On the Waterfront

Russian shipyards are optimistic about future programmes in India

Ghazala Wahab

Kaliningrad/ St Petersburg, Russia: In some places, history has such a pervasive presence that either the modern is permeated by the gravitas of the past, or remains stymied by it. In the two Russian cities of Kaliningrad (Königsberg of the past) and St Petersburg, which between them hold the maximum shipbuilding capability of the country, it is the past that calls the shots — in glorious tales, architecture, culture and pace of life. The only place where it has allowed modernity to creep in is technology. But, as in the case of Yantar Shipyard of Kaliningrad, it has been more of an evolution, than revolution.

“Our plant is older than the Kaliningrad region,” general director of the Yantar Shipyard, Eduard Efimov told the visiting journalists from India. This was the first ever visit by foreign journalists to the shipyard in the border town captured by Russia from Germany during World War II. Yantar powered the German Navy, and after its capture, the Russian war efforts in World War II. While the bombing by the Russians razed most of Königsberg to ground, the shipyard stood firm. Partly because of its formidable structure, and partly because of its complicated share-holding which included British stakes!

However, most likely it was the former which ensured that the yard stood its ground. Even today, despite on-going modernisation, several buildings are of early 20th century vintage; some even older. Even more remarkably, some of the machines at Yantar shipyard are as old as 1920s! This speaks volumes for the German endurance and Russian maintenance.

While a walk-through the Yantar shipyard was an add-on, the primary purpose of the visit was to talk about the three frigates of the Grigorovich class which were parked on the assembly rig as empty hulls. In late June, it was almost certain that the Indian Navy was likely to turn the agreement for the procurement of four Russian frigates of the Grigorovich class (based on the proven design of INS Talvar) into firm orders by the end of 2017. It was this confidence (plus the anticipation of the submarine programme) that encouraged United Shipbuilding Corporation (an umbrella organisation of all shipyards) to invite a group of Indian journalists to not only interact with the general director (Russian equivalent of a chief operating officer) of the Yantar Shipyard, but also to visit the shop floors and the under construction frigates.

These frigates were ordered by the Russian Navy to meet an urgent shortfall caused by the delay in the development of the futuristic vessels, combining greater stealth with higher agility and weapons profile. The new modular frigates with conformal superstructure were being built by the St Petersburg-based Northern Shipyard, considered the most advanced centre for the construction of surface ships of all sizes in Russia. Since it was a new and complex design, it was taking longer than expected. Hence, in the interim, the Russian Navy placed the order for six of the Grigorovich class, which were based on the proven Krivak class. Six of these ships were bought by the Indian Navy as Talvar and Teg classes.

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