INS Talwar (F40) is the lead ship of the Talwar-class stealth frigate of the Indian Navy

India has completed the complex process of purchasing M90FR maritime gas turbine engines from Ukraine and delivering of these engines to a Russian shipyard that is building two of the four advanced P-17 "stealth" Talwar class frigates for India. Another two of these Advanced Talwars are being built in an Indian shipyard. The Talwar is actually an upgraded version of the Krivak-IV, first post-Cold War model of the Krivak line of frigates. The first of 40 Krivaks entered service in 1960 and was retired in 1996. So far 40 Krivaks have been built and the Talwars are Krivak-V with the Advanced Talwar the same as the Kirvak-VI, known in Russian as the Grigorivich class. The Cold War era Krivaks began as 3,100-ton warships. The 3,200-ton Krivak-II entered service in 1975, the 3,500-5on Krivak-III in 1983 (for the KGB operated Coast Guard) and the similar Krivak-IV for the navy was also based on the Krivak-II and first appeared in 1977. All the Krivaks were considered successful designs and there was a lot of ship building industry and navy support for further updates. That led to the Talwar that entered service in 2000. Finally there the Russian Grigorivich class that entered service in 2016.

The convoluted procurement of gas turbine engines for Russian built advanced Talwars Indian frigates is the only way India could get the two new Talwars from Russia on time and was done after negotiations with Ukraine to ensure the turbine purchase did not violate the post-2014 Ukrainian cancellation of military exports to Russia. This Ukrainian ban was in addition to Western sanctions which prohibited Russia from getting a wide range of industrial goods from Europe and the United States.

Despite the potential difficulty in getting engines for the advanced Talwars, the purchase was an admission of failure by India which expected to be capable of building all its own warships by now. That turned out not to be the case. While two of these Talwars will be built in India, the first two will come from Russia and there will be substantial purchases of Russian shipbuilding technology to enable India to build the other two Talwars. The Russian built Advanced Talwars are actually upgraded Talwars designed for the Russian navy as Admiral Grigorivich class frigates. The main difference between the advanced Talwar/ Grigorivich class ships and the original Talwars was stealthy superstructure and some differences in weapons and electronics.

Delivery of the Grigorivich class frigates was delayed because a Russian firm had to develop, test and manufacture a Russian built maritime gas turbine engine comparable to the Ukrainian M90FR. The Russian replacement M90FR was ready for service in 2020 but the Russian Navy had already purchased all the production for the next few years. India knew that the Ukrainian gas turbine firm has lost a lot of sales because of the ban on exports to Russia and was willing to sell and deliver M90FRs to India for all four of the Indian Advanced Talwars, including the two being built in Russia. The only alternative was for India to have the two Russian built Advanced Talwars towed to India where similar maritime gas turbines to be installed after modifications were made to the Russian built Talwars to accommodate a slightly different gas turbine. The solution to this mess that was satisfactory to India, Ukraine and Russia was for India to buy the M90FRs and then deliver them to the Russian shipyard for installation.

Once all four of these Advanced Talwars are in service India will begin construction of seven larger Nilgiri class frigates based on the Talwar frigates. The 6,600-ton Nilgiris are larger than the original Talwars India ordered in the 1990s and based on the design of the Stealthy Talwars planned to build itself in 2001. Stealthy means the ship’s superstructure is modified to reduce the radar signature, which makes the ship less likely to show up on enemy radars. Improved weapons and electronics were planned as as well, making it a more formidable warship than the original Talwars. India began building the first of three stealth Talwar (Project 17) ships in 2001 and realized it was going to have a difficult time given the current state of Indian warship construction capabilities. India built three of these Project 17 stealth ships but it took nine years for each one to get into service. India decided to solve the shortcomings of its warship construction capabilities by purchasing more experience and manufacturing equipment from Russia. This was done via the 2018 advanced Talwar deal.

In 2012-13 Russia delivered the last of three original Talwar class frigates. These were supposed to be the last surface ships India was buying from foreign shipyards. India ordered these three ships (for $1.6 billion) in 2006. These 4,000-ton Talwar's are 124.5 meters (386 feet) long, carry 24 anti-aircraft and eight anti-ship missiles, four torpedo tubes, as well as a 100mm gun, short-range anti-missile autocannon, a helicopter, and anti-submarine weapons (rockets and missiles). The ship has a very complete set of electronics gear, except for a troublesome Indian sonar. There is a crew of 180. All of the Talwars are equipped with eight Indian BrahMos anti-ship missile each. The Talwar is a modified version of the Russian Krivak design.

Meanwhile, India was building its own large warships. In July 2014 the Indian Navy received the first (INS Kamorta) of three Indian made corvettes. These are the first locally built modern surface warships for India. The Kamortas are 3,100-ton ships that are 109 meters (355 feet) long and have a top speed of 59 kilometres an hour. They are optimized for anti-submarine warfare and are armed with a 76.2mm gun, two 30mm multi-barrel anti-missile autocannon, two multi (12) barrel 212mm anti-submarine rocket launchers, 16 Barak anti-missile/aircraft missiles and six torpedo tubes. It has a hull-mounted sonar and carries a helicopter that can be armed with four anti-submarine torpedoes. The ship has stealthy features (small radar signature and more difficult for submarine sonar to detect as well.) By 2017 three Kamortas were in service with another under construction. India than plans to order eight more. Before the first three Kamortas were finished it was obvious that Indian warship tech and capabilities needed more help. One problem with the Kamortas was that construction was delayed by inexperience and also took about nine years per ship. China can put similar ships into service in three years.

At that point, India realized that it needed to obtain more help with shipbuilding techniques and technology and halted its plan to stop buying foreign (Russian) warships. More ships and shipbuilding tech would be purchased from Russia until India felt its own shipyards could do the job at least as well as the Russians. This now includes aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines as well as frigates and corvettes.

The Indian Nilgiri class frigates are actually comparable with the latest Russian surface warship. These are the Admiral Gorshkov class 5,400 ton “stealth frigates.” These ships can operate in distant waters and are replacing Cold War era destroyers, few of which can still get to sea. Like most new Russian warships the Gorshkovs arrived late and in far smaller numbers than originally planned. The original plan, from 2003, was for the first of 20 Gorshkovs to enter service in 2011. Construction began in 2006 and the first Gorshkov was launched in 2010. Once the first Gorshkov was in the water it was only about half complete and work slowed down. Already there were money problems and the plan was reduced to 15, then eight and finally four of these ships. A major reason for the delays and reduction of the number of ships was the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine. That meant Russia could not get the gas turbine engines for these ships and that technology was developed and monopolized (during the Soviet period) by Ukrainian plants. The new Russian maritime gas turbine engine was needed for the Gorshkovs as well as the Grigorivich class frigates and the Grigorivich/Talwar versions for India. Buy purchasing the additional Russian ship building tech that will enable Indian shipyards to build two of the advanced Talwars, Indian will also be capable of building the larger Nilgiri class frigates,

Strategy Page