This is an IDF report on a well organized 25/26 July, INTERNATIONAL SHIP BUILDING SEMINAR by FICCI toiled by the Constructor officers under the Director General Naval Design DGND(Surface), Radm D M Harish in national interest this time. Earlier seminars were Navy centric.  

The suggestions were path breaking and moderated by the Navy’s Controller of Acquisitions(CWPA) Vadm AK Saxena with doyens of ship building. Two former Chiefs, Russian Minister of Industry, and many retired from Navy (IDF counted 37 in industry with lucrative jobs ) who earlier steered Navy’s Make in India from Buyer to a Builder were there to a over full hall. Overall each spoke with feeling that India is missing the Maritime money boat to rise fast on the world stage through ship building, like it lost out in the industrial regime. But that was forced. This will be a self goal.

CNS Admiral Karambir Singh, emphasised the seminar was on ‘Nation Building through Shipbuilding, a topical issue and lauded the intellectual pool of maritime experts in the hall, copying what President Jefferson said when he spoke to nation builders he had called to Monticello in Virginia who set  USA on its way. .

CNS propitious words ring loud. “The Government has plans to take our country’s economy on a trajectory to be a 5 trillion Dollar economy by 2024. I think ship-building is a sector that can contribute significantly. I’m sure several speakers today would discuss measures to spur our ship-building, especially commercial ship-building, in India” CNS called the  journey from a ‘Buyers Navy’ to a ‘Builders Navy’ as an arduous one and highlighted the plough back effect which needs replicating.

At the opening, President FICCI Sandip Somany said industry is unhappy and he rattled off trade figures. He said India has 3.4 percent of world trade but 1 percent of Shipping so explained potential of a trillion. Mr JD Patil Director L&T which builds nuclear submarines the most demanding in ship building, gave history how we have gone forward and then backward especially after gaining lot in Navy Shipbuilding. He deprecated Nomination of orders to PSUs that has strained private players. Patil was optimistic with hopes that five RFPS issued on Missile Ships (why two classes), FPVs Hovercraft  and others in strategic partnership and five more to come without details ended on a optimistic note hoping Private Players will get a bit of the cake.

JS MOD Defence Production Vijayendra was brief and listed achievements in warship building but avoided commercial ship building and said prospects are there. There lies the gap. IDF adds the Government had a repeat of building like old Niligiri planned in the 4 LPD contract to private and Government shipyards to compete. Bids came in but MOD got cold feet as Anil Ambani was involved but why not RM Rajnath Singh revive it as LPD is a national Tri Service Need to get to $ 5 trillion economy!

So IDF dubs the seminar as a “Wake up Call”, but it was the  converted speaking to the converted. Two Ministers, the Niti Ayog head of shipping and another Government head did not turn up. IDF wondered why? Was the subject daunting or were there were more pressing issues, like preparing for Man Ke Baat ! PM has hogged Radio for its reach but IDF cannot go give a sports or non political  Ship Building talk on private radio as AIR hogs Radio and has age limits. .

IDF has a suggestion . The RSS reps who advice BJP on self reliance in nation building should have been invited as they have a voice in policy and ship building needs attention urgently. A lot of private shipyard infrastructure is lying waste; and how to finance and use it came to the fore with Bankers advice in a session on financing. Ex IAS officer Mr Sandhu from KPMG spoke sense on energizing the ship building sector.

Why does IDF bring in RSS ? Navy knows the idiom that IDF as Commander Naval Academy taught wards. “You cannot change the direction of the wind (as you will compete with seasoned NDA trained officers), but you can always change the direction of your sails and attempted to groom them how to do that,” hence the RSS offer.  Nine wards became Flag Officers with ten in shipbuilding including Nuclear submarines and BrahMos and 40 of one batch are gathering in Cochin early August to relive IDF advice but this time on old age ! IDF talk will be based on Khushwant Singh’s advice and is in the novel, “An Underhand Affair, The Travails of a Dalit Girl,” on Amazon Rs 250/-.

