navy into a blue water force
As INS Delhi completes 25 years of existence today, it is also a testimony to India’s warship-building prowess overcoming all odds external and internal and setting itself firmly on the path of Atmanirbharta

Today, 15 November 22, is 25 years since the Indian Naval Ship (INS) Delhi was commissioned. Ordinarily, such an occasion would be a day of celebration within the navy but not attract much attention otherwise. However, the silver jubilee of this ship holds much significance and many takeaways, as the country launches a massive push for ‘Atmanirbharta’ or self-reliance’ in the defence sector with indigenous production as its key ingredient.

Arguably, the ‘Delhi’ class Guided Missile Destroyer (DDG), is the most successful warship programme of the country. Project 15, as it was called when it began, and its variants have resulted in ten ships commissioned or launched over the last 25 years. From the balmy November day in 1997 the ship has come a long way, but this piece is much more than just about the ship. The many strands of her journey connect several dots in the narrative of our navy and nation and bear recollection here.
First, the Delhi carried forward a precious historic legacy. A ship by the same name had served the country from 1948 to 1978, as India’s first flagship. The first avatar of Delhi had introduced the era of big ships into our navy and pioneered our transformation from a small coastal force to one with great ambition. She had been our capital ship and cradle of training during the nascent stages of our navy and nationhood. The ‘Ole Lady’ was bought second hand from the British as we had no warship building capacity at that time.

Earlier, as HMNZS Achilles, she had served with distinction in World War II, earning her spurs, in the famous Battle of River Plate. The first Delhi elicited utmost reverence, love, nostalgia and affection from generations of ‘navymen’ and many a tear were shed during her decommissioning in July 1978. Hence, the commissioning of a new ship by the same name in 1997, was not just another rebirth but the very soul of navy being reborn, a dream long held finding fruition. It was doubly special because while the first incarnation was a British buy, the second was designed and built in India.

Second, it is important to remember that this achievement was a triumph of our drive towards self-reliance and indigenization. Indian Navy’s ‘Atmanirbharta’ journey can be summarized as one of several phases with each succeeding one being a big leap over the previous phase. The journey began in 1960 with the commissioning of a small Seaward Defence Boat, INS Ajay and reached a certain significant point in mid 1980s, with the induction of the Godavari class guided missile frigates which were the first ships to be designed in India.

While the Godavari class frigates were impressive, they were ‘works in progress and found culmination in the Delhi class guided missile destroyers, of mid 90s. The Delhi class or Project 15, was our ambitious design to create state of the art ships that could be workhorses like destroyers and also provide command and control facilities of a cruiser.

The three ships inducted between 1997 and 2002 had sleek looks, imposing silhouette, armament and equipment that were a huge leap from those existing in our inventory and were great advertisement for our ship building prowess. It was the Delhi class design that segued, with considerable improvements, into the Kolkota class or the Project 15A destroyers of the last decade and now seamlessly transition, with further enhancements, to the Visakhapatnam class of Project 15B.

INS Delhi: The harbinger of indigenization of Indian Navy

It is important to note that this is not the only thread of our indigenization story. Many other lines such as missile corvettes, stealth frigates, ASW corvettes, patrol vessels, amphibious ships, submarines to name only a few have embellished the catalogue of our designers and builders and have served the country with distinction. We recently celebrated the commissioning of the indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, the largest warship built in India. However, to the extent that a genre tells a story, one may argue that the Delhi class is a reflection of what I have elsewhere termed as accelerated ‘Atmanirbharta’.

To summarise, the new INS Delhi, when unveiled in 1997, combined technological sophistication, impressive firepower and sleek looks. She was right up there with the best not merely by Indian standards but by any international measure. It is no wonder, therefore, that this achievement garnered considerable global attention. Her follow-on siblings further underscore these winsome aspects.

Thirdly, a related point. Many experts have pointed out, with certain justification, the long timelines between the launch and delivery of the Delhi class ships as compared to international norms. It’s a valid point of view. However, Delhi as the first ship of the class also offers an example of the constraints and the need to contextualize developments. From the early 90s, for years, the Indian Navy (and Mazagon Docks, the builder) had persevered against all odds, despite external problems like the disintegration of the Soviet Union and internal impediments such as a major fire onboard. The world was skeptical of our efforts to marry several diverse weapons and sensors on one platform.

Every delay (and it is no secret that the project did take many years) was seen as one more sign of our failure or inability to deliver. To have delivered, therefore, was in effect a doubly sweet victory. We only have to recollect the collective national joy when India’s first indigenous car the ‘Indica’ hit the market in 1997 and compare that at the same juncture we had built several warships with ‘Delhi’ as the crowning glory, to realise the enormity of our achievement.

Fourth, it is also essential to bring out that INS Delhi happened at a critical juncture in our history. It was the 50th year of India’s Independence, a perfect time to introspect about the past and look towards the future. The late eighties and early nineties had seen tremendous upheaval and change on the social, political and economic fronts. It was only in the late nineties that a ‘comfort factor’ had been reached and creative energies of a new India were being unleashed. Thus, the ship was the navy’s gift to the nation. a gift that indicated her technological and scientific prowess, and reaffirmed our tryst with destiny, in a manner of speaking. Simultaneously, the navy had also bequeathed a perfect gift to itself. The ‘Delhi’ was entering the service almost a decade after the last big ship; a time that one of the naval chiefs had appropriately characterized as ‘the lost decade’. A long period of drought was coming to an end, signaling a new resolve and of ‘going back to business’ of blue water operations. Delhi, thus, ushered a new beginning, just as its previous namesake had heralded a new era in the Indian Navy, half a century earlier, at the dawn of independence.

