The north of Russia, the estuary of the Northern Dvina River. This land is imbued with naval traditions and laws. It was here that Peter the Great, a prominent reformer, laid the foundations for the Russian fleet three centuries ago, paving the way for patriarchal Russia to become a leading nation in the world. It was here, in the mid-20th century, that the Soviet Union’s nuclear submarine fleet was established. The nuclear masters of the deep sea are built here to this day. The rich naval and shipbuilding traditions, tremendous historical experience and pursuit of innovation combine in Severodvinsk – a town of naval architects and man-of-war men. The ancient church land is now home to the docks, shops and building berths of Zvyozdochka Ship Repair Centre – Russia’s leading shipyard specialising in repair and modernisation of various types of submarine and surface vessel. Currently, Zvyozdochka’s chief foreign partner is the Indian Navy. The ship repair centre and the Indian Navy have a 15-year successful track record of beneficial joint operation, which contributes to the strategic partnership between the two friendly nations. Zvyozdochka Centre General Director Vladimir Nikitin speaks about the history of and prospects for cooperation.
Vladimir Semyonovich, what do the Indian Navy’s orders mean for your shipyard?
We have maintained partnership relations with the Indian Navy for fifteen years now. Over this time, Zvyozdochka has built a reputation for itself as a leading contractor for repairing and upgrading Project 877EKM diesel-electric Kilo class submarines. The first Indian submarine we received, in 1997, for a medium repair was INS Sindhuvir. It was a very special order for us at that time, especially given that Severodvinsk had been a restricted area not only for foreign citizens but also for most Russians. That first export contract gave our company access to the global arms market. At the same time, the joint projects with Indian seamen also introduced us to the rich Indian culture and the traditions of its great people.
Zvyozdochka Ship Repair Centre /part of OJSC United Shipbuilding Corporation/. The enterprise provides repair, modernisation and reconfiguration of naval ships. Construction of the shipyard was launched in 1946. The plant started operations in 1954. Since its inception more than fifty years ago, Zvyozdochka has returned to service 121 submarines and 87 surface vessels and has built 236 ships of various types. Some of the ships have undergone unique rearrangements and replacements of nuclear-powered plants, arms systems and modernisations of ship systems.
Not only military and technical, but also cultural cooperation has been both very intense and very helpful. Since 1997, Zvyozdochka has returned four Kilo class submarines to the Indian Navy. The high-quality, timely execution of contracts with the foreign customer has enhanced Zvyozdochka’s prestige at both the international and national levels. This is confirmed by the shipyard’s recently gained status of an independent foreign trade operator in providing services and supplies of arms and military equipment to foreign customers without a state intermediary. Zvyozdochka concluded the contract for repair and modernisation of the fifth Indian submarine independently.
Speaking of the company’s independence in the context of the Indian market, what does it imply?
Currently, Zvyozdochka Ship Repair Centre is entitled to conclude contracts with foreign customers for more than twenty surface ship and submarine projects. Where India is concerned, we mostly contract repairs and upgrades of diesel-electric submarines, including installation of modern weaponry – missile systems – at our premises or at their bases. Also quite important are contracts for other operations, such as supplies of spare parts, equipment and materials for various types of repairs to submarines and surface vessels, provision of repair documentation, training of foreign personnel in organising repairs and the techniques involved. Our shipyard is capable of making unique, technically sophisticated products. One example is the contract to deliver a large cavitation tunnel for hydrodynamic tests of ships and submarines at the design stage. In 2011, we completed assembly of the tunnel in Visakhapatnam. Furthermore, we are engaged in a project to develop the infrastructure for repairs to foreign vessels at their bases in association with the state intermediary – Rosoboronexport.
Zvyozdochka General Director
Russia has companies that have worked on the Indian market longer than Zvyozdochka. Why has your shipyard become the main partner of Indian submariners?
The timeliness and high quality of contract execution should be considered the key factors, rather than how long cooperation has lasted. When working with our customers, we always prioritise the first two. Our company has rich experience of conducting medium repairs, modernisation and reconfiguration of various classes of submarine – not only Indian Kilo class ones but also a substantial number of domestic submarines. Zvyozdochka has well-developed production facilities and test beds. The company has built up an efficient network of associate contractors and the high quality of our work is ensured by a modern quality control system that meets international standards. I believe it is these factors that prompted our Indian partners to choose Zvyozdochka. The overall volume of contracts Zvyozdochka has fulfilled for the Indian Navy over the years confirms the significance of our relations with our Indian partners – their total value is more than $650 million, spanning all segments of military and technical cooperation, from repairs to and upgrading of ships to supplies of equipment and spare parts, tools and accessories.
But most of these resources are meant for the repair and upgrade of submarines, aren’t they?
True. In 1999, we handed over to India the first foreign ship – INS Sindhuvir – after a medium overhaul. In 2002, Zvyozdochka brought INS Sindhuratna, a diesel-electric submarine, back into service. It was on that ship that the shipyard completed the pilot project to install a Club-S missile system. Three years later, INS Sindhugosh sailed from Severodvinsk to its native shores. That ship was the first to feature Indian-made systems – the Ushus hydro-acoustic unit and the CCS communications system, in addition to the Club-S missile system. INS Sundhuvijay, delivered to the customer in 2008, featured an even broader array of Indian-made systems. Whereas, on INS Sindhuvir, we assembled only one such system, INS Sindhurakshak, which is currently undergoing repairs, twelve Indian systems are being installed. Each new contract for repairs to these submarines attests to the increasing self-sustainability of Indian shipbuilding and we are endeavouring to assist our partners in their efforts as far as possible. We are well aware that the strengthening of Indian submarine forces is our common cause.
