Visakhapatnam-based Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL) is expecting an order from the Indian Navy by the year end for building five mammoth naval support vessels with transfer of technology from a Turkish shipbuilding firm, people familiar with the developments said on Monday.
The project, estimated to cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, will involve transfer of technology from Anadolu Shipyard, part of the TAIS consortium of Turkey, with which HSL signed an agreement for technical collaboration last year.
HSL is expected to deliver the first fleet support vessel (FSV) to the navy within four years of the go-ahead, with the other ships to be delivered at the rate of one every 10 months to 12 months. The vessels will be 230 metres long and have a displacement of 45,000 tonnes. FSVs carry fuel and other supplies for warships.
“The agreement with the Turkish consortium will kick in after HSL gets an order from the Indian Navy. If all goes well, that could happen by October 2021. Several Indian vendors will also be involved in the project,” said one of the people cited above, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Unlike other massive projects of this type, which usually witness at least one of the vessels being constructed in the country providing the technology and know-how, the Turkish side has decided to go ahead with transfer of technology from the initial stages and back the “Make in India” initiative by constructing all five vessels at HSL, said a second person who too declined to be named.
“Turkey’s shipyards are fully booked for a long time and there is nothing to lose by transferring technology and having all the vessels built in India. Turkish engineers will come to India to assist with the project,” the second person said.
Besides designs, the Turkish consortium will provide engineering services, planning and preparation of specifications, the people said. The transfer of technology will also boost India’s shipbuilding capabilities, they added.
Maritime affairs expert, Rear Admiral (retired) Sudarshan Shrikhande, said: “There is a need for the navy to have fleet support ships. While HSL may have a sort of a collaborative arrangement for transfer of technology and building these in Visakhapatnam, one is not aware if a contract may be in the offing or whether discussions are continuing.”
TAIS, which is a member of Turkey's largest industrial group, and HSL concluded an agreement for cooperation in the first quarter of last year, after the issue had come under a cloud for some time because of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s criticism of the Indian government’s decision to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in 2019. Questions were also raised in some quarters because of the strong defence ties between Turkey and Pakistan.
The Turkish consortium was the lowest bidder for the contract to make the FSVs. Moreover, some other bidders had insisted that at least one of the vessels should be made in a foreign shipyard. The agreement with TAIS was signed after clearance by the Indian defence ministry, the people cited above said.
Sameer Patil, fellow for international security studies at Gateway House, said both countries were displaying pragmatism against a backdrop of long-standing concerns in India about Turkey’s defence relationship with Pakistan.
“Turkey under President Erdogan has focused on building commercial relations with all countries. This pragmatism is being seen in this effort to collaborate with India despite the proximity with Pakistan. India wants to build its naval capabilities and Turkey has a defence industry that is very advanced,” he said.
“If Turkey is offering transfer of technology, why should we say no?” Patil said, noting that Turkish company Savronik was given sub-contracts for building key parts of the strategic Atal Tunnel under Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh.