The story of a path setting ship INS Nilgiri of the Indian Navy needs to told. It is the operational performance of the 3,000 ton modern Leander frigate(F33) that set the pace of confidence to the Executive and Technical Brass of India’s Navy to become a builder’s Navy. She served from 1972 to 1996.

The Indian Navy selected the proven Leander design and it from Yarrow Shipyard Ltd in Scotland and Vickers Ltd to build Niligiri at Mazagon Docks Ltd(MDL) Bombay. On 23rd October, 1968(Writer’s wedding anniversary) PM Indira Gandhi applied ‘Kum Kum’ on Nilgiri’s stern and launched her at MDL, and on 3rd June 1972 (Adm Madhevendra’s wedding day or birthday writer forgets), she commissioned Nilgiri into the Indian Navy. Equipment was selected by Capt DS Paintal (TAS) as DCPT in NHQ later appointed Captain by CNS Adm SM Nanda over others as he had commanded a Khukri class with elan.

The Leander Project at NHQ and its team in Yarrow Shipyard Ltd under Commodore Kapadia and course mate Lt Cdr Rishwadkar(E) worked out scheduling of supplies. That is when Navy’s indigenisation started in earnest to cut costs. Valves came from Leader in Jullundur, SRE from Motwani and pumps from companies in Pune and hull fittings from merchant ship suppliers in Bombay. Officers took initiative.

Nilgiri’s performance at sea gaveIndian Navy’s rank and file, shipyards and dockyards a spurt to imbibe the world’s latest naval technology and ship building practices, which has been taken to heights by today’s Navy with self help, and a will to ‘Make in India’. CMDs of PSU yards came from the Navy. This has paid dividends and Navy set up a small Naval Design Directorate and the Weapons Electronics Engineering Systems Establishment(WEESE) in private premises in New Delhi. Some officers from Nilgiri later joined WEESE which has done yeoman R&D work for the Navy.

Nilgiri was manned by selected 18 officers and 276 sailors and 20 key officers and sailors had spent six months in UK for pre commissioning training. This author spent four months with the RN for advanced navigation and helicopter control at HMS Dryad, Heathrow and Bath and a month in Yarrow Shipyard Ltd in Glasgow and was invited to swing Royal Malaysian Navy’s corvette, KD Rahmat’s magnetic compass and act as Navigating officer for the three days of her final machinery trials(FMT)at sea by Yarrow Shipbuilders. Pilotage was the temptation. GOI allowance for trainees was Pounds 2.5 a day while IFS got 15……..Adm Tahiliani fought for equation when the Chiefs fought for Cabinet Secretary pay. 

NHQ later appointed this writer the Executive officer and Navigating officer on return to India though a junior Lt Cdr with Cdrs as HODs and it worked when Niligiri was hurriedly readied with ‘josh’ for the 1971 war, but the war ended by the time Nilgiri patrolled off Bombay with trial officers.

The radars on Nilgiri included a Sierra band DA-05 surface search radar, a Lima band LW-04 long range air search radar, an Xray band Signaal Z-06 navigational radar and MRS-3 long range and MRS-8 CRBFD close range fire control system inputted into the operations and sonar control room which heralded analogue computerization into the Indian Navy for war fighting, with switchable communications consoles and the ARL plotting table. The sonars were the Graesby Type 750 for underwater submarine search and a Type 170 attack sonar and an underwater telephone to prosecute submarines with the Italian Whitehead A244S torpedoes fired from the triple ILAS 3-324 mm torpedo tubes, now being made in India by Larsen & Toubro Ltd and are exported.

 It is these sonars that were studied by Lt Cdr Ravi Sikka and Lt Cdr(L) Arogyaswami Paulraj, who developed an improved trans-receiver-display for the 170B, and the APSOH sonars at NPOL in Cochin which are now the panoramic HUMSA series of sonars. Paulraj migrated to USA for greener pastures and taught at Stanford with laurels and in 2010 was awarded the Bharat Ratna.

 Niligiri’s Seacat gunnery team was sent to Devlali to train on the Army Tigercat system. That gave the crew immense confidence when operating at sea. It will be appropriate to recall that chain smoking Leading Seaman Milap Chand shot down two PTA aerial targets provided off Singapore by the RN Seacat trials team from the two directors, and the 4.5 inch gun shot down the third PTA. It was a record set by then Lt Cdr Madhvendra Singh the Gunnery officer later CNS. The team was felicitated on return to harbor by the RN proving team in their Wardroom Thunderer at Sembawang. From that day the morale of Niligiri never sagged.

