India has found itself in a challenging situation as the ongoing conflict has disrupted the construction of Admiral Grigorovich’s stealth-guided missile frigates. These frigates, an upgraded version of the Talwar class, were being built in Russia but were powered by Ukrainian engines. With the war affecting the supply chain, the completion of the last two ships in the class faced delays.
In a strategic move, Kalyani Strategic Systems (KSSL), a majority-owned subsidiary of Bharat Forge, has acquired the Indian arm of Ukrainian Zorya Mashproekt. Zorya Mashproekt manufactures the engines for the Admiral Grigorovich class frigates. The acquisition agreement was signed on May 9, 2023, and completed on December 31, 2023.
The Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates, weighing 3,620 tons, are an enhanced version of the Talwar-class, previously built by Russia for the Indian Navy between 2003 and 2013. An Inter-Governmental Agreement between India and Russia in October 2016 paved the way for the purchase of four stealth frigates, with a subsequent $1 billion deal for direct acquisition.
The first two frigates, currently under construction in a Russian shipyard, were powered by Ukrainian engines, thanks to India’s diplomatic efforts in 2019. However, the completion of the remaining two frigates faced challenges. In November 2018, Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) and Russia’s Rosoboronexport signed a $500 million deal for material, design, and specialized support for the local production of these frigates. GSL is now building these frigates, and delivery dates hinge on the payment plan.
To address the ban on military exports from Ukraine to Russia since 2014, India will directly procure two M90FR gas turbine engines for the remaining frigates. The Russian shipyard has initially projected delivery in May and October 2024, but recent reports suggest a delay to 2025.
Upon completion, these frigates will mark the last Indian Navy warships constructed at a foreign shipyard, contributing to India’s goal of having all warships built domestically. With 68 warships valued at Rs. 200,000 crores ($2.5 billion) on order, the acquisition of stakes in Zorya Mashproekt is seen as a positive development for the Indian shipbuilding industry.
Zorya Mashproekt India Private Limited (ZMI), a company established on August 12, 2022, plays a vital role in India’s defense sector. It focuses on developing and servicing gas turbine engines that power various naval vessels. Despite being a pre-revenue company, its establishment is viewed as a strategic solution to the challenges posed by the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, safeguarding the operational readiness of the Indian Navy.
Complicated Web Of Old Ties
The intricate ties between India and Russia in defense ventures are evident in the Talwar-class advanced guided missile frigates. These frigates, equipped with Ukrainian engines, are armed with the BrahMos cruise missile system, a joint venture product between India and Russia.
The BrahMos missile, a two-stage system named after the Brahmaputra River in India and the Moskva River in Russia, is a modification of the Russian P-800 Oniks supersonic anti-ship cruise missile. Complementing this, the frigates feature the Russian 3M-54 Kalibr vertically launched supersonic anti-ship cruise missile and a Ka-27 helicopter for anti-submarine warfare.
With a maximum speed of 30 knots, these frigates can operate at sea for nearly 30 days without refueling, stationed at a naval base. However, the broader defense collaboration faces challenges due to the ongoing war.
India’s historical reliance on Russia and former USSR states is evident in various defense projects awaiting resolution. Plans to upgrade the Antonov AN-32 fleet, acquire R-27 air-to-air missiles, and modernize artillery and air defense systems depend on cooperation with Ukraine.
A $400 million contract signed in 2008 with Ukraine to upgrade 105 AN-32 planes has been hampered by Moscow’s reluctance to provide crucial equipment. The deterioration of relations between Russia and Ukraine since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 has contributed to this delay.
In response, India diversified its defense acquisitions, purchasing Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules and Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transport jets from the United States. The Indian Army, awaiting 700,000 AK-203 assault rifles through an India-Russia joint venture, turned to the US for 70,000 Sig Sauer rifles due to delays.
The geopolitical challenges also impact the delivery of INS Chakra, a nuclear-powered attack submarine. Economic sanctions stemming from the conflict led India and Russia to seek alternative payment methods, creating further hurdles in defense collaborations between the two nations.