Considering the national wealth it commands India’s hard power shouldn’t be dismissed. As a matter of fact, as early as 1947 India possessed the best trained military in Asia. A strong British core was the rock upon which a professional institution was molded and outfitted with a proper navy and air arm.
In the decades that followed a growing domestic arms industry improved this state of affairs. There was no realm Indian scientists and engineers ventured that didn’t impact its military advancement. India also cultivated its allies from opposite sides of the Iron Curtain, an approach that remains profitable to this day as Delhi cuts deals with both Russia and the US.
So as the 20th century surrendered to the 21st India emerged as a leading arms importer while its military-industrial complex struggled with the development of cutting-edge weapons.
Glaring shortages in materials and capabilities persist in India’s massive armed forces. But new hardware, from tanks to stealth warships, are rolling out of state-owned factories with alarming frequency. This is a sure sign India is preparing for an active role in global affairs.
Just like China India is arming itself to fortify its economic advancement and dominate the Asian continent. Its current path might be frustrating but the intent is clear: India is the would-be arsenal of the free world.
Due to circumstances whose logic is difficult to comprehend, 30 years ago India became one of the largest customers for the AK-47 and its derivatives. The twist is it ignored directly purchasing the rifles from the Soviet Union, its main military supplier, and sourced the guns from Eastern Europe instead.
Unspecified numbers of AK’s have since reached India via Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic, and even China. Commandos, paratroopers, entire army regiments, paramilitaries, and local police are equipped with AK’s and prefer it over the standard issue INSAS, which is patterned after the AK-47. For the sake of convenience, the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) builds unlicensed AKM’s to meet overwhelming demand from the security forces.
The Indian military’s reluctance to formally adopt the AK-47 almost triggered a lawsuit by Russia’s Izhmash in 2004 and left its state-owned small arms plants in a bizarre conundrum. The AK-47 is an excellent rifle but, as in the case of the disappointing INSAS, it’s better to just borrow its parts.
Even today, after exhaustive trials to find a new assault rifle, the best local alternative for Indian soldiers uses an AK-pattern receiver and firing mechanism.
From old school revolvers to nimble Sterlings, the OFB manufactures a bewildering variety of small arms and ammunition. But India’s state-owned gun maker is unique for being the last, if not one of the last, bastions of the 7.62x51mm SLR.
The SLR, which is the British designation for the Belgian FAL, became a NATO standard rifle in 1953. Photographs can be found showing Indian soldiers armed with it during the Second India-Pakistan War in 1965. Given the size of India’s military and police forces, the OFB could be the largest producer of the SLR outside Europe.
Over the decades the OFB eventually built significant numbers of the Soviet AKM, its own family of indigenous rifles, and R&Ded new small arms. But the SLR hasn’t completely gone away and might never will. Why should it? It’s a perfect semi-automatic rifle.
Frabique Nationale, known today as FN Herstal, created an immortal weapon when it combined the gas operated firing mechanism of the Browning Automatic Rifle with the feed of a German MG. 34. The result was a belt-fed machine gun that’s now used in every continent and license-built by at least a dozen countries.
When introduced in 1958 it was quickly adopted by the UK as the L7 GPMG and the rest of NATO soon followed. Recognizable for its extended barrel, box shaped receiver, and distinctive carrying handle, it saw widespread use in the Middle East and Asia.
As a former British colony and a member of the Commonwealth, the Indian military stuck to their L7 (and the original BREN, to some extent) with its high rate of fire and impressive range, which reaches 1.5 kilometers. The OFB manufactures three variants for infantry, vehicles, and aircraft.
More thank half a century since its arrival the same L7 beloved by India is still rated excellent by soldiers everywhere.
In 1969 Soviet weapon designers began working on a new multipurpose 12.7mm machine gun to replace the cumbersome DShK, which dated to World War Two and was used throughout the Eastern Bloc.
By 1974 the NSV (an acronym for the inventors Nikitin, Sokolov, Volkov) commenced production and was soon indispensable for the Red Army and its allies. Weighing just 50 pounds and accurate up to 1,500 meters (1.5 km), the NSV was a formidable heavy machine gun that had no equivalent in the West. Its design also reflected its possible use against low-flying aircraft.
