India and Russia are expected to conclude an agreement for the construction of four Admiral Grigorovich-class (Project 11356) guided-missile frigates destined for service in the Indian Navy in June, according to information obtained by Russian state media.
The warships are expected to be built in Indian and Russian shipyards, a source told TASS news agency this week. “In June, a package contract is expected to be signed with India on the construction of four Project 11356 ships under a two plus two formula,” with two ships to be constructed at Russia’s Yantar Shipyard on the Baltic coast and the remaining two at an Indian shipyard in Goa.
In 2016, India and Russia were negotiating a possible sale of three Admiral Grigorovich-class guided-missile frigates to the Indian Navy and signed an inter-governmental agreement. The three ships, laid down in Kaliningrad in 2013 and originally destined for the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, were offered to India to be used for the construction of new Indian Navy frigates. As I explained in 2016:
The primary reason for Russia’s decision to export the three ships (…) is the lack of a propulsion system due to Ukraine’s decision to ban military exports to Russia in 2014. The ships of the Admiral Grigorovich-class are powered by M90FR gas turbines designed and built by Zorya-Mashproekt in Ukraine, Russia’s principal surface ship-builder since Soviet days.
Russia acquired three M90FR gas turbines before the export ban came into effect, which have been installed on the first three Admiral Grigorovich-class ships to be commissioned by the end of the year. The Russian defense industry is in the process of designing an indigenous replacement for the Ukraine-made turbine engine.
Moscow awarded a contract to NPO Saturn, a Russian aircraft engine manufacturer. (…) analysts believe that a new propulsion system will not be ready for the navy before 2019-2020. As a result, Russia’s defense ministry reallocated funding to the construction of other ships, according to a source.
India, however, is not subject to the export ban and can directly purchase the propulsion systems from Ukraine. (India has ordered turbine engines from Ukraine in the past.) Interestingly, the source said that the “warships will be completely new,” indicating that the three hulls currently under construction in Kaliningrad will not be used for the future Indian Navy frigates. This was also publicly confirmed by Russian Navy Deputy Commander-in-Chief Viktor Bursuk who said that the Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates are destined for service in the Russian Navy.
Russia’s decision to induct additional Admiral Grigorovich frigates could indicate that the development of a new domestic propulsion system for surface warships is progressing satisfactorily for the Russian Ministry of Defense and Navy. (Tests of a domestically made engine in 2017 were reportedly successful.) It would, however, not address the financial constraints Russia’s shipbuilding industry is facing given the lack of government funds.
The Russian Navy currently operates three ships of the class and had plans to add six to nine Admiral Grigorovich-class vessels to its surface fleet over the next decade. One explanation for the construction of at least three more Admiral Grigorovich frigates is an apparent trend in Russian shipbuilding to move away from larger, more expensive surface platforms such as the Admiral Gorshkov-class of stealth frigates to focus on cheaper alternatives given the current fiscal environment and various technical challenges with more advanced warships (e.g. the Admiral Gorshkov’s air defense system).
The 3,620-ton Admiral Grigorovich-class is an upgraded variant of the six Talwar-class frigates that Russia built for the Indian Navy between 2003 and 2013. The frigates, capable of reaching top speeds of 30 knots and with an endurance of around 30 days, can be armed with the BrahMos cruise missile system, among other things.
According to the source, negotiations between India and Russia are currently underway and “are aimed at settling all the issues, including the price of the frigates’ construction.” Given the recent track record of Indo-Russian defense deals, one can expect protracted talks, which ultimately may not prove satisfactory for either side.