US State Dept. Throws A Wrench Into Exports, Allied Shipbuilding
“If the United States ranks near the bottom amongst India’s defence suppliers, Washington’s penchant for imposing sanctions and restrictions has much to do with it. Now, the US appears to have shot itself in the foot again. The Indian Navy chose to power its indigenously designed, cutting-edge stealth warship, the INS Shivalik, with gas turbines from American company General Electric (GE). But even as the Shivalik readies for sea trials, the US State Department has ordered GE to stop all work.”
In July 2006, “India Orders 3 More Krivak III/Talwar Class Frigates” covered a $1.1 billion Indian order. The Krivak III Class is the basis for several current and future Indian Navy designs. These include the initial 1997 order, the “modified Krivak III” order placed in 2006, India’s “Project 17” Shivalik Class frigates, and a “Project 17A” that could either extend Indian modifications of the Krivak IIIs once again, or adopt an entirely different base platform.
Shivalik Class frigates are larger than the Talwar Class, and feature additional shaping and design changes to lower their radar and infrared signatures. They also adopted a popular American turbine for combat propulsion, in hopes of improving operational reliability. Those engines are now sowing grave doubts about a different kind of reliability. As the saying goes, there is now good news, and bad news…
- Seeing Red: Red Tape, Redline Schedules & Red Ink
- Project 17: INS Shivalik et. al.
- Ongoing Developments [updated]
- Additional Readings
Seeing Red: Red Tape, Redline Schedules & Red Ink
India’s Business Times:
“…GE has told [shipbuilder] MDL(Mazagon Dock Limited) that there could be up to three months delay, while the new US administration reviews its military relations with several countries. India is not alone in facing this ban; GE has been told to stop work even with close US allies like the UK and Australia. Says [MDL chairman and managing director] Admiral Malhi, “…They said the (US) State Department could take up to 3-4 months to re-look at relations with these countries. We don’t have that kind of time; we have to deliver the ship to the navy.”
…The ban, suggest sources, was imposed by an “over-enthusiastic State Department bureaucrat”, keen to display that the Obama administration was on the ball from the beginning. But in India, the ban is already generating talk of an unwise choice in going for a US engine.”
If the ban affects Australia as well, it could affect the Hobart Class air defense frigate and Canberra Class LHD amphibious assault ship projects. Like Australia’s existing frigates, and over 400 warships around the world, they chose to use a variant of GE’s LM2500. The first set for the Canberra Class is due in August 2009, while the Hobart Class isn’t due to accept the first set until 2010.
These engines are sold via Direct Commercial Sale, which is subject only to export licensing, rather than as a Foreign Military Sale which requires State Department approval and Congressional non-interference in order to proceed at all. That’s why India, and perhaps other customers as well, are looking for a quick commercial out, instead a lobbying campaign. If India can strike a deal with a non-American GE subsidiary or licensed partner for LM2500 engines, they might be able to sidestep the US State Department’s export licensing.
That maneuver would involve finding a partner with full independent production capability. GE has a successful partnership with Thales Australia, for instance, but it’s one that involves components rather than complete engines. GE has a partnership with India’s HAL to assemble LM2500 engines, but proper support requires more. Italy’s Avio, which is producing a variant of the LM2500 for the Franco-Italian FREMM frigates, would be one qualifying option – and appears to be GE’s choice. The associated condition would be that no American could work on the project.
All of this could hardly come at a worse time for the US-India defense trade.
American sanctions imposed over India’s nuclear tests in 1998 affected only a few pieces of defense equipment. Nevertheless, they left a lasting impression that has left India reluctant to choose American products, unless the alternatives are substantially worse. Recent treaties and warming of relations between the 2 countries have moderated those tendencies, but have not wholly removed them. With India reportedly expressing interest in American systems like the Patriot anti-aircraft missile and E-2D Hawkeye AWACS plane, and considering American equipment in international competitions like its $10 billion MMRCA fighter purchase, the long-term economic impact of an incident that re-brands the USA as an unreliable supplier could reach tens of billions of dollars in lost sales and maintenance revenue.
That is exactly what the US Department of State has done.
Project 17: INS Shivalik et. al.
Talwar Class frigates like INS Tabar aren’t really stealth warships, esp. by comparison to more modern designs like Singapore’s new Formidable Class frigates from France (a Lafayette Class derivative). They’re best described as mid-range multi-role frigates, with some radar reduction features. This does separate them from previous Indian ship classes, however, which have been Cold War era vessels that do not take these modern techniques into account.
The 3 Shivalik Class ships INS Shivalik, INS Satpura, and INS Sahyadri reportedly incorporate additional radar and infrared reduction steps, in addition to its enlargements and other modifications from the base Talwar/ Krivak III Class. India has also issued a follow-on “Project 17A” RFI that requests additional radar reduction measures, to bring the next batch of ships up to fully modern standards in this area.
The frigates are powered by a CODOG (Combined Diesel or Gas) system, with diesel used for most activities and gas turbines kicking in during combat, or other situations when speed becomes more important than operating costs. The INS Shivalik and subsequent “Project 17” frigates decided to supplement their 2 French Pielstick 16 PA6 ST diesel engines with GE’s popular LM2500 series. The LM2500s will replace Russian turbines, which are considered to be more maintenance-intensive and less reliable.
March 24/09: We have good news… and we have bad news. Indian Defence Ministry officials state that permission has been given for GE to resume work on the INS Shivalik’s LM2500 gas turbines, as of March 12/09.
Resumed cooperation is the good news. The current line is that a Technical Assistance Agreement (TAA) from the U.S. government was mandatory, for fitting these dual-use turbines on a military ship.
The bad news is that the 2-month delay has serious consequences. Mazagon Dock Ltd. wants to take their ship to sea for trials before the onset of monsoon season, but the odds of the ship being ready before July 2009 have dropped sharply due to the delays. If the ship cannot be ready for sea trials before the monsoon season hits, the US State Department’s 2-month delay will magnify itself, and grow into a much longer program delay. RTT News.
March 17/09: The Times of India reports that outsourcing to Italy is underway:
“Sources said MDL and Navy are now scrambling to get Italian company Fiat Avio to oversee the “operationalisation” of the two GE LM-2500 gas turbines of the 4,900-tonne frigate, named INS Shivalik, to ensure its sea trials can begin within a month or two.”
Fiat Avio builds a variant of the LM2500 engine for the new Franco-Italian FREMM frigates.
- Bharat Rakshak – Project 17 (Shivalik) Class
- GlobalSecurity – Project 17 P17 Shivalik Class Frigate
- DID – India Orders 3 More Krivak III/Talwar Class Frigates. Covers the modified Krivak IIIs.
- Bharat Rakshak – Modified Krivak III Class
- Bharat Rakshak – Talwar (Krivak III) Class