It’s unclear when India began mass-producing the NSV. But after testing the Soviet T-72 during the early 1980s the schematics for the NSV were no doubt passed on to the OFB. Since then the Indian Army no longer bothered with another machine gun and like the Russians, the NSV is a permanent fixture on the army’s tanks and vehicles.
The extent of India and South Africa’s commerce in weapons is difficult to ascertain. But at the turn of the last century an urgent requirement for large caliber anti-material rifles brought the Denel NTW-20 to the Indian Army’s attention.
The OFB soon began manufacturing the NTW under license, renaming it the Vidhwansak. Recognizable for its large barrel, prominent muzzle brake, and squarish carrying handle that frames its scope, the bolt action NTW is known for its powerful 20x110mm round that can reach targets 1.8 km away.
The only comparable rifle to the Vidhwansak is the Croatian RT-20. But the OFB does offer a degree of customization to its largest rifle–operators can choose if they want it chambered in 20mm, 14.5mm, or 12.7mm.
Weighing 100 lbs and ideally carried by two soldiers, the Vidhwansak does sacrifice ease-of-use for accuracy and range. This explains why the Indian Army is looking for an alternate large caliber sniper rifle.
It isn’t clear how long the OFB has been manufacturing licensed copies of the Milkor multi-grenade launcher. When fully loaded, the MGL can fire a half dozen 40x46mm grenades in two seconds at targets up to 400 m away. India’s jawans certainly have a reliable grenade launcher at their disposal for years to come.
The MGL’s existence dates to the early 1980s, when a South African inventor built a revolver-type grenade launcher in his workshop. Andries C. Piek’s creation was accepted by the South African Defense Force (SADF) in 1983 and its popularity soon spread all over the world, including the US where it has become a favorite of Marines and special forces operators.
A terrifying force multiplier in any type of combat, the MGL is proof that simple weapons always last longest.
Could it be the ultimate recoilless rifle?
The 84mm Carl Gustaf was first used by the Swedish Army in 1948. Its simple design and powerful warhead established its sterling reputation in at least 20 militaries, including the Indian Army. In 1964 (M2) and 1991 (M3) improved variants were developed by the Swedish defense contractor Saab.
Today the Carl Gustaf qualifies as a short-range anti-tank weapon although it’s just as frequently used to suppress enemy defenses and blow things up. It enjoyed a resurgence among NATO forces in Afghanistan where it helped level the battlefield against the ubiquitous RPG-7. Both weapons are evenly matched and have sufficient oomph to knock out modern armored vehicles.
The OFB manufactures both the Carl Gustaf M2 and M3, which suggests it first acquired licensing rights as far back as the 1960s. The Carl Gustaf serves as the army’s entry level tank killer when soldiers don’t have to use missiles. Saab is now developing smart munitions and a fire control system for the Carl Gustaf and these may soon reach India.
This French heavy mortar from the 1950s might be an anachronism in this age of smart munitions, but it’s dependable enough to enjoy continued use. The original MO-120-RT was designed and manufactured by Thomson-Brandt. Its impressive range (up to 5 km) and ease-of-use endeared it to many foreign armies, including the US Marine Corps.
In what appears to be a genuine case of historic irony, the MO-120 is used by the successor states that replaced the fabled Gunpowder Empires: Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and India. It deserves mention how each of these countries have enormous requirements for artillery and other crew-served weapons. It’s unknown how many MO-120’s are used by the Indian Army, but the OFB still considers it part of its product line.
Light Field Gun
The 105mm L118 field gun is one of the most remarkable modern artillery pieces ever produced in the UK. Barely weighing two tons and designed to be transportable by land, sea, or air, it’s used by at least 20 different countries.
The L118 first entered service with the British Army in 1975 and was soon snapped up by allied countries, including a modified variant for the US Army. The L118’s biggest draw is it can be flown into any theater with difficult terrain and operated without fuss.
The Indian Army is fond of it too and several hundred Light Field Guns are counted among more than 2,000 towed and self-propelled artillery pieces in its arsenal.
During the 1980s India became the largest international customer for the Bofors FH-77B, a 155mm towed howitzer made in Sweden. A total of 410 of these guns were delivered from 1986 until 1991. In 1987, however, a convoluted scandal involving shady arms dealers and bribery erupted and forever tarnished the Bofors name in the national consciousness. Sadly, what was called the Bofors scandal slowed down India’s arms imports for decades.