As for the current status, Zvyozdochka is working on the interim overhaul and upgrade of a fifth Kilo class Indian submarine – INS Sindhurakshak. The ship arrived in August 2010. The submarine will feature the Club-S missile complex and Ushus hydro-acoustic system. Zvyozdochka will modernise the submarine’s cooling systems, install a CCS-MK-II communications system and a Porpoise radar installation and will conduct other operations.
Zvyozdochka is the primary contractor for modernisation of five Kilo class submarines, involving installation of a Club-S missile system and an Apassionata-EKM.1 integrated navigation system. These operations are performed by our specialists in India, where the ships are based.
Since 2003, we have fulfilled dozens of contracts for delivery of spare parts, tools and accessories, equipment and materials for maintenance of ships and repair of submarines at Indian shipyards, and many contracts are underway.
On the basis of what you have said, Zvyozdochka is apparently working very hard on the Indian market. What are the prospects for your further cooperation with the Indian Navy?
I am certain that the vast experience we have accumulated with our partners in repairing Kilo class submarines must be used to develop the Indian submarine fleet further. Zvyozdochka is ready to repair and upgrade the next submarine – INS Sindhushastra – fast and to the most rigorous quality standards. The service life of this submarine questions the feasibility of interim overhaul. We have already submitted a relevant proposal to the Indian side. We believe that placing an order with Zvyozdochka is the best option for the Indian Navy to maintain the preparedness of the Indian submarine forces. This decision by the Indian side would logically complete the cycle of first plant repairs of Indian Kilo class submarines. Zvyozdochka is also interested in carrying out second plant repairs of these submarines to extend their service life.
India possesses a considerable Kilo submarine task force. A reasonable approach to repairs and modernisation might keep these submarines in service for at least thirty-five years, securing their military characteristics and high combat qualities. The Indian side will gain valuable experience in operating the ships beyond their designed service life and will apply it to ships of other projects. Zvyozdochka is the only Russian shipyard experienced in carrying out medium repairs of submarines to extend their service life. We have developed and introduced administrative and technical arrangements to extend the lives of Russian submarines. These measures, if properly adapted, could be applied to Indian submarines. Zvyozdochka is ready to transfer to its main foreign partner its experience in taking submarines beyond their designed lifespan by using technologies to monitor the technical status of equipment and the ship as a whole, including by means of nondestructive inspection techniques.
If the Indian Navy accepts our proposals regarding second interim repairs to Kilo class submarines, it will be able to maintain the combat readiness of its submarine task force for a long time, while incurring relatively low expenses.
Zvyozdochka is currently the only contractor providing engineering supervision and service maintenance for more than three hundred Russian Navy ships. I presume that our Indian partners will be interested in our experience accumulated during this work. We have already submitted our proposals concerning creation of a system of after-sales and service maintenance of ships to the Indian Navy Command.
Zvyozdochka will naturally continue its activities on the Indian market and expand the range of spare parts, tools and accessories, as well as other military and technical services, delivered to Indian customers. The Republic of India and its navy are our crucial partners and it is on India that we are focusing our primary efforts. Starting with the first Indian ship we accepted for repair, the company has engaged its best-qualified engineers and workers on these projects, wherever the operations are carried out – in Severodvinsk or in India, at the local base.
Our long-term partnership with the Indian Navy and its further promotion call for close cooperation, so we are working on setting up an office of Zvyozdochka Ship Repair Centre in India.
At the beginning of the interview, you mentioned not only business contacts but also friendly relations with the Indian partners…
When we repair a submarine in Severodvinsk, there are from fifty to three hundred Indian citizens here. Some of them work here all the time; others come here for short visits. These are officers and civilians working in the observation group, crew members and assembly and setting specialists working with the Indian systems, together with their wives and children. The children attend kindergartens and schools, study with Russian children, and participate in extracurricular activities – sports and art clubs in our science and technology centre. The adults actively participate in cultural and sporting events along with the city residents. Last summer, an agreement on cooperation in the social and cultural spheres was signed between the crews of Indian ships and the municipal authorities. The ceremony was attended by the Indian Ambassador to Russia Mr Ajai Malhotra. We are doing our best to make our Indian friends feel at home in Russia in every respect. Unfortunately, we cannot control our hard winters but we try to offset these climatic difficulties using the warmth of our hearts and traditional Russian hospitality.
A common cause brings people closer together. The Indian partner is a demanding and exacting customer and we are happy that these qualities combine perfectly with the warm interpersonal relations they have established with our workers outside the shipyard gates. Our Indian friends regularly take part in our festivities and always invite Russian colleagues to attend theirs.
Our joint work provides the foundation for further mutually beneficial cooperation and development of friendly partnership relations not only between Zvyozdochka and the Indian Navy, but also between our great nations.