At the seminar Navy had a crib, there is no budget. Ways of leasing, joint PSU and Commercial yard building and such were offered with the setting up of a Ship Building Development Fund and long term plans by Cmde Sujeet Samamdar with details for pay back. In any case  warship and commercial ship building as depicted in the logo has to be a  treated like a national strategy and commitment to grow, like Japan Korea and China. They looked at ship building  as a National & Naval Strategy, where it has done well. In India naval costs and delivery schedules of ships have gone hay wire. Commercial shipping will teach Navy competitiveness and how to freeze designs for the builder !

Speakers proved that If attended to, Shipbuilding and ancillary vendor partners for a maritime nation with a God provided geography given to  India, will bring about half a million direct and half a million indirect skilled jobs. Ship building has to be  an unending duty .In the economic down turn Russia and China made shipbuilders merge and China employed them in pipe line and rail building and in South China Sea and sold ships at cut prices with subsidy and their yards are reviving now with BRI and massive warship building and exports. China’s rise worries India’s Naval  Chiefs.

In USA the  Maritime Administration of USA —MARAD gives subsidy to shipping sector and  Waterman Steamship Ltd that IDF headed in India saw MARAD give the company $ 2 mill annual subsidy to employ only US seamen to compete with Japanese Korean and Chinese lines. One speaker asked why SCI bought 65 ships from Korea and China and said, “Look at Mazagon Docks which with no experience grew,  after Nilgiri in 1970s and now makes world class ships and Type 15 INS Delhi weathered a terrible cyclone with praise from Russian designers.”

INS Nilgiri was mentioned. as an example. It was the start point of the 1970s for raw Mazdocks to build big warships. IDF was part of the journey. It now makes Type 15A and Scorpenes. Cdr (L) SBN Singh Cdr (E) Dasgupta and Gunnery officer Lt Cdrs Madhvendra Singh later CNS, TASO Gulu Kumar SCO Iyer and IDF as Navigating Officer later XO were sent to UK with key sailors for six months. First Sea Lord sailed in Nilgiri for 5 hours and could not believe Indians had done it.

L&T Director Mr Jayant Patil and others reported that  Rs 1lac 35000 cr orders for ship building have been given to PSU shipyards and only Rs 9000 to private yards. So, the big debate humming through the Conference was that PSU ship yards have a back log of Rs 85000 cr of warship orders with rising costs for years to complete. Why cannot the Navy tell Government to make JVs and use the facilities with closed down yards like Reliance  ABG,  Alcock Ashdown in bankruptcy and the less employed L&T with ship lift which has built nuclear submarines like INS Arihant and delivered 37 ships in few years ahead of time. The subject of DRDO’s Arihant was taboo and the Private Public Partnership (PPP) model used for Arihant was never discussed to learn from.

Private ship designers lamented they  are not supported and asked DGND to allow use of software on ‘pay for time’ basis. It will help mutually as they cannot afford expensive digital software. Adm RM Bhatia CMD Mazdocks explained how small Korea in the 1970s saw the future seeing Japan through shipbuilding. President Pak Chung Lee (1963-79) as President took over President of the Shipbuilders Association and asked a Mr Song an MIT trained Constructor to set up shipyards and rest is history for what Korea has achieved by copying Japan and then innovating. Wikipedia says, “One of the most striking features of Asia‟s increasingly important position in the global economy is the region’s crucial role in the international shipbuilding market. Today, more than 90 per cent of the world‟s orders for new ships have been placed with Asian yards, more specifically with shipbuilders in China, Japan and South Korea.”

DRDO was absent in the seminar but a young ISRO rep gave a brilliant presentation on how ISRO has grown and the low costs of launches and of PSLVs and GSLVs and the cryogenic engine story. Moral is you need technocrats today to get the job going. Shan No Varuna.


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