With Nirbhay missile test and Coast Guard vessel, L&T issues reminder

Indian military officials at the commissioning of Coast Guard Ship Veera in Visakhapatnam
Larsen & Toubro’s (L&T’s) defence business scored twin successes on Monday, with a successful test of the long-range Nirbhay cruise missile in Odisha, followed by the ahead-of-time delivery of a 2,140-tonne Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) to the Coast Guard (CG) at Visakhapatnam.

The Nirbhay test—its sixth developmental flight trial—was crucial, with three of its five previous firings having been unsuccessful to varying degrees. This test, however, was a complete success, says the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), which manages the Nirbhay project.

L&T has designed the Nirbhay’s airframe, fuel tanks and foldable wings, as well as the entire launch system. Other private sector firms also have lesser roles. The Gas Turbine Research Establishment, a DRDO laboratory, is designing the Nirbhay’s engine.

Launched from the Integrated Test Range in Chandipur, Odisha, the Nirbhay was required to skim the sea, just metres above the waves, and accurately navigate its way past a series of designated “way points”, spread out over 1,000 kilometres.

This would allow the Nirbhay to follow a low-level path, undetected by enemy radar, and strike a target 1,000 kilometres away with extreme precision. Stealth is essential because the slow-flying missile is vulnerable to being shot down by fighter aircraft, if detected by enemy radar.

“The missile took off vertically, turning horizontally into [the] desired direction, [the] booster separated, wing deployed, engine started, [and the missile] cruised [past] all the intended waypoints. The missile demonstrated its sea-skimming capability to cruise at very low altitudes,” said a defence ministry (MoD) release.

The long-range Nirbhay cruise missile is launched in Odisha

The defence ministry says a chain of radars, electro-optical and telemetry systems along the eastern coast tracked and validated the Nirbay’s flight.

More flight-testing lies ahead for the Nirbhay, which will eventually be fired from land, sea and airborne platforms.

Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) delivered

Army chief General Bipin Rawat commissioned Indian Coast Guard Ship (ICGS) Veera at Visakhapatnam, the third of seven OPVs that L&T is building at Kathupalli shipyard in Tamil Nadu.

L&T won the Rs 1,304 crore CG contract to build seven OPVs in March, 2015. All three vessels delivered so far have been ahead of schedule.

These OPVs are designed in-house, at L&T’s warship design centre at Manapakkam, Chennai, making it the first significant warship fully designed and built in private sector facilities. L&T is pushing hard to be also allowed to design and build larger warships like corvettes, frigates, and destroyers, but the MoD has so far given those contracts “on nomination” to the four public sector defence shipyards: Mazagon Dock, Mumbai; Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata; Goa Shipyard Ltd and Hindustry Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam. In addition, Cochin Shipyard Ltd, a state enterprise, is being “nominated” to build aircraft carriers for the navy. 

L&T is also pushing for the Project 75-I contract to build six conventional submarines, based on foreign technology, which the MoD proposes to tender under the strategic partner (SP) category. For this, L&T has an impressive track record, having built the hulls of India’s nuclear submarines at its Hazira facility.

Says Jayant Patil, who heads L&T’s heavy engineering and defence business: “We have demonstrated our ability to deliver high-tech platforms on, or ahead of, time and within budget. We remain optimistic that the MoD will provide us a level playing field to enable us to play a larger role in defence.”

The 98-metre-long OPVs embark 106 crewmembers, who police India’s maritime zone on anti-smuggling and anti-piracy missions of up to 5,000 nautical miles (9,250 kilometres). The vessels can touch 26 knots (50 km per hour) and deploy a 30-millimetre main gun and two 12.7 mm heavy machine guns. 

The OPV also embarks a twin-engine helicopter and four high-speed boats for boarding operations. It is also equipped to respond to fires and oil and chemical spills.