By Mazumdar Mrityunjoy
Given that the Chinese PLAN (People's Liberation Army Navy) is in the process of acquiring 2 Sovremenny Class destroyers from Russia with plans to license build more, it is timely to compare the vessel with India's Delhi Class destroyer. Both ships represent a significant gain in qualitative terms for their respective navies, more so for for the PLAN as their ships are not exactly comparable to IN (Indian Navy) ships. At the present time, it can be argued that the IN does possess a distinct advantage in the Indian Ocean, but this will change dramatically once large scale induction of the P956 vessels begins in the PLAN. The Delhi Class (P15) destroyer program was originally scheduled for 6 units but this has been scaled back to 3 units (4 possibly) in favor of the much improved Project 17 (P17) Frigate.
Even though the IN is going ahead with the P17 FFG which is to be better equipped than the P15, and by extension, better than the Sovremenny (P956A), there is a whole new quality to quantity. The P956A and P15 classes are broadly comparable and although there are a number of similarities between the two classes, it's the differences that stand out and are worth examining. The Delhi Class is best described as a multi-role ship of Indian, Russian and Western origin with a significant ASW capability while the Sovremenny Class is intended primarily for the anti-ship role. Both vessels have a significant anti-air capability, but the Sovremenny has a minimal ASW weapons and sensor suite.
The Delhi is very similar to the Sovrenemmy-II in its displacement & dimensions; 6900 tons full load, 163 meters in length, 17 meters in beam and 6.5 meters in draught vs. 7800 tons full load, 156 meters in length, 17.3 meters in beam, and a draught of 6.5 meters. The greater tonnage of the Sovremenny in accounted for, in part, by the much greater weight of it's missile armament, namely the 8 SS-N-22 Sunburn AShMs. The Delhi has a CODAG (Combined Diesel & Gas Turbine) propulsion system while the Sovremenny has a steam turbine propulsion system. Advantages of a CODAG system is that it permits very rapid start up from the rest and also offers superior acceleration and performance. Both vessels use two shafts. Top speed for both ships is identical at about 33-35 knots.
The crew sizes are decidedly larger for the Delhi (360-420) vs. 300-370 for the Sovremenny. This generally follows the Indian Navy trend for excessive manning levels. The most visible differences between the ships are in the main gun and missile armament along with the electronics. The Sovremenny carries eight of the very potent SS-N-22 Sunburn supersonic AShMs and 2 twin 130mm (AK-130) DP guns while the Delhi has sixteen Kh-35 Urans (IN Designation 3M60 and NATO Designation: SS-N-25 Switchblade) subsonic AShMs and a 100mm (AK-100) DP gun. The gun systems on both vessels are controlled by the MR-184/184M (NATO Designation: Kite Screech) fire control radar and the whole fire-control system may be referred to as MR 218 Lev.
Also the torpedo armament is slightly different: on the Delhi, a 533mm quintuple launcher is mounted amid ships between the two funnels (as in the Kashin Class) while the Sovremenny has two twin 533mm mounts on either side. It is possible that the SS-N-15 ASW rocket (carrying a torpedo) with a range of about 50km can be launched from the Delhi. It is also very likely that the 533mm version of the newer SS-N-16 is carried by the Delhi. Also the Delhi carries 2 Sea King helicopters while the Sovremenny carries one Ka-27 helicopter primarily for OTH (over the horizon) targeting duties for it's SS-N-22 missiles.
The SS-N-22 Sunburn is an extremely potent AShM. It's supersonic speed (Mach 3), combined with it's sea-skimming mode, gives it a maximum range of 160km. It continuously adjusts its altitude and uses combined active-passive radar guidance and is almost impossible to jam. When it approaches the target, it automatically goes into a series of sharp S-shaped maneuvers, with overload as much as 15 G, in order to disable the enemy's interception. It is possible that the current generation of air defense missiles and anti-missile CIWS artillery would be futile in the face of such a missile, primarily because of very limited detection (and subsequent reaction) times. Also, it has been argued that even if the incoming missile was blown up or damaged by the last ditch CIWS gun systems, the oncoming debris would cause substantial damage to the ship.
The Kh-35 Uran sea-skimmer is a much smaller missile with a maximum range of about 130 km and is comparable to the Harpoon. The Delhi will embark a SS-N-22 variant, called the Koral, once it enters service. This would represent a very significant shift in the Delhi's capabilities thus bringing them much more in line with the PLAN's Sovremenny. For now, however, it remains a question of how effective a salvo of 16 subsonic anti-ship missiles will be against a salvo of 8 supersonic anti-ship missiles missiles. It should be borne in mind that during the Gulf War, a few subsonic OSA (P15/P20) based Chinese derivatives such as Silkworms were shot down by Sea Darts fired by Royal Navy (RN) vessels. But then again, these are fairly primitive missiles insofar as their guidance systems are concerned.
The main gun armament on the Sovremenny far outclasses the Delhi. There is redundancy in having two turrets, and the Sovremenny can bring to bear a much greater tonnage of firepower at much greater ranges. For the Delhi, with its single 100mm gun, this can be a disadvantage in combat especially when the gun is damaged. However, some Western navies also have ships with just one main gun such as the RN (and a lot of the IN's thinking is from the RN) although the USN generally has 2 main guns on it's destroyer sized ships. So this comes down to a question of differing tactical philosophies. The other significant difference is in the ASW capabilities. One can safely surmise that the sonar systems on the Delhi class are far superior to anything the Russians have on a Sovremenny. The APSOH hull mounted sonar and the HUMVAAD VDS sonar are based on Western and indigenous technology, which, in combination, with the 2 Sea King ASW helos offer a potent ASW capability.