But the FH-77B was a very capable artillery piece and proved its mettle during the Kargil War in 1998. The problem was these Swedish guns didn’t have an indefinite service life and the Indian Army knew it badly needed more of the same rather than the familiar 105mm’s. Although Russian artillery pieces were always an option, these had neither the range nor the sophistication of their Western European counterparts.
In early 2015 the OFB marked another breakthrough–one that could soothe the army’s gripes over their big guns. After successful testing from 2011 to 2014, the locally made copy of the FH-77B called the Dhanush possessed the same features but with greater range and pre-installed targeting software. (The OFB acquired the FH-77B’s schematics from a transfer-of-technology agreement.)
The Indian Army expects the Gun Carriage Factory to deliver 144 guns in the next few years. A total of 414 pieces along with continuous mass-production are required by 2020. A truck mounted system utilizing the Dhanush may or may not enter service.
France has been a faithful supplier of the Indian military since the 1960s and this profitable relationship endures to this day. Besides AMX-13 light tanks and Mirage jets, France’s popular ATGM is also prized by the Indian military.
India’s longstanding rivalry with Pakistan meant anti-tank weapons would have an enormous role in any conflict over the Line of Control (LoC). This was true in 1965 and 1971 and would remain so for any future showdown. The Milan was an excellent choice of missile when it was introduced by France in 1972. Its ease-of-use and ability to penetrate three feet of armor at medium-range established its reputation as a bestseller.
Since then, 300,000 of its wire-guided tandem HEAT missiles have been sold around the world. The Milan is license-built in Germany, Spain, Turkey, and India by state-owned Bharat Dynamics Ltd. As recently as 2009 the Indian Army replenished its stocks of Milans by ordering 4,100 missiles from France.
The Milan wasn’t the only ATGM India settled on since the military also stocks large quantities of license-built Konkurs and the lethal Kornet. In 2014 India even purchased half a billion dollars worth of Israeli Spike missiles. But the Milan isn’t disappearing any time soon.
Even if it possesses large quantities of French, Israeli, Russian, Swedish, and US anti-tank weapons the Indian Army has yet to deploy a locally made ATGM. Beginning in the 1980s, however, the DRDO and its sister agency the DRDL launched various missile programs.
Its unclear what year the Nag was first prototyped but in 2010 it was successfully tested against inert tanks at a Rajasthan firing range. The 190mm Nag missile is comparable to the US-made TOW and the Hellfire. It’s armed with a tandem HEAT warhead and has a maximum range of 4,000 meters (4 km).
Its operation, however, is similar to the Russian Khrizantema or the Chinese ATF-10. A battery of Nag missiles are mounted on a tracked carrier vehicle–a modified BMP-2–and these serve as tank hunters during combined operations.
On the other hand, the Nag’s performance is reminiscent of the US FGM Javelin, albeit with impressive differences. It’s a fire-and-forget missile that uses a high angle of attack to defeat its target. The Nag’s optical seeker is allegedly jam resistant and it uses a smokeless propellant to conceal its flight path.
The Indian Army has already placed orders for hundreds of Nag missiles. An airborne variant of the Nag called the Helina is being tested.
The Indian Army is the second largest user of the BMP-2, which it renamed the “Sarath,” outside Russia. Since licensed production commenced in 1987, a reported 1,200 or 1,500 BMP-2’s have been made in the subcontinent. A further 363 will enter service in the coming years.
Despite its questionable armor protection–a flaw that can be rectified with upgrades–and cramped interior, the BMP-2 is a robust fighting vehicle. Designed to be fully amphibious and armed with a powerful 30mm gun, the BMP-2 still qualifies as a formidable opponent in any battlefield.
But the OFB and the Indian Army appear to have taken liberties with their BMP-2, using its hull and chassis for a SAM system, a self-propelled gun, a mortar carrier, a bulldozer, an engineer vehicle, a reconnaissance vehicle, and as a platform for the Nag missile,. i.e. the Namica.
