‘It is Always the First Ship Which Takes Time, Because in Shipbuilding One Cannot Build a Prototype’
-Chairman and managing director, Mazagon Dock Ltd, Vice Admiral H.S. Malhi   

Chairman and managing director, Mazagon Dock Ltd, Vice Admiral H.S. Malhi
What are the key characteristics of INS Satpura? What new technologies have you incorporated in this?

Being second ship of the Shivalik class, INS Satpura is broadly similar to INS Shivalik, however, we have gone much higher on the learning curve with this vessel. One direct consequence of this has been the large number of acceptance trials carried out on this ship — which are normally done post-commissioning. Among these have been SSM system and SAM system trials. This, I believe, has been a singular achievement. We have also carried out a few trials which were not done on Shivalik. For instance, we conducted the pre-wetting trials on Satpura and the cavitation trials of the propeller to determine the extent of noise being generated by it.

When a propeller is designed, one simulates its performance. But once it is installed on the ship, nobody physically sees how it performs being underwater. We used a boroscope with an underwater camera to capture the performance of the propeller. In a stealth ship, as you are aware the underwater noise generated by the propeller due to cavitation process must be minimal. Also, in terms of performance, we have achieved slightly more speed on Satpura by making certain modifications in the gearbox.

On Shivalik, we had carried out some modifications suggested by the Ship’s staff, after the ship became operational. These modifications have been incorporated into Satpura. As a result, in certain respects, I feel that Satpura is a better ship.
In what time frame after ‘Shivalik’ was INS Satpura delivered to the Indian Navy?

It took just a little over a year. INS Shivalik was commissioned on April 30. Though we had delivered Satpura on July 9, the commissioning is happening now. It would have taken us even lesser time if we didn’t have an issue with availability of the dry dock. We didn’t get a dry dock slot in time and have lost two to three months in the process. Satpura could easily have been delivered within a year of Shivalik’s delivery. The third ship will be delivered early next year. If one were to calculate the total construction time, from the cutting of the steel to the commissioning, it has taken us eight years.
What is the world average for this class of ships?

The first of class usually takes longer than follow-on ships. It could be anything between seven to eight years. After that, each ship comes out within a year of the previous one, unless the construction is distributed across different yards, which hastens the ship-building process. It is always the first ship which takes time, because in shipbuilding one cannot build a prototype. One starts with making the actual ship. And you refine the design as your proceed. While the design not being frozen is bad enough, the subsequent modifications are worse, as one has to redo the work. But once the design is frozen and proven, it should not take more than five to six years to build a similar type of ship. For instance for Project 17A, which will be a follow-on of the Shivalik class, we should be able to build the ship in 60 months through integrated construction. Our modernisation programme, which is currently underway, will be completed by the end of this year and we will be better equipped to take on integrated construction.

On Scorpene, are you going to adhere to the revised timelines?

Yes, the first boat will be out in August 2015, and the last one will be delivered in September 2018. In this project, there are no more glitches.

Looking at the project from the time it started, what were the difficulties that MDL faced given that it had a lot of learning to do

Our first limitation was inadequate infrastructure. We had earlier made the German submarines in collaboration with HDW and now we are making Scorpenes with DCNS, France as our collaborators. Hence, the welding stations previously suited for German Submarines had to be reconfigured and the production lines had to be reinstalled. While these infrastructural changes were expected, they still had to be carried out and that took time. Besides, with new transfer of technology, we had to imbibe new methodologies including changing our software. However, these issues are behind us. The bigger issue was Mazagon Procured Material (MPM) for which the amount indicated in the contract was not enough. We could not place the orders for the material till the amount was enhanced by CCS. That has happened, but it took time. I must say that the MDL personnel have imbibed new technologies of construction and skills that go with them very well. Today, I am proud to say that our people are among the best in the world. Making six submarine hulls at the same time is no mean feat. They are absolutely clued up now.
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