Of course, the Sea Kings are also configured for ASh role with Sea Eagle AShM. One may also surmise that the Sea King will be used for OTH targeting for the SS-N-25. It is possible that the Chinese would upgrade the sonar systems on the Sovremenny with French systems although the limitation then would still be the single Kamov helicopter which is inferior to the Sea King. In terms of electronics, the Delhi has a Half Plate (MR-755 M2 Fregat) air/surface search radar, and not a Top Plate (MR 760) as reported earlier, while the Sovremenny has a Top Plate. The Top Plate is probably superior to the Half Plate. The Delhi also has the RALW, which is a derivative of the Dutch LW08 air search radar, and once again, one may surmise that this is superior to the Sovremenny.
The Delhi also has a version of the Italian INS-3 electronic warfare suite, which possibly controls the 2 Russian PK-2 chaff launchers. The combat data systems are also different as the Delhi uses a combination of Italian (IPN-10) and Russian equipment in it's combat data system. The Sovremenny possibly has a so-called "2nd captain" automated command & control system that directs the weapons and sensors. It is possible that the Delhi's combat data system is more integrated than a Sovremenny. There are major similarities in the air defense systems and the CIWS and to a lesser extent, in the ASW rocket launchers. Both vessels use the SA-N-17 Grizzly SAM system, and also the AK-630 CIWS with the MR-123 Vympel fire-control radars. There are 2 ASW rocket launcher systems on both ships although the Delhi uses as RBU-6000 system as opposed to a RBU-1000 system in the Sovremenny.
Both use the SA-N-17 (Russian Navy internal designation - 9M38M2) semi-active radar guidance intermediate-range air defense missiles which are based on the SA-N-7 (9M38) missile. A total of 48 missiles are carried in two single arm launchers. It is similar to the U.S. 'Standard' ship-to-air missiles and is considered one of the world's most effective intermediate-range ship-to-air missiles today and has a maximum range of 50 km. This provides good medium range cover, but the latest versions of the 'Standard' missiles have a maximum range in excess of 100km. The single arm launchers possibly restricts the rate of fire in comparison to a vertical launch system. As installed on the Sovremenny Class, this missile system can simultaneously resist six anti-ship missiles and aircraft in all weather conditions. It has strong viability, is simple to operate, and is equipped with two photoelectric sights for use under strong electronic jamming.
This missile system can also track 75 targets simultaneously, aim at 15 of them, and attack six of them using six MR 90 Orekh (NATO Codename: Front Dome) trackers. This is with a Top Plate radar. Presumably, the performance is somewhat degraded with the Half Plate radar on the Delhi. It has an extremely powerful anti-jamming capability and is able to operate reliably within an extremely harsh electronic warfare (EW) environment. This missile system has the capability of intercepting anti-ship missiles wave-hopping at minimum altitude from a distance of 12-3.5 km. This capability is rare in the world and is something that the U.S. 'Standard' ship-to-air missiles still do not have even to this day. The SA-N-17 is 5.76 meters long, 0.4m in diameter, a wingspan of 0.86m and a total weight of about 700 kg. The warhead weighs 70 kg, maximum speed Mach 3, maximum overload 20G, and the system response time is less than 16 seconds. When two missiles are fired at the same time, the fragmentation probability against aircraft is greater than 0.96 and against missiles, greater than 0.86. It has an attack height of 5 - 22,000 meters, a maximum firing range of 38 km, and is capable of intercepting targets flying at a high speed of Mach 2.4.
The improved electronic system gives it a greater anti-jamming capability and shorter system response time compared to the SA-N-17. Future units of the P15 class will no doubt have the indigenous Akash SAM. The AK-630 CIWS is standard on both ships but the location of the mounts are different. On the Delhi, the CIWS is paired amidships in an arrangement that is identical to the Kashin's while on the Sovremenny, the CIWS mounts are located by the bridge and also amidships. This possibly provides a better firing arc coverage than the Delhi although it can be argued that the Delhi can bring to bear a greater concentration of firepower since the two CIWS mounts are so close together. These Russian systems lack a feedback loop (correcting the aim while firing) that Western systems like the Phalanx and Goalkeeper possess with their tracking radars that are integral to the CIWS mounts.
But then again, these are very expensive systems in comparison to Russian systems. As always, weapons specifications boil down to money or a lack thereof and there is a constant trade-off between technology and the budget. In these situations, systems that do an adequate job are preferable to the absolute best in terms of technology. Bear in mind that superior skills are a great equalizer in combat. In conclusion, it is safe to say that the Delhi is a better ASW ship while the Sovremenny would appear to be a better ASuW ship in its current state. Of course, with the introduction of supersonic AShMs on the Delhi, the picture changes very considerably in Delhi's favour.
The reader should bear in mind that both these ships are mid-1980's vintage and do not compare to ships of the Arleigh Burke or Ticonderoga classes. However, the Delhi Class ought to be a match for anything the RN or other European navies have at the present time. Insofar as countering regional threats in the near future, it would appear that the Delhi class adequately meets the IN's tactical requirements. It will be very interesting to follow developments of the Delhi Class as it unfolds. As a postcript, it has recently been reported that the IN is interested in acquiring three Sovremenny. This is, indeed, a most intriguing development!
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