Although Indian manufacturers can build an APC to replace the BMP-2, the Indian Army isn’t budging. The Indian BMP-2 is destined for extensive modernization, with a better engine and armaments, to keep it viable until and perhaps beyond 2025.
The production of tanks is a powerful indicator that a country has a strong industrial base. India reached this stage by the 1960s and after it fought three wars with Pakistan and another with China a new requirement arose for a true world-class battle tank.
India already manufactured a capable modern tank, the Vijayanta, and would later build licensed T-72 and T-90S tanks. So a new MBT superior to any rival in South Asia wasn’t beyond its reach.
To this day literature about the Arjun’s origin is scarce. But the Arjun does strongly resemble the original Leopard 2 and according to a profile published by the US Army’s Armor magazine in 1998, its R&D was undertaken by the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE). In the period between 1983 and 1985 the Arjun was successfully prototyped and it strongly resembled the German Leopard 1 with its squarish turret, 120mm main gun, and 1,400 horsepower MTU diesel engine.
But the Arjun was a flop. Where other countries–Israel and Japan, for example–successfully launched MBT programs from scratch it took the Arjun three decades before it finally reached the Indian Army in 2011. With its performance characteristics lagging behind the DRDO enlisted Israeli defense contractors to upgrade it thereby creating the Arjun Mark II.
Having thousands of Russian tanks means the Indian Army needs just 242 Arjuns. Since there are no plans for exporting it the Arjun remains a promising MBT that never got to prove itself.
For the first time ever India has turned to an East Asian country for help with developing an advanced weapon system. Renamed the Vajra, the 155mm self-propelled gun is a license-built K9 Thunder with Indian production run by the conglomerate Larsen & Toubro with the help of South Korea’s Samsung Techwin.
Larsen & Toubro are also collaborating with France’s Nexter on a towed artillery piece.
When the expected 100 K9 Vajra’s are delivered they replace the army’s aging batteries of British 105mm Abbots and Russian 122mm Gvozdikas. Previous attempts to develop and mass-produce an indigenous self-propelled gun begat systems that fell short of modern standards, including a repurposed Arju tank chassis mounted with a crew-served artillery piece.
With the Vajra, however, the Indian Army receives a world-class product that surpasses its peers in NATO and even Russia. But the Vajra won’t satisfy the Indian Army’s enormous appetite for maximum firepower. According to its Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan, a total of 2,820 pieces need to be acquired before decade’s end.
A peculiar feature of India’s sprawling military-industrial complex is despite abundant time and resources, it struggles to accomplish its own self-appointed goals. A stark contrast is nimble Israel, which achieved tenuous independence a year after India. Within six decades Israel leapfrogged from the Uzi to cyberwarfare and is recognized today as a world-class arms exporter.
India’s lazy approach to militarization does eventually succeed and proof of this is the Dhruv. Although designated an Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), the Dhruv performs the same role as the German Bo-105 or the US UH-1. It’s a twin engine utility helicopter designed to ferry troops and supplies. The Dhruv also qualifies as one of the oldest programs initiated by state-owned aerospace giant Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
Originally conceived in 1984, production of the Dhruv only began in 2001 and by 2007 several dozen had been delivered to the army. The Dhruv is now flown by each branch–including the Coast Guard–and HAL has so far developed four variants, the last is ALH Mark IV Rudra attack helicopter. In a remarkable first, the Dhruv enjoyed limited export success from 2009 to 2010.
The Indian military expects to operate 200 Dhruvs and 76 Rudras before 2020.
Although India will spend an estimated $4 billion on Boeing Apaches and Chinooks for its air force, HAL is busy with the finishing touches for its vaunted Light Combat Helicopter.
The LCH’s origins date to 2006, when a requirement was determined for a high altitude gunship that surpassed the performance of the dependable Mi-35 Hind. By 2007 a prototype was unveiled during an air show in Bengaluru. The LCH’s Technology Demonstrator 1 or TD-1 variant underwent its first flight test in 2010. The improved TD-2 flew again in 2011.
Weighing 5.5 tons and powered by twin turboshaft engines, the LCH’s appearance is typical among current generation attack helicopters. Its armaments consist of a nose-mounted cannon and four hardpoints for rockets and missiles.
