The Multi Role Support Vessel is a warship that was sought by the Indian Navy to perform multiple roles from a single platform. Indian Navy aimed to perform humanitarian and disaster relief operations, evacuation missions, aviation operations using the rotary wing aircrafts attached to these vessels. The vessels were also required to perform amphibious assault operations and force projection.
Indian Navy was also charged to protect the water and islands around the strategic Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The Navy along with the Coast Guards was charged the overall responsibility of the Lakshwadeep Islands. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands form an archipelago in the crucial Bay of Bengal waters.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands were captivated by the Japanese during the World War II. Repeated reporting of suspicious activities in and around these Islands has been a major problem the Navy has been unable to solve. Constant threat to these Islands from a sea borne hostile force is something India can’t role down. To curb the presence of Chinese vessels and influence in and around these strategic islands the Andaman and Nicobar Command was carved out.
Performing amphibious operations on these Islands is something Indian forces have to be always committed to be and with various vessels being placed under the ANC it has turned out to be a major Amphibious Warfare Hub. Amphibious operations have been part of the warfare for quite a long time. The primary method in amphibious operations is to deliver troops to shore. The forces are delivered to the shore through mechanized landing crafts and the forces are usually given air support through the Rotary and fixed crafts attached to the vessels.
Indian navy is currently in command of the Austin Class amphibious transport dock INS Jalashwa. India procured INS Jalashwa with six Sikorsky Sea king helicopters for US $90 million. It is currently under the Easter Naval Command.
The Kumbhir class tank landing ships have been used by IN for amphibious operations. IN also operates eight Kumbhir class vessels; four each of these vessels are homed in Vishakhapatnam and Port Blair.
IN operates Magar class amphibious ships which were indigenously developed in Hindustan shipyard limited. HSL built two ships of these class, both the vessels operate out of Vishakhapatnam.
The Shardul class vessels have been charged with the responsibility of landing main battle tanks on the shores. The last vessel inducted by Indian navy for amphibious roles was the INS Jalashwa in 2007. The other vessels charged with amphibious operations have turned obsolete thus arising the need for newer vessels to perform this crucial task.
By 2009 Indian Navy forwarded a request to Ministry of Defence for acquiring Landing Helicopter Dock. This would enable the Navy with capabilities for performing humanitarian and disaster response, amphibious warfare and for protecting the Islands of India. The Ministry of Defence taking note of the depleting fleet floated a tender for procuring 4 LHD Multi-Role Support Vessels in November 2013.
The program was designated under the ‘Make and Buy’ scheme. The vessels were to be built under foreign and Indian shipyard collaboration. The first two ships were to be built under the collaboration in an Indian ship yard. The remaining two would be built by the state run Hindustan Shipyard Limited under a ToT program. A committee setup by the Indian Navy for the LHD program setup strong requirements for the program.
The vessel itself was to be no more than 35 tons. The vessel was expected to endure a mission of roughly 45 days and was required to float at speeds not less than 20 knots. It was to be powered by an electronic propulsion system and was to carry at least 10 rotary aircrafts. The vessel was to accommodate 1400-1500 troops with landing crafts, air-cushion vehicles, 40 heavy load trucks, at least 6 main battle tanks, armoured vehicles and mechanized landing crafts to ferry the troops and the vehicles to the shore.
The vessel was required to be fitted with a defensive suite which included heavy and light machine guns, missile systems, CIWS, anti torpedo decoys and counter measure systems. It was also required to accommodate a command centre for planning and monitoring the course of an assault. The vessel was also planned to be used as a floating hospital for which the vessel was to accommodate an “emergency hospital area “.
India received consent from various foreign shipyards to be part of the program. Larsen & Toubro tied up with the Navantia of Spain which offered Juan Carlos to the Indian Navy. Pipavav Defence, a leader and pioneer in shipping technologies in India teamed up with France’s DCNS which is considered to be one of the biggest exporters to India in terms of transfer of technology and also in revenue term. The ABG Shipyard partnered with Alion of the USA. Fincantieri, BAE systems, Raytheon ThyssenKrupp Marine systems and the Schelde naval shipbuilding have shown interest.
Pipavav Defence – DCNS
One of the very first firms to respond for India’s RFP was DCNS, France. DCNS is one of the largest exporters to India in terms of technology. DCNS is already involved in the construction of the Scorpene submarines which are currently under construction in Mazgon docks,Mumbai.
DCNS teamed up with the Pipavav Defence and Offshore Engineering to offer the Mistral–class amphibious vessels. BPC 250 at 24542 tonnes and measuring 214.5 mts was offered to India.
