The veteran Russian Project 1135(V) class frigate design appears destined to be an Indian-dominated program, with India having 20 ships of record (ordered, under construction, or in service), tying Russia’s 20 ships of record but with India likely to order more in the future. Russia no doubt technically had more, but several of these are likely out of commission or have been transferred to the navies of other nations such as Ukraine and, ironically, India.
For whatever reason, India’s procurement of this frigate class developed into a major factor in the survival of the Project 1135(V) design and its transformation into a thoroughly modern surface combatant. An iterative exchange of expertise and experience has obviously been applied to the Indian Navy ships and then translated back into the variants built for the Russian Navy. The advances demonstrated by the new Russian ships were then used to produce a more advanced family of ships for India, and again, the lessons learned applied to the next generation of Russian ships. Despite the basic Russian design having a direct lineage back to the 1950s, the technology that makes these ships viable today is Indian.
The Project 17A class frigate is another attempt to take the basic Project 1135(V) class design a step forward. The Indian Navy has settled on a rework of the earlier Project 17 with added space for weaponry and sensors, plus a hull that reflects the latest developments in signature reduction. Plans have evolved such that the number of Project 17 and 17A ships to be constructed was initially increased from three to seven and later to a projected total of 10. All of this work appears to have been fed back into the Russian construction of the latest versions of Project 2235 for the Russian Navy’s own use.
The interplay of technical development and construction has reached the point where Project 1135, Project 2235 and Project 17A are closely intertwined and the only real significance of the different designations is the yard they are being built in and for which navy.
The possibility of exporting ships to other clients appears slim at this time. The Project 1135.6 design is competing head-on with the FREMM and Type 26 frigates, and its chance of success against them – especially the FREMM – does not seem great. However, most of the new contenders on the market are significantly larger and more costly than the Project 1135.6. It is possible that some countries with less grandiose naval aspirations and limited funds will find the design a cost-effective solution to their requirements.
The one outstanding question is whether the Indian Navy will ever offer its Project 17A ships for export. India has had limited success exporting its ships due to questions regarding workmanship. Also, its shipyard capacity is already overstretched by the construction needs of the Indian Navy. If Indian-built ships do become available, Sri Lanka and some other countries in Southeast Asia might be interested in acquiring them. The real problem for exports of the Project 17 and 17A is that these ships cost almost twice as much as the Russian Project 1135(V).
At roughly $562 million each, they are less expensive than a FREMM or Type 26 frigate, which could be a selling point. However, they are also likely to be less technologically advanced, thus making purchase of the Indian ship a hard sell.