The Beginning

The Beginning

The Beginning

-Raghu Varier

We all have seen various warships ranging from small fast interceptor boats, corvettes to the huge aircraft carriers, each of them specific to roles assigned. While we every now and then discuss about why the Naval forces should focus on developing an indigenous design or procure one, we very rarely discuss about the technical aspects of these designs, strictly from an engineering stand point. While warships have to be discussed based on the amount of deterrence it packs, it is also important to go into the depths of the underlying engineering and what concepts synergize the whole design process that have led to these beautiful creations.

While core defence articles on warships can be found at www.alphadefense.in, here at www.alpha-defense.com you will find content related to technical aspects that will help you in getting a much deeper insight and understanding of why “the what is done” is done. While this website will be majorly technical and usually a reader might expect to find it boring; that isn’t the case over here! Driven by the simple motto “Simplified Defense”, we at Alpha Defense intend to help our readers understand the content at hand in a very simplified way. So we will be starting off right from the basics, which are very general and simple to understand and eventually we will get to the bigger ones.

Hence, the title of the chapter -‘The Beginning’.

To start off with, let us get a brief idea of the design of warship. Of lately we have seen many unconventional designs even for the same set of tasks that is demanded from it, for example. USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) that has the unconventional knifelike bow and also with the absence of the conventional fairing, yet is claimed to be stable in higher sea states. We shall eventually look into these cases, but before we reach there, let us start with warship design from a Naval architect’s perspective.

Warship from a Naval Architect’s Perspective

Building a modern ship is a huge capital investment and it is designed in such a way that it operates efficiently for decades. And so in cases of ships in general, there is no such thing as prototype testing. There is only a scaled model testing, which gives a very reasonable approximation to what could be the actual performance of the ship until it is trial tested and finally commissioned. For any class, the first one is expected to be useful for operation from the date of acceptance to service. Ultimately it means the designer has the responsibility of getting it right, from that start itself.

We all have heard of the term RFI (Request for Information) being issued by the Defence Ministry, which is basically to get potential designs that are in conception or even better if it has passed the model testing for various conditions. The RFI is nothing but a set of requirements that defines how the desired warship must be. Usually we see the terms like cruise speed, Installed Power, armaments etc. that we refer to as the specifications of the warship. These are more or less evolved from the requirements mentioned in RFI that later on is passed on to the RFP to the construction and eventually established and proven in service. While the designer must meet these requirements, what makes the life of designers hard is the strict national and international regulations and standards that have to be met. In case of general ships, the standards are developed by what are called the Classification Societies, who with decades of ship research lay down set of rules that can ensure the safety of ship while in service to a particular level which is deemed acceptable over the whole world.

In case of warships, it is the Defence Ministry or the Navy who lays down these rules. Most times they overlap with other nations but not all, in which case modifications need to be done. Since these rules could change with time, the designer is dealt with the hard task of keeping the design satisfied to the criteria until it is certified by the classification society or the Naval Staff and the design is deemed fit from a standards, regulations and a requirements stand point. The designer is met with the task of providing the best design. And not so surprisingly what is ‘best’ is a matter of judgement as there are many ways to meet these requirements. It is all about making the right tradeoff.

When it comes to warships, the cost involved is very huge and the budget is dictated by the Defence Ministry. Warships in general are a liability, and so the cost effectiveness of a design is hard to arrive at. This also means that the Naval Staff would look at the cheapest possible way to meet the requirements. If all designs stay out of the budgetary reach, the lowering of requirements is done until the need and affordability match. It is with these points in mind, that the concept of modularity from a design perspective has arisen over the years and which is much looked at nowadays than before, in anticipation of some form of cost reduction without the need for lowering the design requirements.

Coming up Next : The Complex Process of Warship Design

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