The French navy currently operates three ships of the class .Mistral is based on the BIP-19 design. BIP was designed at 19000 tons with a 190 meter long flush deck aiding for amphibious operations. An aircraft carrier like design was put forward by DCNS, which could launch an aircraft in STOBAR configuration using a Ski-jump.
French senate turned down this design for the NTCD program. A more robust rotary aircraft carrier or mainly an amphibious assault ship was to be supplied to the French Navy. During the Euronaval 1998 which is an international event applying high technology to naval defence and maritime security and safety, the French made a formal announcement that the vessels under PHI program would be designed based on the design of the BIP-19 vessels.
By December 2000 an approval was received from the public purchase authority for the construction of these vessels. A contract for construction was handed over to DCN and Chantiers de l’Atlantique. An initial order for the construction of two ships of the class was handed over. The keels for the ships were launched by July 2002 and December 2002. The first of the ship under the class was designated as the Mistral and the other as the Tonnerre.
Mistral was launched by October 2004 and Tonnerre by July 2005. Mistral was inducted on 15 December 2006 and Tonnerre by August 2007. A third ship of the class under the name Dixmude was ordered. Mistral made her maiden voyage from 21 March to 31 May 2006. Tonnerre's maiden voyage took place between 10 April and 24 July 2007.
With over 20000 tonnes the Mistral class amphibious ships are one of the biggest ships in service under the French navy. The Mistral can accommodate up to 450 troops, the ship is equipped with a sprawling 28000 sq ft vehicle hangar which can easily accommodate up to 40 battle tank battalions. The vessel also has a 9,530 sq ft well deck that can easily accommodate up to four landing crafts. The vessel is also capable of operating hovercrafts which are already under the command of the Indian Coast guard. The ship has a 9,100 sq ft command centre which can accommodate up to 150 personnel.
The information relay system for the ship based on the SENIT system (System for Naval Usage of Tactical Information). SENIT is developed on the Thales 3D MRR3D-NG Multi Role Radar which operates on the C band. For communications, the Mistral-class ships use the SYRACUSE satellite system, based on French satellites SYRACUSE 3-A and SYRACUSE 3-B. Indian Navy can effectively enhance these systems with its own satellite systems that has been put to extensive use.
Mistral class amphibious ships are currently armed with an effective defensive suite. The vessel lacks an offensive suite but was never really designed with an offensive role. The Mistrals are armed with two Simbad launchers which can launch the Mistral missiles designed by the MBDA missile systems. The Mistral is an infrared homing which was basically designed as a Manportable surface-to-air missile.
Improved version of this missile was equipped onboard armoured vehicles, helicopters and ships. Mistral uses an advanced proportional navigation system using a gyro as a reference when in pursuit of a target. To effectively enhance the Electronic counter-countermeasures capabilities the seeker of the Mistral missile has a very narrow field of view to reject decoys and interference. The ship also has an autocanon built by the Alenia Marconi systems and is armed with the advanced 30 mm/70 guns.
The ship is also armed with the Browning .50 Caliber Machine Gun which is a heavy machine gun. The M2 is battle proven weapon and has been in production longer than any other machine gun.
The vessel also has a space for emergency medical facilities which comes with specialized facilities for dentistry, diagnostics, specialist surgical and medical capabilities, food hygiene and psychological capabilities. The ship has a 900 sq mt space for the medical facilities which can room 20 emergency medical rooms and 69 hospitalisation bed. The ship can also accommodate 7 intensive care beds.
The ship has a sprawling 69000 sq ft flight deck which is one of the largest flight decks provided by any ship in its role. The flight deck has six helicopter landing spots which can be used simultaneously without any hindrance to other crafts operations. The vessel also has a 19000 sq ft hangar deck which can accommodate up to 16 rotary crafts. The ship is also provided with two aircraft lifts which can lift loads up to 13 tonnes.
The Mistral’s are powered by azimuth thrusters and is one of the first to be used in French Navy. Azimuth thrusters are a configuration of marine propellers placed in pods that can be rotated to any horizontal angle. The use of azimuth thrusters over the rudder and the traditional propeller enhances the maneuverability of the ship. The most powerful podded thrusters in use are the four 21.5 MW Rolls-Royce Mermaid units. Retractable thrusters are used as auxiliary propulsion for dynamically positioned vessels and take-home propulsion for military vessels. These thrusters are powered by electrical propulsion unit and use five 16-cylinder Wärtsilä 16V32 diesel alternators, and can be used in any angle. This propulsion technology gives the ships significant manoeuvring capabilities, as well as freeing up space normally reserved for propeller shafts. This system also reduces the space.