From 2012 until 2015 the LCH underwent further testing and its TD-3 variant can fly at subzero temperatures in the Himalayas–a feat most helicopters aren’t designed for. The first batch of LCH’s are expected to enter service by 2017. Its current production orders are large, with 65 helicopters for the air force and 114 for the army.
The Indian Air Force bridged the air-superiority divide in the late 1990s when HAL acquired licensed manufacturing rights to the Russian twin-seater Su-27UBK.
The investment has paid off in strategic dividends and since production commenced in 2002, the IAF have received 205 of the 270 Su-30MKI’s it ordered. As a twin engine aircraft with canards and Western European avionics, an Su-30MKI’s performance characteristics are superior to most third and even fourth-generation fighters.
The Su-30MKI’s capabilities are so impressive, from superb range, maneuverability, and armaments, that it altered the IAF’s total war strategy in case of a future conflict with either Pakistan or China.
Even the Russians were awed by it and the Sukhoi Company is now building its own Su-30MK based on the Indian variant.
Tejas Light Combat Aircraft
The IAF always wanted its own indigenous fighter jet. Take it from the decorated Air Marshall M.S.D. Wollen, who oversaw the development of what became the Tejas LCA during his time as HAL‘s chairman.
As early as 1969 the Indian government began planning for an advanced fighter jet that used a proven jet engine. It took 20 years before consultants from Dassault Aviation helped establish the design features of the LCA from 1987 to 1988–hence its delta wing configuration–but a viable prototype wasn’t ready until 1995.
In the meantime, the IAF made do with an estimated 260 Soviet MiG-21 and MiG-27’s, which served as the branch’s ordained dog fighters since the days of Indira Gandhi. Since the IAF already flies a vast fleet of fourth-generation Su-30MKI’s, the LCA was meant to replace the aging MiGs.
Like many Indian defense projects, the LCA had a protracted development across 40 years. Its first flight was in 2001 and testing continued until 2011. The IAF have an initial order for 40 Tejas LCA Mark I’s and 250 additional Mark II’s are expected by 2020. The Indian Navy also needs at least 56 carrier-based Tejas LCA’s within the same time frame.
After decades of development hell, the Tejas LCA could be the next Mirage III and prove itself the ultimate cheap fighter jet.
Like many countries that acquired rocket artillery from the former Soviet Union, India moved away from its Grads and began developing its own system in 1986. Unfortunately where countries like Israel, China, South Korea, Turkey, Iran and even North Korea succeeded, the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) tasked by the DRDO with developing an indigenous MLRS struggled for years.
The Pinaka was already tested and viable in the period from 1994-1995 but it wasn’t operational until 2000. The Pinaka marked a departure from the crude BM-21 it was meant to replace. Its launcher was armed with two cells holding a dozen 214mm rockets. The entire system was mounted on an 8×8 truck and could bombard targets 40 km away.
Its laborious development and low-rate production forced the Indian Army to acquire large numbers of the BM-30 Smerch in 2006. Today less than a hundred Pinaka Mark I’s are in service. A new variant with a longer range, the Pinaka Mark II, is undergoing tests. Even with its sluggish progress the Pinaka deserves a place next to current multi-launch rockets systems.
India is a latecomer in the ballistic missile game. Despite access to both Western and Eastern Bloc technology during the Cold War, acquiring a long-range missile arsenal wasn’t a pressing concern for its military. Even when the DRDO initiated its Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) during the 1980s, the fruits of this ambitious effort didn’t arrive until almost a quarter century later.
So it is with the Agni. Rather than a name for a single missile, the Agni represents a lineage of launch systems produced after India’s successful nuclear tests in 1998. The Agni I is a conventional short-range road mobile ballistic missile that can deliver a large payload 1,200 km away. The Agni II is an improved variant of its predecessor with an even greater range.
The Agni III, IV, and V are intermediate-range systems capable of delivering nuclear warheads to anywhere in South and Central Asia. The Agni V in particular is currently being developed to launch multiple nukes over a rival country’s major cities. But a lot of work remains to be done and India’s full second strike capability won’t be in place until the 2020s.
It’s the deadliest conventional missile in the world. Or is it?
Untested in combat, the supersonic BrahMos represents a rare success in multinational defense cooperation outside Europe. In 1998, the governments of Russia and India launched a $250 million joint venture to manufacture a next-generation cruise missile based on proven technology, i.e. the P-800 Yakhont.
