'Indigenously designed' BrahMos to equip Talwar-class frigates

INS Teg, commissioned between April 2012 and June 2013, carry the BrahMos
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has stated that the four Krivak-III class frigates the navy is buying from Russia will be armed with the BrahMos anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM), reinforcing their reputation as the world’s most-heavily armed 4,000-tonne warships.

On Saturday, the MoD’s apex procurement body, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), approved the procurement of BrahMos missile systems for the first two Krivak-III frigates (also designated Project 1,135.6), which are almost fully built in Yantar Shipyard, Russia. The third and fourth frigates will be built in Goa Shipyard (GSL) under a transfer of technology agreement.

“The DAC granted approval for procurement of indigenous BrahMos Missile for two Indian Navy ships to be built in Russia. The indigenously designed BrahMos Missile is a tested and proven supersonic cruise missile and will form the primary weapon on-board these ships,” said a MoD release on Saturday.

The MoD is exaggerating in describing the BrahMos missile as “indigenously designed”. More than half the missile’s systems are Russian. BrahMos, a joint venture between Russia and India, assembles the missile in Hyderabad.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had approved the procurement of four frigates in October 2018, says the MoD. The price of the two ready built frigates has been agreed. The arrangements for building the next two in GSL are currently being negotiated.

Building in Goa will increase the cost, because of technology transfer, the cost of shipping raw materials and systems from Russia, establishing building infrastructure in GSL and indigenising parts of the warship.

The BrahMos systems for two ships approved today, including the cost of the “vertical launch system” and missiles on board, are estimated to cost Rs 25 billion.

Russian sources close to the negotiations place the contract value for two ready-built Project 1135.6 frigates at under $1 billion (Rs 70 billion) – or Rs 35 billion each. That means each vessel’s BrahMos arsenal will amount to about a quarter of the cost of the warship, making it the world’s most expensive anti-ship missile.

Separately, India is also negotiating a supplementary contract with Ukraine for the Zorya gas turbines that will power the four frigates. After Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, Ukraine cut off defence supplies to Russia. However, given its strong defence relations with Kiev, New Delhi has persuaded Ukraine to sell India the Zorya turbines, which Yantar Shipyard will fit onto India’s frigates. India already operates six Krivak-class frigates, which it calls the Talwar-class after the lead vessel. The first three frigates, INS Talwar, Trishul and Tabar, which were commissioned between June 2003 and April 2004, were armed with the Russian Klub ASCM. However, the next three, INS Teg, Tarkash and Trikand, which were commissioned between April 2012 and June 2013, carried the BrahMos.

With the BrahMos now finalised for the next four “follow on” frigates, it has emerged as the navy’s standard ASCM. BrahMos also equips the navy’s three Kolkata-class and four Visakhapatnam-class destroyers; and will also equip the seven Project 17A frigates that will shortly enter production.

The navy has pushed hard for the four Talwar-class frigates, given that it currently has just 132 warships against the projected requirement of 198 vessels. There are just 15 frigates in service against the 24 the navy calculates it needs.

Frigates are the navy’s workhorses — multi-role 3,500-6,000 tonne warships that can operate alone, and are capable of engaging targets in all four dimensions: Underwater, on the surface, inland and in the air.

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