The Indian Navy is a regional powerhouse when it comes to quality and the quantity of ships it has in the region. Its primary adversary in the region only has 4 comparable vessels to what is easily the second-best capable ships in the Indian Navy. With two active aircraft carriers, they will dominate any kind of offensive maneuver in the region (without external interference). But fleet size doesn’t win wars on its own, it’s the individual ships, their load outs and tactics that win wars. There exists an issue with how light the air defense load out for the various ships of the Indian Navy, if not obsolete. Let us go class by class to discuss this.
Vishakhapatnam class and Kolkata class
I am bunching these two classes together as they are built on the same basic platform with the same weapons and sensor loadouts. These are great vessels but fall short when it comes to peer comparison. They sport 16 cell VLS for offensive weapons that can fire BrahMos or Nirbhay (in the future). It gives India long range ship killing and land target killing capability with BrahMos alone, Nirbhay should double that range albeit at a slower speed.
Showing off her 16 cells of UVLM (BrahMos) and 16 cells of Barak 8
The SAM loadout is meager for a ~8,000 tonne vessel i.e. 32. Bringing the total VLS count to 48 missiles. The comparable Type 052C (which doesn’t have the UVLS) has 48 SAMs and 8 AShMs (total 56) for a fellow ~8,000 tonne vessel. The mass-produced Type 052D has 64 UVLS which it can use for any mix of AShMs and SAMs. The much larger Type 055 as 112 cells, twice that of the Indian vessels.
48 cell HQ-9 battery on Type 052C
Shtil MRSAM Bearers i.e. Delhi class, Shivalik class and Talwar class:
Major portion of India’s currently active fleet (as of Mar 2023) i.e. 12 vessels have Shtil single arm launcher designated 3S-90 as their MR-SAM. The rate of fire of this launcher is significantly slower than any VLS in service today, means that it is at a disadvantage at attacks that have 2-4 missiles heading
its way. Luckily, 2 of the 3 Delhi class and all 3 Shivalik class have Barak 1 missiles for short range air defense. The Delhi class has some saving grace with 2 3S-90 launchers, one fore and one aft doubling their rate of fire vs Talwar batch 2.
INS Mumbai with no Barak 1 but 2 3S-90 Shtil launchers
First 3 Talwar class vessels have Kashtan CIWS which has its own short range air defense missile but INS Mumbai and Talwar batch 2 just rely on the 3S-90 launcher for their missile-based air defense. These ships will be hampered by their inability to deal with mass attacks. For comparison, the US Navy retired its single arm launchers in early 2000s to become a VLS only fleet.
These still retain the older S-125 but INS Ranvir and INS Ranvijay sport 16 Barak 1 VLS, a good short range AD system and INS Rana sports the indigenous 16 cells of VL-SRSAM system. These vessels thus have a corvette level AD and can still be used as patrol vessels but not as part of a carrier battle group.
VL-SRSAM trial from INS Rana
These have decent short-range AD due to Barak 1 and decent offensive due to Kh-35s but these are 3rd line ships by all counts.
Hence the key points to note.
- The most advanced ships have 32 SAMs which is too few compared to actual peers.
- The bulk of the fleet has obsolete single arm SAM launchers.
- Rajput and Brahmaputra class with their short-range air defense is good only for patrol duties and offensive raids using missiles.
Future INS Imphal, third P-15B on sea trials.
The Indian navy can sigh in some comfort as while the numbers issue won’t be solved soon, but the reliance on obsolete launchers will reduce. Barak 9 is an Indo-Israeli Medium Range Surface to Air Missile System or MRSAM currently being inducted enmasse by the Indian navy and on Sa’ar 5 corvettes by the Israeli Navy. Two more Vishakhapatnam class destroyers and 7 Nilgiri class frigates will enter service with 32 Barak 8 each, enough to move all current non MF-STAR ships out of carrier escort duties. Further help arrives with 4 Talwar Batch 3 class ships that are reportedly being fitted with Shtil VLS as seen on their sister Admiral Grigorovich class frigates and variants of which are used by Pakistani Type 054AP and Chinese Type 054A frigates. This gives 13 more vessels with up-to-date AD systems. The only issue to solve going forward is boosting number of missiles on individual vessels.
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