To boost its prospects in commercial ship building, GRSE has signed preliminary pacts with DCNS of France and Gibbs and Cox of the US for collaboration in design of ships to boost exports

NEW DELHI: Competition from China notwithstanding, Indian warship maker Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd (GRSE) is making a determined bid to win orders from countries in India’s periphery, Southeast Asia, and Africa to build up its order book.

According to Rear Admiral VK Saxena, chairman and managing director of Kolkata-based GRSE, a defence sector public sector unit (PSU), which currently sees 7% of its total turnover from exports, aims to increase that to 25%-30% in the next five years. The company has bagged commercial orders from Guyana and Bangladesh for construction of an ocean-going passenger-cum-cargo vessel from the former, and patrol boats for the fishery department from the latter.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Saxena said plans to modernise the ship builder incorporating Artificial Intelligence, 3D modelling and virtual reality labs were sped up thanks to the covid-19 pandemic that put a strain on manpower as well as supply chains.

The defence PSU recently took delivery of a completely assembled crane, weighing more than 1,600 tonne, transported to Kolkata from South Korea. The new crane would help speed up production of the 23 platforms that are part of the GRSE’s current order book which consists of six projects. Three of the six projects have been commissioned by the Indian Navy, which include the construction of stealth frigates, survey vessels, and anti submarine warfare shallow water crafts.

GRSE had also signed a concessionary agreement with Kolkata Port Trust (KPT) to formally takeover the three docks from KPT that will be utilised for refits and repairs of not only military boats but commercial vessels as well, Saxena said. He noted that there were good prospects for business not only from India but also Bangladesh.

On GRSE bagging export orders from Guyana and Bangladesh, Saxena described this as a “small beginning" adding that the possibilities were bright.

“Earlier, we were never looking at that (exports) but thanks to the Government of India initiatives and the targets they have set in for exports of defence platforms, but I am even looking at commercial platforms. So I am pretty sure that these are the openings and we being a competent shipyard that has produced 788 platforms including 107 warships, we have got everything," Saxena told reporters at a virtual briefing. “And possibly we can make inroads into the exports arena as well," he said.

The reference was to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year setting Indian defence manufacturers the target of $5 billion in exports by 2025. The defence ministry has made out a list of more than 200 defence hardware products that are to be procured from domestic companies in a bid to boost defence manufacturing in India which has the reputation of being one of the three top military hardware buyers in the world.

“There are different influences that are playing around in terms of geo-politics and the region. So certainly we are looking at the Southeast Asian countries and the Fareast Asian countries especially Philippines and Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and the MENA (Middle East North Africa) and some of the countries there. Talks are on and discussions are on and we do not really know how they would convert into actual orders," Saxena said.

Countries in the Indian Ocean region had expressed interest in the smaller boats like patrol vessels, he said.

“China is a dominant ship building country…close to 40% of the global shipbuilding is with them," he later added.

To boost its prospects in commercial ship building, GRSE has signed preliminary pacts with DCNS of France and Gibbs and Cox of the US for collaboration in design of ships to boost exports. A pact with Finland for designing and making ice cutters is on the cards, Saxena added.