In 2007, India’s amphibious capabilities took a big step forward, as the US Navy transferred the Austin Class LPD USS Trenton [LPD 14] to India. The 16,590t INS Jalashwa [L41] now serves alongside 2 smaller 5,600t Shardul Class LST-Ls, and 4 remaining 1,324t Polnochny Class LST-Ms. As India looks to project power within the Indian Ocean, however, and upgrade its disaster response capabilities, larger amphibious operations ships become a high priority.
Reports to date indicate that India is looking for up to 4 LHD type aviation & amphibious ships, with designs to come from foreign firms. The expected candidates come from France, Italy, Spain, and even South Korea…
Indian media report that Indian Army Army has almost 10,000 soldiers in 3 amphibious brigades, based in South India, West India and the Andaman Nicobar Command joint force. What it doesn’t have, is the naval carrying capability to turn all of that into a projectable force. LHD type ships could help change this, with their full-ship aviation decks, internal hangars and storage space for utility and attack helicopters or UAVs, ample internal space for vehicles and troops, and specialized areas from hospital facilities to naval command centers. LPD ships like INS Jalashwa offer many of the same potential benefits, at the cost of reduced helicopter capabilities, smaller aviation decks, and generally smaller size. To date, reports conflict, and the Indian government has been vague about its exact requirements. Touted contenders include:
Mistral LHD (DCNS). France’s DCNS is currently India’s shipbuilding partner for its new and sorely needed Scorpene Class diesel electric fast attack submarines. Their offering would reportedly be the 21,300t Mistral Class, which is also about to be exported to India’s ally and weapons supplier, Russia. This may allow for common modifications, if India wants to use Russian weapons on its ships.
Multifunctional Ship LHD (Italy). Italy’s Fincantieri recently delivered the first Deepak Class oiler vessel to the Indian Navy, and is working with India to build Air Defence Ship/ Project-71 30,000t range escort carriers, based on their Cavour Class. Cavour Class aircraft carriers can already convert aircraft hangar space into vehicle storage, and offload using rear ramps. Further conversion steps toward a full amphibious operations ship may be possible, but Mer et Marine refers to Fincantieri’s 20,000t “Multifunction Ship” design, which builds on their experience with the 7,980t San Giorgio Class hybrid design in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Their industrial relationship with India is a strong point for Fincantieri, but they’re also the only mentioned contender without a produced ship of type.
The next 2 competitors don’t have the same history of naval industrial relations, but each offers benefits of its own.
BPE LHD or Galicia LPD (Navantia). Spain’s Navantia has already exported LHDs to the region, thanks to its big deal with Australia for the BPE-derived Canberra Class. These 27,000t ships come with a “ski jump,” much like the Cavour Class, which could let operators fly some types of fast jets from its deck. They also improve carrying capacity for all fixed-wing aircraft, including some UAVs. Australia doesn’t intend to use them that way, but Spain will be flying AV-8 Harrier jets from the Juan Carlos I.
If India would consider LPD ships like the current INS Jalashwa, Navantia’s options expand to include their 13,900t Galicia Class, which was co-developed with Royal Schelde and fielded by the Dutch as the very similar Rotterdam Class. That same “Enforcer” base design also spun out BAE’s smaller Bay Class LSDs, one of which was sold to Australia in 2011, but the Bay Class’ lack of a helicopter hangar probably dooms it in India.
Dokdo LHD (Hanjin HI). The 4th reported contender is Asian, not European. South Korea’s 18,860t Dokdo Class lists itself as an LPH (Landing Platform Helicopter), but it has a full well deck that can launch boats and amphibious vehicles, just like the Mistral and Canberra classes.
Contracts & Key Events
Nov 23/11: Reports surface that India has issued an international RFP for up to 4 amphibious operations vessels with strong helicopter carrier capabilities. The actual India MoD release, however, is more restrained:
”[The Cabinet’s] Defence Acquisition Council has accorded Acceptance of Necessity for induction of four large amphibious ships. Induction of these ships would help to enhance the amphibious lift capability of the Indian Armed Forces. The capability would also be useful for assistance to civil administration, disaster relief and other contingencies.”
Indian shipyards were reportedly consulted first, but of course they have never developed such vessels, and had no design to propose. Indian Government | Mer et Marine [in French] | Navy Recognition.
Sept 10/11: Indian media report that India’s Ministry of Defence is finalizing a Rs 16,000 crore (INR 160 billion, or about $3.17 billion) proposal to buy 4 foreign-designed amphibious ships in INS Jalashwa’s size class. Reports at this point center on LPDs, which would add options like the Dutch/Spanish Rotterdam/Galicia Class, and Britain’s derivative Bay Class (one of which is now serving with Australia), to the mix.
The winning design would reportedly be built by Hindustan Shipyard (HSL) “as well as private shipyards,” which would be a notable departure for India’s military. Times of India.
* Article publicat a Defense Industry Daily.