Defence Minister A.K. Antony on Thursday underscored the increasing prowess of the Navy, which he said had charted a course not only to defend the country but also to protect its interests beyond the shores.

“The situation around the Indian Ocean is more complicated, and piracy is a serious problem. In the coming years, besides protecting the sea lanes of communication, the major challenge [for the Navy] is to look after the country's foreign trade, which is expanding substantially, and protect our commercial interests,” Mr. Antony told journalists on the deck of INS Shivalik, India's first indigenous stealth frigate, which he commissioned at Mazagon Dock Limited here.

The 143-metre long vessel, with 6,100 tonne displacement, has been designed and built in India. More than 60 per cent of its value was met within the country. MDL is building two other warships in the Shivalik series under Project-17: INS Sayahdri which will be commissioned by the end of this year, and INS Satpura by the middle of next year.

Mr. Antony termed the commissioning of the ship a milestone in the country's warship-building capacity. He stressed the need for modernisation of the country's dockyards to achieve international standards in construction. “We must be able to produce quality ships in a shorter time-frame at competitive costs.”

Though the Navy had come a long way since Independence, there was a lot to be done before it became a potent force. Given the multifarious challenges the country faced, the Navy had to maintain a high-level of operational readiness.

Vice-Admiral (retd.) H.S. Malhi, chairman and managing director of MDL, said the government sanctioned Rs. 1,000 crore for modernisation of MDL, which on completion next year, would place it among the world's leading warship-building yards.

Explaining the salient features of INS Shivalik, its Commanding Officer Captain M.D. Suresh said the warship was a generation ahead of the frigates that the country had. It operated on a leaner crew; its stealth features helped it generate less noise, reducing underwater detection, while the design deflected signatures.

The frigate is armed with missiles, has helicopter support, mounted guns and a combat management system that can effectively coordinate all weapons and sensors onboard, giving it the ability to deal with multiple threats. The warship can be on a voyage for three-four weeks without fuel replenishment.

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