New Frigate Bidding Candidate: Kamorta-class Variant?

The INS Kamorta of the Indian Navy, photo courtesy of the Indian Navy thru Wikipedia Commons
The INS Kamorta of the Indian Navy, photo courtesy of the Indian Navy thru Wikipedia Commons

The Indian press recently announced that the Indian shipbuilding company “Garden Reach Ship Builders and Engineers (GRSE)” is bidding for the Philippine Navy’s (PhN) Frigate Acquisition Project. [1] UNFORNATELY, NONE of the reports indicated specifically WHICH ship GRSE in entering into the bidding.

The only clue in the reports is that the weight of the ship is at approximately 3,500 tons. Looking at GRSE’s official website, [2] the only Frigate sized ship they offering there is the “Brahmaputra class Frigate” which has an empty displacement of 3,650 tons, but this maybe a little bit too big for the PhN’s Frigate project.

Most local military observers cite a variant of the “Kamorta-class Corvette” as GRSE’s likely candidate for the bidding, and I tend to agree with them for a number of reasons:
– First is that at full displacement, the Kamorta is reportedly at 3,400 tons, close to the tonnage as reported in the Indian press;
– Second is that at an empty displacement of 2,400 tons, it is close to the displacement of the other candidate ships like STX France’s Floreal/Mohammed V class, Navantia’s Avante 2200 and Hyundai Heavy Industries’ (HHI) HDF-3000 Incheon class.

‘Corvette, or Frigate?’
The bidding is for a “Frigate” but the Kamorta is classified as a “Corvette”, so will this be an issue? Well, the truth of the matter is that right now there are NO internationally accepted criteria for the classification of Naval ships. There are some informal guidelines, but the general practice now is … It’s anything goes, a country can basically call a ship whatever they want to call it.

For example, Denmark calls their 139 m long, 6,600 ton Iver Huitfeldt class ships as “Frigates” while South Korea calls their 136 m long, 3,900 ton Gwanggaeto the Great class ships as “Destroyers”. Or what about Iran, who insists their 96 m, 1,100 ton Alvand class ships are “Frigates”? “Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to, To-may-to, To-mah-to”, Corvette or Frigate, it doesn’t really matter at this point, our navy can classify its ships whatever they want to.

’The Kamorta class’
The Kamorta-class is currently India’s pride and joy as it is their first indigenously built “stealth” warship, with an estimated local content of around 90%. 4 ships were ordered by the Indian Navy with the first one, the INS Kamorta, being formally commissioned into service just August of 2014. The remaining 3 ships are expected to be delivered by 2017. Other important characteristics of the Kamorta are as follows:[3]
Displacement (Empty): 2,400 tons
Length: 109 m
Beam: 12.8 m
Complement: 123

The main role of the Kamorta in the Indian Navy is for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) as they are counting on the ship’s stealth capability to make it more effective in this role as it will be able to sneak up on Submarines and also be more efficient with the use of its Sonar sensors.

’Stealth Ship’
The Kamorta is unique among the candidates in that it is the only one we know so far being advertised as a “Stealth Vessel”. The Floreal/Mohammed V class is definitely not stealthy, (unless of course the STX makes some changes to the ship for the bidding); The HDF-3000 and Avante 2200 classes have stealth features, but their manufacturers have not gone as far as declaring them as true stealth vessels.

The Kamorta, on the other hand, reportedly has considerable stealth characteristics which significantly lessens its Radar, Infra-Red (IR) and Acoustic signatures, enumerated as follows:[4]

* The hull and superstructure were shaped and constructed with Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) materials to achieve low Radar Cross Section (RCS);

* An IR Suppression Cooling System is used for its Engine and Generator exhausts;

* Its Gear Boxes and Engines are “Raft-Mounted” (i.e., mounted on small platforms designed to isolate the equipment’s vibration and noise);

* It uses High Cavitation Inception Propellers (i.e., which lessens their acoustic “noise”) which will make the ship harder to detect by enemy Sonar equipment;

* An Active Shaft Grounding System which reduces its vulnerability to Naval mines (i.e., by reducing its Electromagnetic emissions). [5]

Information on the stealth features of HDF-3000 and Avante 2200 ships are only given in general terms, like, “the vessels have reduced Radar and IR signatures” and lack the deep level of detail used in the Kamorta, hence it’s possible it’s just a matter of good Marketing sense on the part of GRSE (and missed Marketing opportunity for HHI and Navantia). But adopting the principle of working with what we know rather than what we don’t know, then it seems that the Kamorta has a higher level of stealth capability than those two other ships. If true, then that would be the Kamorta’s main advantage over the other bidders.