Fifth, the interesting aspect is that the Delhi class set standards not only in weaponry or new generation sensors but in ordinary day to day things that make a huge difference to the way navy operates. Equipment that are taken for granted today such as the Computerised Colour Tactical Displays (CTDs) for Action Information Organization (AIO), the plethora of computers for whole ship efficiency (the ship began with 17 computers, a record in those days when two computers was an embarrassment of riches), a modern galley with chappati making machines and fancy dishwashers, state of the art gymnasiums on board, photocopying machines and labour saving dishes for working on deck or ship side, were inducted into the service beginning with INS Delhi.

Several other developments took place at the same time which accelerated the process of rapid change in our navy. The induction of tanker INS Jyoti and probe fuelling, the transition to an era of digital communications and integrated ops rooms, the new lease of life for the Aircraft Carrier and Leander class frigates added immensely to the operational profile of the Navy. However, Delhi class can claim to be the catalyst in the successful alchemy of subsequent events that have led to the transformation of the Indian Navy in this century.

How Indian Navy overcame bottlenecks from finance to technology

So, what are the takeaways for the nation at large and other services from the success of navy in ‘Atmanirbharta’. How and why has the navy succeeded despite being capital intensive and facing imperatives of technology modernization? First, the navy had an ambitious vision right from the beginning and naval planners persisted with that vision despite several bottlenecks and constraints. That ‘audacity of hope’ anchored all our growth and development plans. Thus, even as we had to buy from abroad initially, affording only second-hand stuff most often, the ambition remained steadfast.

Second, the navy set up organisations dedicated to this quest and invested in human resources that this demanded. If it meant having ‘scientists in uniform’ so be it. The Navy’s Directorate of Design (DND) is packed with graduates and post graduates, from IITs and other prestigious institutions, in naval architecture and ship construction. Similarly, the Navy’s Weapons And Electronics Systems Engineering Establishment (WESEE), comprises Electronics and IT engineers to work on the development and integration of Combat Systems, Data links and Crypto Products. WESSE recently became the first defence service organisation to achieve CMMI Maturity Level 3 Rating for software development and maintenance projects. Similarly, the navy’s Directorate of Indigenisation (DOI) is focused on enabling Indigenous Development of not just complete equipment but also sub-assemblies and components. The navy gives long tenures to personnel in these assignments so that necessary institutional memory is developed and retained.

Third, the navy has partnered public and private sector organisations with a ‘skin in the game’ attitude. It has not only been involved in ideating but also, frequently, chaperoned product development. At the same time and this is important to underscore, the navy has been patient with end products realizing that not all of them can match global standards from day one. The navy has often accepted ‘less than perfect’ systems and encouraged gradual evolution by hand holding the developer.

Fourth, the navy not only imbibed the best practices of more developed navies but also sought to get the best systems in each category from several vendor nations and companies. While this created a situation of ‘mix and match’ it enabled infusion of best technologies. The challenges of ‘integration’ of multiple sources was taken head on by WESEE so that aggregated systems were more than the sum of its parts.

Fifth, the navy also set up several technical agencies in the form of overseeing teams, trial and acceptance teams and training teams to ensure that downstream induction and incorporation of technologies was carried out across the board. These teams also served as valuable feedback mechanisms for design and production entities.

Sixth, not satisfied with this and realizing the need for future technologies that enable ‘polevaulting’, the navy has recently set up an organization focused on innovation and development of new niche technologies in partnership with leading science and technology establishments of India.

Seventh, the navy has given due recognition to the fact that innovation and technological savvy need not be branch specific. Thus, the Navy’s S and T initiatives often see the involvement of executive, logistics and even medical officers. In effect, the Service’s S and T ecosystem has far less silos and enables greater osmosis of ideas.

All of this should not give the idea that the system is perfect and navy is at the summit of ‘Atmanirbharta’. Several components of the ‘move’ and ‘fight’ component such as weapon systems, engines, high-tech sensors need to be developed indigenously. The timelines from design to delivery need to be reduced. And above all, there is need to accurately forecast technologies of the future and work towards getting them. It must be underscored though that the navy itself realises that it has miles to go on this path and the cup is merely half full.

The route ahead

To sum up, it may be surmised that Indian Navy’s quest for indigenisation and its fruitful trajectory is similar to the successful programmes of space, nuclear energy, integrated missile development or food sufficiency initiated by the Government of India and executed by some outstanding professionals. It may be argued that this quest has given us the same strategic autonomy and sufficiency akin to other successful initiatives and thus contributed overall to nation building. Because of the institutional nature of the service where system matters more than individual and its character as a ‘silent service’ the successes of navy are not well known and its lead actors and players often fade into obscurity.

We need to recognise the sterling contribution of people like Mr Paramandhan (a civilian officer who was the first Director of Naval Construction), Captain NS Mohan Ram (the pioneer designer of several class of ships), RAdm RS Chaudhry, Capt KK Lohana, Cdr SR Kamath, Cdr Kalidas, to name just a few of the many who made this endeavour possible.

Today as we celebrate 75 years (Amrit Mahotsav) of our nation (and navy) in a distinctly upbeat mood and look forward to the Amrit Kaal, it is worthwhile to remember the new dawn in shipbuilding that broke out 25 ago and all the developments it brought in its wake. And as if to recognise and commemorate that landmark development, the navy is likely to shortly commission ‘Mormugao’, the eight ship overall in the Project 15 and second in Project 15 B series. Named after the historic state of Goa which with its terrific blend of antiquity, natural beauty and distinct maritime character has a brand equity of its own, the new guided missile destroyer is an impressive combination of lethal firepower, state of the art sensors and arresting looks. Delhi to Mormugao has been a historically significant journey for the navy and nation.


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