The Navy continues to hone its war-fighting capabilities despite being stretched in coastal security and anti-piracy operations. The force is now on course to soon induct two more deadly stealth frigates to bolster its growing "blue-water" warfare capabilities.
Sources say the 6,200-tonne indigenous stealth frigate INS Satpura is likely to be commissioned in June-July, while the Russian-built 4,900-tonne INS Teg should finally be ready for induction by September-October.
These long-awaited warships will come at a time when Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma has stressed that "maintenance of war-fighting abilities" remains the "top-most priority" for his force despite the "large number of peacetime commitments (anti-piracy, coastal security and the like) at hand".
"With the security situation being fluid, we need to maintain the organizational ability to deploy warships, submarines and aircraft at immediate notice," said Admiral Verma, at the naval commanders' conference here on Tuesday.
INS Satpura and INS Teg will certainly boost combat capabilities, packed as they are with sensors, weapons and missile systems, coupled with their stealthy nature due to "vastly-reduced" radar, infra-red, noise, frequency and magnetic "signatures" to beat enemy detection systems.
That's not all. INS Satpura, the second of three indigenous stealth frigates built under the Rs 8,101-crore Project-17 at Mazagon Docks, will be followed by INS Sahyadri after six months. The first, INS Shivalik, was commissioned in April last year.
Similarly, INS Teg is to be followed by its sister frigates, INS Tarkash and INS Trikhand, built under a Rs 5,514-crore project inked with Russia in July 2006, after gaps of six months each.
Both the Indian and Russian projects, of course, have been dogged by huge time and cost overruns. The three warships from Russia are actually "a follow-on order" to the first three frigates, INS Talwar, INS Trishul and INS Tabar, inducted by India in 2003-2004 at a cost of over Rs 3,000 crore.
Though their induction too was delayed, the Navy is quite happy with the power the Talwar-class frigates pack. The warships have "a very high weapon and sensor density", including eight vertical launch cells for the 'Klub-N' anti-ship and anti-submarine cruise missiles. In addition, the three new frigates will also be armed with the 290-km BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles.
The Shivalik-class frigates, in turn, can also deal with "multiple-threats" in all three dimensions -- air, surface and sub-surface. Apart from Russian Shtil surface-to-air missile systems and Klub anti-ship cruise missiles, they are also armed with the Israeli 'Barak-I' anti-missile defence systems to guard against Harpoon and Exocet missiles, launched from platforms like P-3C Orion aircraft and Agosta-90B submarines which Pakistan has acquired from US and France.
The defence ministry has also approved Project-17A to construct seven more frigates at Mazagon Docks and GRSE in Kolkata, with even more stealth features, for around Rs 45,000 crore. In all, the Navy has around 30 new warships and six submarines on order as of now to maintain its force-levels at about 140 combatants.