’Actual Versus Specifications’
I am enumerating below the current and actual weapons and equipment of the Kamorta as opposed to the specifications for the bidding: [6]

* Speed – The bid requirements is for a maximum speed of 25 knots, which matches the Kamorta’s stated maximum speed as per the manufacturer’s website, so no issues here.

* Range – The required range requirement is at least 8,100 km at 15 knots while the Kamorta’s official stated range is 6,210 km at 18 knots. Now, I can’t find a source of the ship’s range at 15 knots, but I can make a CONSERVATIVE ASSUMPTION by using the direct Ratio and Proportion formula which would put the ship’s range at 7,483 km at 15 knots. If this is true, then it is pretty close to the specification, only short by around 617 km. It is likely that the ship in reality meets the specs, or that if any adjustments are made, it will only be minimal.

* Main Gun System – Even if the PhN has decided to separate the procurement of the “ammunition” from the ship, I would assume that the ship will at least come with a main gun when bought. The Kamorta already uses the Oto Melara 76/62 Super Rapid (SR) which is better than the older Oto Melara 76/62 Compact cannons that our Jacinto and Del Pilar class ships are using now. The SR has a higher rate of fire (120 versus 80 rpm), can switch quickly between different types of ammunition, and also has a Muzzle Velocity Radar giving it better accuracy by inputting the actual velocity of the rounds when they leave the muzzle when computing for ballistic trajectory. A stealth ship needs a stealth gun, and the SR does have a “Stealth Cupola” giving it a lower RCS than the older models.

* Torpedo Launchers – The requirement is for a Triple Torpedo launcher on each side, but the Kamorta is only currently fitted with a double DTA-53 Torpedo Launcher per side. However, I don’t think upgrading from a double to a slightly heavier triple launcher will be problem for ships of this size and weight.

* Softkill System – I am assuming that this is another system that will not be bought separately from the ship, and the Kamorta uses the Indian-made Kavach Naval Decoy System, which is actually pretty sophisticated, seemingly better than the systems used on the other candidate ships and definitely better than the bid requirement of only 6 launchers per side. The Kavach is turret-based and fully trainable by remote control, and has 16 launchers per turret.[7]

* Surface to Air Missile (SAM) System – The Kamorta is supposed to have the Barak 1[8] as SAM system, but so far up to now it has not been installed yet and has been stuck in the planning stage as far as I know. The PhN won’t likely be getting the Barak, at least not initially due to cost issues as the bid requirement is only for SAMs with at least 6 km range, so the PhN will likely go for cheaper, shorter-ranged SAMs first.

* Helipad Capacity and Enclosed Hangar Space – The requirement calls for an enclosed Hangar with 136 m^2 area and Landing Pad capacity enough for a 10-ton helicopter. The Kamorta carries the Ka-28 Helix helicopter, which has a maximum weight of around 11.5-tons, so the Landing Pad exceeds the specs, the only item to adjust is the Hangar dimensions/area if they don’t meet the specs. The ship is advertised as having a “Rail-less Helicopter Traverse System” which is supposed to be more advantageous than current systems, but I could not find any good detail or videos about it, hence I’m not sure how “advantageous” it really is, or even if it actually works at all. I think it’s GRSE’s turn this time to miss a good Marketing opportunity.

An Oto Melara 76/62 Super Rapid (SR) Gun with the new Stealth Cupola, photo courtesy of Ketil thru Wikipedia Commons
An Oto Melara 76/62 Super Rapid (SR) Gun with the new Stealth Cupola, photo courtesy of Ketil thru Wikipedia Commons

* Close In Weapons System (CIWS) – The Kamorta has a formidable CIWS consisting of 2 AK-630 Guns, which are basically larger-caliber versions of the Phalanx. But we won’t be getting those, of course, again due to costs issues, in their place will be likely be a simpler, lower caliber stabilized Remote Weapon System (RWS) as per the requirements.

