India has quietly commissioned its secretive nuclear missile tracking vessel that had been under construction since 2014, entering a select league of nations with the capability to monitor missile launches at long distances, enhancing the testing programme and adding a crucial part to a national missile defence system.
Called the VC 11184, the specialised Ocean Surveillance Ship was commissioned in October last year in a ceremony that was not made public, sources have told ET. The ship delivery was delayed by a few months due to the Covid-19 crisis but all tests and trails were cleared in 2020 to ensure it is ready to enter service.
The ship — only four other nations operate similar vessels — will be operated by a joint crew of the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), the Defence Research and Development Organisation and the Indian Navy.
At present, only the US, France, China and Russia operate similar vessels that are used to track missile launches at sea. The vessel will be able to monitor India’s developmental trials of missiles of greater range than ever before — virtually unlimited due to its ability to traverse the oceans.
Besides, it will have the ability to detect launches by adversaries like Pakistan and China, giving India an early warning capability. The 15,000 tonne ship, which has specialised surveillance systems of three dome-shaped antennas packed with sensors, has been extensively tested since 2018 by the joint team.
As reported by ET, the complex vessel will generate over 14 MW of power just to power up its tracking radars, which will have multiple roles from tracking enemy missiles to accurately giving data on tests that are routinely carried out of indigenous strategic missiles.
The 15,000 tonne class vessel was initially constructed in a covered dry dock at the Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, the country’s largest, to keep roving satellites and spying attempts at bay. However, since 2018 the vessel has been docked in the open, with its large globe shaped radar placed on the aft giving a distinctive visibility to visitors at Vizag.
The ₹725 crore project is a showcase under the Make in India initiative, with high secrecy being maintained on details, including the capabilities and systems on board. It is also one of the largest warships to be built at an Indian yard.