Trincomalee to Kiltan - 200 Years of Making in India
October 12, 2017, was a most significant date in Indian history, especially, Indian Maritime History. It was on this day 200 years ago, yes on October 12, 1817 that HMS Trincomalee was launched. Notwithstanding the fact that she was named after a Sri Lankan port and served under a British flag, she was built in the Naval Dockyard, Mumbai and is afloat even today, berthed in Hartlepool, UK, as a museum ship. In short, she is the oldest ship afloat in the world and she was made in India. And despite many changes over all these years, almost two thirds of her hull is still Indian teak. The mind boggles that a Frigate of the Napoleonic era is still in mint condition.
Trincomalee's bicentenary is a shining testimony of India's maritime prowess and shipbuilding skills, alas unknown to many in our country. It is true that from about the 13th century onwards India declined as a maritime power and as a seafaring nation. This was to lead to the denouement of colonization with its attendant collateral damages. Loss of supremacy at sea led to loss of sovereignty on land. All this is well known, even if not completely understood, by Indians at large.
However, even in this bleak period there were some bright patches or rays of hope. The heroism and maritime savvy exhibited by the Admiral Queen Rani Abbakka of Ullal, the Kunjali Marrakars of Malabar and later by the Marathas is stuff of legend. Our coastal and riverine navigation and commerce continued. And the performance of our ships and naval personnel in both world wars earned kudos.
However, one of the most illustrious maritime achievements of the colonial times would be the stunning achievements of the Wadia shipbuilders and the Bombay docks. The British when moving their HQ from Surat to Bombay persuaded the Master Shipbuilder Lowejee Nusserwanjee Wadia to shift base and as they say, the rest is history. My friends in the civilian world and Army and Air Force may please note that building a ship is the very acme of engineering and design and ergonomics and architecture and several other disciplines. Building warships is even more complicated business given the huge interplay of several complex factors.
The Wadia ('shipbuilder') family was known for the high standards in shipbuilding workmanship. With the backing of his masters and an enabling environment in Bombay, where the Bombay Dock was built in 1735 the Wadia clan of shipbuilders rolled out ships as though in an assembly line. Between 1735 and 1885, seven generations of the Wadias built a staggering 300 plus warships of the finest quality and class. That is a stupendous average of about 2 ships per year. Over a century and half, these ships built in India, by Indians, for the British and others, sailed all over the world, earning their spurs in war and peace.
They also made history. Apart from the aforementioned Trincomalee, built under the supervision of Jamsetjee Bomanjee, it also included ships like HMS Minden (on which Francis Key wrote the 'Star Spangled Banner' the American national anthem), HMS Cornwallis.
It was the combination of many circumstances that led to the demise of this flourishing industry. The steamships that replaced sail changed the whole paradigm of seafaring for one. The opening of Suez Canal which was difficult for sail ships to navigate made their existence more difficult. And above all, a concerted effort by the British to keep India at a low industrial and military (especially naval) threshold left us in the cold as new and powerful ships came to be built in the new steam and industrial age.
However, it was the above mentioned shipbuilding DNA that came to the fore as independent India and her Navy set out to create a self-reliant force. It could be done only by building our own ships. Accordingly, a 1948 plan document of the Indian Navy envisioned aircraft carriers and submarines when we had less than half a dozen sloops. Many may have described such dreams as fantasy or whimsy. There were other factors disadvantageous to the fledgling Indian Navy - from low technology base to funding constraints, from the landward orientation of our leadership to an Army and AF that threatened to grab the lion's share of resources.
But persist we did. While initially buying from abroad, we set up our own design bureau to design ships suited to us. Our dockyards slowly played ball. We began with a survey ship in 1964 and worked our way up. And to cut a long story short, today 70 years after independence we are building our own ships and submarines, including aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. Compared to the Army and AF we are way ahead in the indigenous content of our combat units. And our entire team of designers, builders, integrators, overseers and users are forming a virtuous circle each reinforcing the other.
To be sure we have a long way to go. We need to have 100 percent indigenisation; we need that weapons and many systems need to be sourced from within. But every ship that gets constructed has more indigenous content than her predecessor, every ship an improvement over the previous one. So much so that today a navy ship constructed in India is no longer news. And we also need to look at the context. Lets not forget that India designed her first indigenous car, the 'Indica' in 1997 much after we had built our first ship. Incidentally, in 1997, India had built the most advanced destroyer, the INS Delhi, which catapulted Navy into a new era. As an aside, I was privileged to be the first Signal Communications Officer of the new INS Delhi.
Today, India builds world class warships designed by Indian Navy engineers and scientists. On October 16, 2017, when our Defence Minister, Smt Nirmala Sitharaman commissioned the latest and most modern Anti-Submarine Corvette INS Kiltan, in Visakhapatnam, it was one more feather in the Indian Navy's cap and one more reason for India to celebrate. The Indian Navy has been a pioneer in 'Make in India'. We can proudly say that we have a legacy of 200 years of Making in India. (It is actually more than 200 years, closer to 300 years.)
But the commemoration of 200 years of Trincomalee and the commissioning of INS Kiltan within a week of each other gives us much cause to be proud of our past, celebrate our present and be optimistic about the future. Hopefully the rest of India will relish and cherish these maritime milestones. Only a Maritime India can make a Prosperous India.
- Cmde Srikant B Kesnur
Indian Naval ships, submarines, aircraft and shore establishments are networked with each other for exchange of position and target information through satellites and wireless communication systems. The position information from ships, submarines and aircraft at sea are transmitted through satellites and wireless communication systems in real time to the shore establishments. Targets detected through sensors of a unit at sea is exchanged over the network for correct identification and destruction using available weapons. The software for exchange of positional information has been indigenously developed by Indian Navy and DRDO.
This network is also available for use by shore establishments and Maritime Operation Centres for providing a common operational picture to the Commanders ashore. This gives the Commander a comprehensive knowledge on own ships, submarines and aircraft that are deployed over the vast Indian Ocean Region as well as information on the current or estimated position of enemy or neutral units. The network enabled operations that have been facilitated by this operational network has considerably eased the task of shore planners and simplified the erstwhile complicated decision making process.
The Indian Navy is also cooperating with friendly foreign navies for undertaking joint operations and exercises at sea. The network architecture is assisting in exchange of information on merchant ships operating at sea with other friendly foreign navies thus enabling timely assistance to ships in any kind of distress at sea even beyond the Indian Ocean Region.
- PRO Navy
Trincomalee to Kiltan - 200 Years of Making in India