* Sonar System – The ship uses the Indian-made Hull Mounted Sonar Array – Next Generation (HUMSA-NG), and it is likely this will be retained as it meets the specifications for a Sonar System to be installed on the ship. Ships need to travel at slow speeds so less noise will be generated by them and therefore optimize their Sonar detection capability, but a more “quiet” ship like the Kamorta may be able to travel a little bit faster while still optimizing its sonar, enabling it to cover more ground for the same amount of time.

* Anti-Ship Missiles (AShMs) – Some references don’t indicate the ship as carrying any AShMs, but other sources say it can carry 8 Russian-made 3M-54 Klub AShMs, which is around the same weight as western AShMs like the RGM-84 Harpoon missiles. There are no picture evidence of these having been installed on the ship, and like the Barak it is likely another missile stuck in the “Planning” stage for the Kamorta. The bid requirement for only 4 AShMs should not be a problem for a ship of this size and weight, unless of course there are some unforeseen technical problems of some sort.

* Main Radar System – The main radar is another Indian product, the Revathi 3D Radar System, and it could be retained just because it is another indigenous system. Specific details about it are a little bit hazy, though, and its capabilities are not as well documented as some other radars, like for example it claims a 150 km range for fighter aircraft-sized aerial targets but no reference for what RCS. [9] No details also for its detection range against Surface targets. However, assuming that the “fighter aircraft-sized target” mentioned has an RCS of 5 m^2, then theoretically it is better than the radars of the other candidate ships, but I am not too confident about this assumption as of now.

* Endurance – I could only find one seemingly outdated source for the Kamorta’s endurance, and it puts it only at 15 days. [10] If true, then GRSE has some serious work ahead of them as this is only HALF the bid requirements of at least 30 days. This means that more space and weight will have to be allocated for consumables (i.e., Food, Oil, etc.), and improved habitability (i.e., Living and Recreation sections, etc.) will also have to be considered due to the longer period of time at sea.

’Feature Compromises?’
I think the biggest issue with the Kamorta is whether GRSE can keep all the technological stealth features of the ship at the current budget we have. The price of each of the Kamorta back in 2009 was estimated to be at 1,750 Indian Crores[11] which, if adjusted for inflation now and converted into US Dollars, would be around USD 305 million each, and our budget is almost only half of that at USD 172 million per ship.

Would this mean that GRSE will have to start cutting corners to fit the design to the budget, especially since these stealth features are not specifically called out for anyway in the specifications? If so, which “corners” are they going to “cut”? Will they do away with the IR Suppression/Cooling systems and Raft-mounted Engines/Gearboxes, etc.? But if they do, then they will lose their technological advantage, and in that case might as well just go with the more established shipbuilders like STX France, HHI and Navantia.

’Long Commissioning Time and Lacking Armaments’
Another issue I see with these ships is that it seems to taking them ages to be put into service after launching, averaging 3-4 years per vessel. For example, the INS Kamorta was launched in 2010 but was only commissioned in 2014. It’s the same with the other 2 ships which were already launched in 2011 and 2013, but will only be commissioned in 2015 and 2017. [12] On top of that, despite the long commissioning period the ships still ended up without its SAMs and AShMs.

In contrast, the Incheon-class Frigates only averaged 1-2 years to be commissioned after launching, and with seemingly full weapons suite already. The first Incheon ship, for example, was launched in 2011 and was commissioned in 2013, while the next 2 ships launched in 2013 were both commissioned in 2014. [13]

The long commissioning time is puzzling; I don’t know if this is just a typical Indian Naval practice, or that it is just taking GRSE that long to iron out all the kinks in their vessels. As for the lack of armaments, I don’t think budget is the issue, not from a country like India who can afford buy HUNDREDS of new, advanced aircraft like the Rafale or SU-30 Super Flankers at a time. The PhN may want to take a closer look at this as it may be due to some technical issues. Surely if we get these ships GRSE doesn’t expect us to wait that long to commission them, and only to end up with incomplete weapons when we put them into service.

’Comparisons’
Enumerating below the possible advantages and disadvantages of the Kamorta compared to other candidate ships (e.g., Avante 2200, HDF-3000 and Floreal/Mohammed V) known so far :

* At just meeting the specs, it is about the same speed as the Floreal/Mohammed V, but slower than both the HDF-3000 and Avante 2200.

* It needs more crew than the Floreal/Mohammed V and Avante 2200, but less than the HDF-3000.

* It seems to have the lowest known Endurance among the candidate ships.

* In terms of range, the Kamorta seems to have the lowest range value as it is expected to only be able to meet the minimum specs at best, while all the other ships are able to comfortably exceed the specifications as they are now.

* If it can keep all of its stealth features, it seems to have the best stealth capability among the candidates.

* With its low acoustic signature, it may be able to conduct Sonar searches at higher speeds than the more “noisy” ships.

* Assuming the Kavach will be available it seems to be the more sophisticated decoy system compared to the ones used on the other ships.

* The ships are taking a longer of time to be put into service after launching compared to other manufacturers.

’Parting Shot’
The Kamorta seems to have a couple of technological advantages compared to the other candidates:
– It is likely to be stealthier and also more efficient in using its Sonar;
– Has a more sophisticated decoy system;

On the downside:
– Its performance (i.e., Speed, Range and Endurance) seems to be less than most of its competitors;
– It also requires more crew to operate than most of the other candidate ships;
– Big question mark on whether the ship can keep its technological advantage at the current budget for the bidding;
– Commissioning time is taking longer than normal, and having incomplete weapons could point to deeper technical problems;

OVERALL, I would rate the Kamorta to be slightly better than the Floreal/Mohammed V, but less than the HDF-3000 and Avante 2200. However, IF the ship can overcome the above stated issues, then it should be end up as a more serious challenger in the bidding. From a personal point of view, I really like the idea of a Stealth ship, but considering also the other aspects, I think I would still prefer the Avante 2200. Of course that doesn’t mean I won’t be happy if we end up with Kamorta if it fixes all of its issues, it would still be a pretty good ship, so good luck to them, and to all of the other candidates …

Another view of the INS Kamorta of the Indian Navy, photo courtesy of the Indian Navy thru Wikipedia Commons
Another view of the INS Kamorta of the Indian Navy, photo courtesy of the Indian Navy thru Wikipedia Commons

SOURCES:

^[1] India to Sell Warships to Vietnam, Increase Footprints in South China Sea,
https://web.archive.org/web/20150127172753/http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/india-to-sell-warships-to-vietnam-increase-footprints-in-south-china-sea-636681

^[2] Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Inc.,
https://web.archive.org/web/20151020081730/http://www.grse.nic.in/shipbuilding.php

^[3] Kamorta-class Corvette,
https://web.archive.org/web/20150524065259/http://grse.nic.in/page_shipbuilding.php?page_id=91

^[4] First Indian Navy’s Kamorta Class ASW Stealth Corvette Commissioned,
https://web.archive.org/web/20150103060848/http://www.deagel.com/news/First-Indian-Navys-Kamorta-Class-ASW-Stealth-Corvette-Commissioned_n000013087.aspx

^[5] Signature Management – The Pursuit of Stealth,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160518114538/http://davis-eng.com/docs/papers/lowering_warship_signatures.pdf

^[6] Indian Navy takes delivery of first anti-submarine corvette,
https://web.archive.org/web/20141211061217/http://www.janes.com/article/41112/indian-navy-takes-delivery-of-first-anti-submarine-corvette

^[7] Kavach Mod II Chaff Rocket Launcher,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160801002505/http://ofbindia.gov.in/products/data/weapons/wlc/add_5.htm

^[8] Rafael Barak Missile Brochure,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160413065800/http://www.rafael.co.il/marketing/SIP_STORAGE/FILES/9/769.pdf

^[9] Radar Power,
https://web.archive.org/web/20130813200916/http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2903/stories/20120224290309800.htm

^[10] Kamorta Project 28 ASW Corvette – Units & Specifications,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160308015319/http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/india/p-28-specs.htm

^[11] Warship project delayed to build up private sector,
http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/warship-project-delayed-to-build-up-private-sector-109080100011_1.html

^[12] Kamorta-class corvette,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160222043536/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamorta-class_corvette

^[13] Incheon-class frigate,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160531220112/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incheon-class_frigate

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