Anti-Submarine corvettes are a particular class of ships which are the unsung heroes in a Navy. They are overshadowed by frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers and seldom get the attention they need from the public. Many navies lack this category of ships as they depend on bigger combatants to do the job. But the increasing threat of modern submarines has made Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) ships, a basic need for a powerful Navy. Different navies have different designations for their ASW ships. The US Navy has the Littoral Combat Ship, the Royal Navy depends on bigger ASW frigates, the Russian and Indian Navies uses ASW corvettes and so on. Each navy has different tactics and roles for their ASW ships, so here in this article, we will analyse the Kamorta class ASW corvette of the Indian Navy and see what it is capable of.
Since 1968, ASW corvettes have been a part of the Indian Navy’s operational strategy. They procured 11 Petya class frigates from the Soviet Union between 1968-72 and designated them as Arnala class ASW corvettes. These 1150 ton ships were fast and good at ASW, but had the following drawbacks.
- They lacked the range and endurance for blue water operations
- Had poor quality hulls which needed major and frequent refits
- Lacked the ability to carry an ASW helicopter
- Had almost no self-defense capability
These corvettes were restricted to escort role for missile boats which were also short-range vessels. They were also used to a limited degree as ocean-going escorts. The Indian Navy was happy with these ships in the following role until its transition into an aspiring blue water navy. They realized that these ASW corvettes needed to be replaced by a ship which overcame all the drawbacks of the existing class. They also needed a ship which would be equally effective in the littorals as well as in the deep oceans. This resulted in the development of the Kamorta class corvette. The Kamorta would offer the following performance enhancements over the Arnala class.
- Thrice the displacement, resulting in more space for weapons and sensors
- Provision of hangar and helipad for an ASW helicopter
- Advanced radars and sonars
- Long endurance, enabling it to operate in blue water
- Ultra quiet propulsion and engines
- High standard build quality
The Kamorta class has been designed for the sole purpose of hunting submarines. It has a displacement of 3400 tons, a length of 109 m and a beam of 13 m. These dimensions are comparable to that of a frigate as the Kamorta has been designed for blue water ops as well. The Kamorta is touted by the Indian Navy as having over 90% indigenous content. The steel and composites which have been used in construction are indigenously made along with a majority of the weapons and sensors. It is powered by 4 Pielstick diesel engines generating 3888 kW each, which drive 2 controllable pitch propellers via the gearboxes. Each ship has a crew of 150 sailors and 15 officers and a very ergonomic design which focuses on crew comfort.
It has the following advanced design features which make it a suitable platform for submarine hunting.
- X-form hull with sloped superstructure sides which reduce radar cross-section and make it very stealthy.
- Raft mounted gearbox and engines, which damp the vibrations and reduce the acoustic signature of the ship. This is important to remain undetected from hostile submarines.
- Range of 6500+ km at 18 kts ( 33km/hr) which allows long deployments
- Combined Diesel and Diesel (CODAD) propulsion for quiet and efficient running of the ship
You can see from this that special emphasis has been laid on reducing the acoustic signature of the ship as much as possible. This is very important while it is searching for hostile submarines. The Kamorta needs to detect the submarines and engage them before it itself is detected and engaged.
The Kamorta is the first ship of the Indian Navy to be operationally deployed with an indigenously developed primary radar. The Revathi is a 3D radar operating in the S-band. It is a multi-role radar and is used for both surface and air search up to a distance of 200 km. It is designated as the Central Acquisition radar (CAR) as it is used to acquire aerial and surface targets before the fire control radar can direct the gunfire towards them. It will also act as a target acquisition radar for the VL-Mica surface to air missiles which will be fitted in the future. This missile doesn’t need a fire control radar as it has an active radar seeker in its nose which finds and locks onto targets on its own.
The TMX EO Mk2 is an X-band fire control radar with secondary electro-optical and IR sensors for targeting. 2 such radars are fitted, one at the fore and another at the aft. The one at the fore provides fire control for the 76 mm gun and the one at the aft provides fire control for the Ak-630 guns.
They have an indigenous bow mounted sonar and an Atlas Elektronik towed array sonar. The bow sonar is the primary underwater sensor and the VLF towed array is used to detect submarines hiding under thermoclines in the water. The sonar gives targeting data for the ASW rocket launcher. The embarked helicopter will have its own dunking sonar and drop sonobouys as well.
The Indian Navy needed a ship which has the armament of a 1200 ton corvette and the endurance of a 3400 ton frigate
The weapons suite comprises of a collection of systems to attack submarines and defend itself. The following weapons are present on the Kamorta
- 1 x 76 mm Oto Melara Super Rapid Gun Mount (SRGM) for engaging surface and aerial threats up to 16 km away.