The BrahMos, a combination of the names Brahmaputra and Moskva, proved a sound investment that wasn’t cursed by the Indian defense industry’s endemic delays. Several years of testing led to actual production by 2004. The Indian Navy inducted it the following year and the ground-launched version was accepted by the army in 2007.
The BrahMos is a single warhead ramjet-driven system meant to operate from ground-based launchers, aircraft, warships, and submarines. Its range is between 300 and 500 km depending on the variant. Its payload, which can be armed with an 800 lb high explosive warhead, supports submunitions as well.
To further emphasize the BrahMos potential lethality–it’s considered superior to anything used by NATO or the US.
Given its sterling bilateral ties with Russia, India never acquired ballistic missile technology from the Eastern Bloc. As its nuclear weapons program advanced, however, a requirement arose for a modern delivery system, i.e. a missile.
Beginning in 1983, the IGMDP sought to produce a road mobile surface to surface weapon for delivering conventional payloads. Its envisioned role was to degrade and destroy vital enemy infrastructure during a ground offensive.This doctrine made the forthcoming missile analogous to the Soviet Scud-series or the US-made ATACMS.
By 1988 testing commenced for what became the Prithvi I, a nine-meter tall conventional rocket with a 2,200 pound payload and a modest range of 150 kilometers. Production commenced in 1994 and the Indian Army maintains a small arsenal of Prithvi’s today. An improved variant, the Prithvi II, is still undergoing tests in the Bay of Bengal.
The Prithvi II has more than twice the range of its predecessor and can be armed with a nuclear warhead. Once operational, it will be capable of ground, air, and sea launches. A naval variant of the Prithvi called the Dhanush is believed to already be in service since 2010.
The medium-range Akash surface-to-air missile (SAM) is another successful offspring of the IGMDP.The Akash is so far the most potent air-defense system ever developed by India’s military-industrial complex. Its performance is comparable to the Russian Buk and the US Hawk but Indian sources claim it’s superior to Western SAMs.
After 20 years in development the Akash entered production by 2006 with orders being fulfilled until the present. The Akash deploys in batteries of 12 missiles and is designed to guard sensitive facilities, mechanized formations, and national airspace. Although India lags behind China when it comes to its air-defense network it compensates by having a large selection of foreign suppliers who can either sell or jointly develop new systems. The Akash, however, is touted for being completely Indian–96% of it, at the most.
The success of the Akash laid the groundwork for future programs that improve on the original. Rather than agree to a license-built variant of a Russian or French system, the Akash is tailor-made for its ultimate customer: the Indian military. A total of 3,000 Akash missiles are deployed with the army and air force.
For a country that commands an entire ocean the Indian Navy’s submarine fleet is a modest one, numbering less than 15 boats. This shortcoming in the face of China’s rapid naval expansion is now being addressed with a commensurate blue water build up. At the forefront of this effort are, naturally, submarines.
In the mid-2000s India partnered with France for the acquisition of half a dozen Scorpene-class diesel-electric submarines. These were to be constructed at the facilities of Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd. over a 10 year period. The boats are locally made but the weapons and equipment inside are Franco-German systems.
The Scorpene is a small submarine that packs a serious punch and can launch torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. Since it entered service in 2005 Chile, Malaysia, and Brazil have acquired their own Scorpenes. But India is its largest international customer so far.
The first of its class the INS Kalvari, which took its name from the original Kalvari submarine from the previous century, was commissioned in April, 2015, and begins operations in September, 2016. If there are no delays its sisters will join the fleet each year at Kadamba naval base until 2019 or 2020.
India and China are the only Asian countries actively building nuclear submarine forces. With the latter’s efforts shrouded in secrecy and speculation, the Indian Navy’s first Arihant-class SSBN comes with a refreshing amount of hype and genuine transparency.
India’s need for a nuclear submarine arose in 1971 but like other ambitious defense programs it wasn’t until the cusp of the 21st century before work on the Arihant began. (In 1998, to be specific.) When finally launched in 2009, it took several years and considerable assistance from Russia before its nuclear reactor was prepared. This breakthrough was followed by grueling sea trials.
