A missile can sink a warship, but a delay can sink an entire warship programme. A major bottleneck in the Indian Navy's surge towards indigenously building all its warships is the long time being taken to design the vessels. The navy says that the shipyards take so long to build warships that new technology comes in, forcing a redesign to prevent ships being obsolescent even before they are inducted. The shipyards counter with the argument that constant redesign by the navy delays shipbuilding unacceptably.
Today, largely because of constant redesigning, India takes almost ten years to build a warship and introduce it into the fleet. But now all this could change with the dockyards going global. A search has been launched for an international design partner with which Mazagon Docks Limited in Mumbai (MDL) will set up an internationally registered private joint venture (JV) that will not just design warships but also function globally as a private design centre.
The process of design is currently a complicated one. When the navy is sanctioned a new line of warships (typically 3-6 vessels), naval designers first produce a "conceptual design" and then a "functional design". These lay down broad outlines, for example the number of decks, the positioning of weapons and the general layout. Based on that, the shipyard produces a "detailed design", which is comprehensively vetted by the navy, a complex and time-consuming process, which the shipyards believe they have the competence and experience to handle alone. The new design centres, shipyards expect, will add to their credibility.
Shipbuilding may also be speeded up by the Ministry of Defence's plan to make each of its three shipyards - MDL, GRSE and Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) - specialise in building a particular type of warship. Currently, only MDL has the facilities to produce larger warships, like the Kolkata Class destroyers, but the smaller craft are divided up among all three yards, which reduces the incentive to specialise.
MDL and GRSE both produce frigates, while the smaller vessels are distributed, depending upon current workload, between GRSE and GSL. Now, before modernising shipyards with "modular" shipbuilding facilities, the MoD is asking an international consultant to examine which yard is suited to build which vessel.