- 2 x RBU-6000 ASW rocket launchers designated as IRL (Indigenous Rocket Launchers). Each launcher is 12 barreled and has a reload of 96 rockets under the deck. They are retained because of their hardkill ability and immunity against countermeasures. These rockets have a range of 4500 m and a shaped charge warhead which can be set to explode at a particular depth. It can punch a hole in the hull of a submarine or be used to defend against an incoming torpedo. The rocket, after it is fired, reaches the required location and falls in the water where it sinks until it reaches its target. Usually, 24 rockets with various warheads are ripple fired against the incoming target to achieve maximum kill rate.
- 2 x Ak 630 Gatling guns are placed above the helicopter hangar. They are the Close in Weapons System (CIWS) and are used for last-ditch defense against anti-ship missiles. This 30 mm 6-barreled gun has a rate of fire of 5000 rounds per minute and can be used to engage aerial targets at a range of 3 km and surface targets at 4 km.
- 533 mm torpedo tubes for launching heavyweight torpedoes. These have a maximum engagement range of around 20 km.
- Space left for the installation of 16/32 VL-Mica Surface to Air Missiles. They will be procured under the category of SR-SAM and locally named as Maitri.
- 1 helicopter hangar for housing an ASW helicopter. The S-70B Seahawk will be embarked on it in the future after the Indian Navy receives it. This will be an extremely vital weapon system as the helicopter can engage submarines several hundred kilometers form the ship.
The Kamorta is not under-armed, but over-sized
There is a widespread misconception that the Kamorta is poorly armed for a 3400 ton ship. But it is very wrong to look at things like that at face value without understanding the logic and naval doctrine for behind them. The Indian Navy needed a ship which has the armament of a 1200 ton corvette and the endurance of a 3400 ton frigate. Basically it is not under-armed, but over-sized. By 2017, it is expected to receive its SAM package consisting of 16-32 VL-Mica missiles which have a range of 15 km and an active seeker. This missile can intercept sea-skimming and supersonic cruise missiles and protect the Kamorta class from submarine launched cruise missiles.
However, one question always arises. “Why build an ASW corvette with limited capabilities, when you can build a multi-role frigate which can do much more?”
The answer to this question can be obtained from observing the latest ships in the Indian Navy. The Shivalik class frigates and Kolkata class destroyers have an ASW specific equipment suite consisting of ASW rocket launchers, torpedo tubes, medium range guns, anti missile guns, sonars and surface to air missiles. What the Kamorta does is it just puts all the ASW and self-defense equipment from these 6400+ ton ships on a 3400 ton ship. This means that you now have a ship with the same ASW capabilities as a larger one and at a fraction of the total cost! So instead of sending a 1 billion $ destroyer for patrolling the oceans to hunt submarines, you can send a 250 million $ corvette to do the same job, just as effectively. This allows the Indian Navy to have 4 such corvettes for the price of 1 destroyer.
ROLE IN COMBAT
The main role of these ships will be to hunt the quiet submarines of Pakistan’s growing underwater fleet and the Chinese submarines which have been venturing into the Indian Ocean. 4 ships of this class have been ordered under Project 28 and a further 8 may follow on. There is no official information available regarding how the Kamorta class will be used in combat. That’s why i have presented the following ideas about what these ships will do during war and peace.
- Carrier Escort
In this role, it will accompany the aircraft carrier and be integrated into the carrier battle group (CBG). It could be used as the initial detection screen where it sails 50 km ahead of the CBG and searches for submarines waiting to ambush the carrier. It can be paired with friendly submarines and ASW aircraft like the P-8I to offer superior protection to the aircraft carrier. It may be integrated into the INS Vikramaditya CBG in the future along with the Talwar class frigates and Kolkata class destroyers.
- Littoral Warfare
In this role, it will basically accompany the Kora and other classes of missile boats which serve in the Indian Navy during operations in shallow water. These missile boats lack any sort of ASw capability and will be totally dependent on the Kamortas for protection. A similar combination was used successfully by the Indian Navy in the 1971 war.
- Surface Combatant Escort
In this role, they basically accompany a major surface combatant like a frigate or a destroyer. Here, the Kamorta will act as a mini frigate with the same ASW capabilities as the larger ship. Hence larger ships can be saved for more important tasks.
- Submarine Shadowing
Instead of sending a 7000 ton destroyer just to shadow an enemy submarine, a Kamorta class corvette does the same job. It will be more economical than sending a larger ship and the destroyers can be used for more important tasks. They will be used in peace and war to trail hostile submarines and destroy them if needed. These ships will be networked with ASW aircraft for more efficient tracking and detection of submarines.
INS Kamorta in China during a naval exercise ©Liuwangne
The Kamorta class are future proof and will remain as front line warships for several decades. The total number of ships in the class may end up being 12 if the Indian Navy goes for a follow on order of 8 more ships. These ships will be vital for patrolling Indian and International waters and keeping shipping lanes free from hostile submarines. Constant upgrades in the future will keep them in top fighting condition and give a headache to hostile submarines.
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