India’s experience operating Russian submarines had a great influence on the Arihant, which displaces at 6,000 tons and is powered by an 83 megawatt reactor. The navy’s only nuclear-powered submarine, INS Chakra, is a massive Soviet-era Typhoon SSBN on lease until the advent of the Arihants, which externally resemble their Western European counterparts.
Once commissioned in 2015, the first of six Arihant-class SSBN’s serve as 1/3rd of India’s nuclear triad. This ensures a second strike capability should an apocalyptic war erupt in the near future.
As early as the 1970s India was far ahead of most Asian countries–except Japan–when it came to warship construction. With its experience operating British and Russian vessels, making the leap to local shipbuilding was inevitable.
A trio of Godavari-class guided missile frigates were commissioned during the 1980s and their success later inspired a requirement for newer advanced warships. These begat another trio of Brahmaputra-class frigates commissioned from 2000-2005.
But with the advent of stealth features and complex supply chains the navy still needed cutting edge assets that were just as capable as their Western European peers. Capabilities like deploying land attack cruise missiles, i.e. BrahMos, were essential too. During the 1990s plans were readied for the navy’s next-generation frigates armed with a combination of Russian and Israeli systems.
Only three 4,900 ton Shivalik-class frigates were built and commissioned from 2010 to 2012. The Indian Navy is now preparing to commission a quartet of its upcoming stealth corvettes, the Kamortas.
Until the launch of its new aircraft carriers the largest warships ever deployed by the Indian Navy were the 6,700 ton Delhi-class destroyers: the INS Delhi, Mysore, and Mumbai.
Each of these destroyers are a complete package armed with torpedoes, anti-ship and cruise missiles, and able to repel any airborne threat. Crewed by 390 sailors and officers the Delhi-class are fitting actors in any show of force. But their origins are quite colorful.
A recurring theme in modern India’s rise as a military power is the unpredictable course that bedevils its weapons manufacturing. Whether it’s assault rifles or aircraft carriers, what the Indian government and its partner agencies begin have a startling tendency to meander, bog down, diverge, and complexify before the outcome arrives.
This is the experience of the Delhi-class guided missile destroyers. Conceived as a hybrid design combining the best aspects of Soviet surface combatants the Delhis were supposed to be furnished in Ukraine before their launch in India. What happened was years of delays and changing requirements altered its function and appearance.
But the Delhis came out alright and in 1993, 1996, and 2001 each of the vessels received their commissions. With 70% of their parts supplied by local contractors to Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd., the Delhi-class are truly made in India.
With its long experience building surface combatants, it should come as no surprise the Indian Navy wants them faster, larger, and deadlier. Hence the 7,500 ton Kolkata-class that have supplanted the older Delhis in every possible metric.
But the Kolkatas were also a success for Israel, i.e. Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), who not only supplied its MF-STAR radar but the Barak 8 SAMs, which is the navy’s favorite anti-aircraft system after its trusted 30mm AK-630 CIWS’.
The Kolkatas were also designed to deploy the naval version Brahmos and like the Delhis, their hangars fit two Dhruv helicopters.
The Indian Navy intends to commission the last of its three Kolkata destroyers by 2016. These will then serve alongside a quartet of newer destroyers that share the same hulls–the Visakhapatnam-class.
Since India and China are poised to become rival powers state-owned shipyards from both countries are actively building next-generation warships. With two PLAN Liaoning-class carriers reportedly under construction in Dalian the Indian Navy isn’t letting itself fall behind.
In 2013 it received its long-delayed Vikramaditya, which underwent a decade of expensive rebuilding in Russia. A second aircraft carrier’s hull was completed at Cochin Shipyard Ltd. that same year. This was the INS Vikrant named after India’s first British-made carrier.
Today the Vikrant is mostly complete with its runway and island installed. By the time it’s commissioned it deploys 30 MiG-29K’s and anti-submarine helicopters along with 1,600 crew members. Once at sea the Vikrant’s appearance and operation resembles its sibling Vikramaditya. It’s worth noting the PLAN’s upcoming carriers share the same short takeoff design of their Indian counterparts.
The irony here is not very subtle since both navies will deploy ships based on Soviet-era Kiev-class STOBAR carriers.