All first of class trials including full speed trials by the boiler supplied from Vickers in India and turbine propulsion supplied by BHEL and tilting trials supervised by Indian technical officers which Captain Sukul and Cdr JJ Baxi oversaw with guarantee specialists from abroad, were undertaken with no hitches. It set a bench mark standard to leave no pending item in the Form D448 and clear timely bills to the builder Mazagon Docks Ltd and suppliers and credit must go to the Navy’s Warship Overseering Team(WOT), Machinery Trials Unit(MTU) and Warship Production Superintendent(WPS) Cmde     Bhalla.

In June 1972, Mrs Indira Gandhi was accompanied by Shri VC Shukla Minister for State for Defence Production. She was received by CNS Admiral SM Nanda at the Bombay Naval Dockyard breakwater where she inspected the ship’s guard and band and was introduced to the very able Captain DS Paintal, who in turn introduced the officers of Nilgiri. Mrs Paintal always kept in touch with ship’s company even before commissioning when Niligiri was at sea with an SOS telephone number.

Proudly lined up in No 2s on a lovely pre-monsoon day was this writer Lt Cdr Ranjit B Rai as Executive Officer and second in command, late Cdr SBN Singh Cdr(L) President of the Wardroom and later Vice Admiral(COM), Capt Dasgupta Cdr(E) whose son is a Vice Admiral, Lt Cdrs SK Chatterjee(SO), Rajnish(NO), Madhvendra Singh(GO) later CNS, Gulu Kumar(TASO) and Iyer (SCO). Admiral Nanda escorted Mrs Gandhi on board where Shri VC Shukla, Rear Admiral BA Samson (CMD MDL) and MDL’s Chief Constructor trained in Canada Shri RN Sethna, Constructors Mr Paramnandan, Dhumal and Flag Officers were seated. Paintal read out the Commissioning warrant issued by the CNS, the guard saluted and the band played the national anthem. Nilgiri became INS Nilgiri and donned the Indian Naval Ensign at the stern, and National Flag in the bow to announce she was now part of the Western Fleet.

India’s present strength of the three 6,000 ton Delhi and three 4,600 ton Shivalik class Brahmos and Barak firing platforms can trace their lineage to the Nilgiri class which was followed by the 3,500 ton Taragiri and Godavari classes when Indian Navy designers extended the hulls and broadened the beam and made sure the same propulsion boiler-turbine system from BHEL gave the same speed. The ships were fitted with the Agouti system to minimize propeller cavitations noise and a ship stabilizer system more for the gunnery system but we used it at sea to avoid sea sickness !

The First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Michael Pollock embarked INS Nilgiri at Bombay at short notice while Captain Paintal had taken his first leave in two years on a visit to India in 1973. He congratulated the ship running so well with Captain away and patted Engineer Officer Cdr Dasgupta when the speed log clocked 27.5 knots. Only two Leanders in the Royal Navy he said had clocked 28.5 knots in cooler seas. Admiral of the Fleet the Earl Mountbatten of Burma who had also been First Sea Lord in 1959 congratulated the Indian Navy that he was fond off, with a message to CNS Charles Nanda he knew well. Gen SM Manekshaw visited INS Niligiri in 1972 and spoke and admired the ship. Nilgiri was decommissioned in 1996, and sunk on 24th April 1997 as a target in a missile test firing.


Nilgiri will be reborn as the first lead ship of the Nilgiri-class stealth guided missile Shivalik Type 17A frigates being built by Mazagon Shipyard Dock Limited(MSDL) for the Navy. The keel was laid down on 28thDecember, 2017 and it was launched on 28th September 2019. The ship is expected to be commissioned by August 2022. The 6,800 ton ship with maximum speed of 28 knots is powered by 2 MAN 12V28/33D 6,000kw STC Diesels and 2General Electric LM-2500 gas turbines supplied by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd(HAL) with a range of 5,000 miles at 18 knots. The new Nilgiri is to be fitted with BEL HUMSA-NG bow sonar, the IAI EL/M-2248 Elta MF-STAR, S band AESA radar from Indira-Tata and a BEL Ajanta EW suite 4 Kavach chaff decoy launchers. The armament includes a BAE5 inch 62-calibre Mk 45 naval gun and 8 VLS BrahMos supersonic and 32 Barak-8 AA missiles, and the RBU-6000 ASW rocket launchers and triple torpedo tubes from L&T. Two Sikrosky 60R multi role ASW helicopters are planned to be embarked on this world class missile frigate. This is IDF’s tribute to the builders, Captain and crew of that efficient ship, most gone on or extended guarantees before it is all forgotten.

Shan No Varuna and some on board new Niligiri may hear of the old Nilgiri. History is a weak subject for the Indian Navy !

Cmde Retd Ranjit B Rai Curator of the IMF Maritime Museum at C 443 Defence Colony New Delhi. Open to public 1000-1600. Appointments Tel 8700897597.

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