Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gearbox problems delay the Car Nicobar class Fast Attack Craft

By Ajai Shukla

India’s coastal and maritime problems are growing faster than the fleet of ships needed to deal with them. Here in Kolkata, at Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE), two newly built patrol ships have lain for two months, waiting for collection by the Indian Navy. But the admirals insist: first meet the navy’s performance requirements. Meanwhile, Defence Minister AK Antony travels on Thursday to the Maldives to extend India’s maritime security network to that island nation. And an unauthorised North Korean freighter, espied lurking in Indian waters off the Andaman Islands early this month, underscores the urgent need for more patrolling

GRSE, India’s second-biggest defence shipyard, got a Rs 514 crore order in March 2006 to build ten Water Jet propelled Fast Attack Craft (WJ-FACs), whose high-tech German MTU water-jet engines could propel these sleek vessels through the water at 65 kmph, tackling threats along the coastline for up to 3600 km without refuelling. After the Mumbai attacks on 26/11, the need for such craft was felt more than ever. The first two WJ-FACs --- INS Car Nicobar and INS Chetlat --- were press-ganged into the navy in February 09, even though they were restricted to just 50 kmph by flawed gearboxes supplied by Kirloskar Pneumatic Company Limited (KPCL).

But now the navy has refused to accept the next two WJ-FACs --- INS Kora Divh and INS Cheriyam --- until KPCL rectifies the transmission systems that it had developed and supplied to GRSE. Rear Admiral KC Sekhar, GRSE Chairman and Managing Director, told Business Standard that KPCL had already supplied 30 defective gearboxes (three go into each WJ-FAC), but had now taken some back to diagnose and resolve the problem.

“I expect three gearboxes to come back very shortly”, said Admiral Sekhar, “And we have a commitment from KPCL that they will be responsible for their product. Any additional expenditure incurred will be their responsibility.” KPCL is unlikely, however, to pick up the tab for the growing expenditure on trials. And GRSE supervisors say the morale of workers --- who are pushed hard to get vessels ready for on-time delivery --- suffers when buyers reject a completed ship.

KPCL has not responded to repeated requests for their comments. As coastal security grows in importance, the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard are acquiring greater numbers of patrol vessels and attack craft. These smaller, lightly armed vessels, like the Car Nicobar Class WJ-FACs, are lighter, cheaper, easier to build, and better suited for coastal surveillance than the capital warships --- corvettes, frigates and destroyers --- that are designed and built for war.

Vice Admiral Arun Kumar Singh, who until recently commanded the Eastern Naval Command in Vishakhapatnam points to the growing importance of coastal security: “The term ‘a balanced Navy’ has now acquired a different meaning altogether; a ‘brown water’ coastal force is as relevant and essential as a ‘blue water’ force. In recent years, the navy has built 7 Sukanya Class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), one of which was sold to Sri Lanka; 4 Trinkat Class fast patrol vessels (FPVs), one of which was given to Maldives and one to Seychelles; 7 Super Dvora Mark II class FPVs; and 4 Bangaram Class fast attack craft (FACs). In addition, four Saryu Class offshore patrol vessels are being built by Goa Shipyard Limited.

The 10 Car Nicobar class WJ-FACs, with their ability to react quickly at high speeds, are purpose designed for coastal security. These 50 metres long, 600-tonne vessels are crewed by 35 sailors. Each WJ-FAC is armed with a 30 mm CRN-91 automatic cannon that can engage targets up to 3 kilometers away.


"Assembled in India", not upto scratch.

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