Podded Propulsion System
Crew cabins on aboard the Mistral-class ships are present in the forward section of the ship. The ship has ample of space for allotting a single cabin to each of the officer on board the ship. Senior non-commissioned officers share two-man cabins, while junior crew and embarked troops use four- or six-person cabins. Each of these cabins are carved out with the interest of the crew and is said to be providing one of the best living conditions for the crew in high seas.
Mistral was part of operation Baliste which provided support during the Lebonon war in 2006. During Cyclone Nargis Mistral provided humanitarian supplies to Burma.
Tonnerre was involved in ‘Operation Licorne’ in the Ivorian civil war. Tonnerre was involved in the Corymbe 92 mission in 2008 it provided humanitarian support in the Gulf of Guinea.
Mistral till date has only been operated by the French Navy, the Russian navy had signed a contract for purchase of two Mistral class ships. The ships were to be delivered to the Russian forces by 2014. But owing to an arms embargo against Russia due to the alleged involvement of Russian forces in Crimea, France declined to deliver these ships to the Russian Navy.
Though Indian Navy has shown an inclined interest towards the Mistral a lot many issues have cropped up with Mistral basic design which is not in par with the RFP issued by India. Mistral works on a podded engine system. Indian Navy has strongly rejected this design. Indian Navy has also requested for better utilization of the flight deck and aims to operate heavier rotary crafts from the deck. It has to been seen if India chooses Mistral and DCNS will come up with new design asked by the Indian forces. But Mistral is one of the battle proven platforms under the program and the links of DCNS to the Indian Industry may have scored value points for it in the procurement process.
Larsen & Turbo – Navantia
Navantia is a Spanish state owned shipbuilding company which has been a pioneer in designing and building military and civil ships. Navantia has experience in building technologically advanced ships like frigates, amphibious ships, patrol vessels, and submarines. Navantia is part of the consortiums involved in building the Scorpene submarines in India.
Larsen & Turbo or the L&T has been a leading service provider for the Indian armed forces. L&T has designed several key components over the years for India’s robust naval platforms. L&T has been part of several key projects powering India’s dreams of being a super power. L&T has a shipyard capable of constructing vessels of up to displacement of 20,000 tons at its heavy engineering complex at Hazira. The shipyard for long has been part of several key naval projects.
L&T and Navantia formed collaboration and the vessels would be built and integrated in the L&T complex at Hazira. Navantia and L&T have decided to field the Juan Carlos for the program.
Juan Carlos is a multipurpose assault ship. The ship can be effectively used for amphibious operations and humanitarian missions. The ship is equipped with a Ski-jump which allows STOVL operations. This unique feature of the ship has earned laurels for the designers. With the ski jump the ship can also be used as an air carrier and can project the power of the operating nations across its region.
The Juan Carlos is currently being operated under the Spanish Navy which has fielded AV-8B Harrier II attack aircraft. Juan Carlos has a vast flight deck of 663 ft. The flight is equipped with eight landing spots which can handle operations of up to eight rotary aircrafts simultaneously.
The ship can carry up to 30 helicopters or 12 Harrier jets. The ship is believed have designed to accommodate the more advanced and the new F-35 lightning which can be used under a STOVL configuration. The Ship can accommodate up to 12 F-35s.
The ship has a displacement of about 26000 tonnes and can travel at speeds up to 21 Knots under full load. The ship has operation range of about 17000kms after a single replenishment.
The ship’s well deck is huge and can accommodate up to four mechanized landing crafts that can land the troops on shores with ease.
The Spanish navy currently operates the LCM-1E as the min mechanized landing crafts off the Juan Carlos. These crafts are powered by MAN D-2842 LE 402X diesel engines which churns out around 1085 hp. The craft can reach a top speed of 25 kms/hr when loaded with troops.
Equipped with radar navigation, GPS, gyro needle/magnetic compasses these crafts can operate as far as up to 37 kms from the mother ship. The communications is taken care of by the VHF and UHF communications system. Currently these crafts serve the Spanish, Australian and Turkish forces. The ship has a sprawling 65,000 sq ft of hangar area which can accommodate up to 12 aircraft. The ship is also provided with two heavy deck lifts.
Juan Carlos can accommodate a compliment of up to 900 soldiers and can also make space for up to 50 Leopard 2E tanks main battle tank thanks to its well designed stern well deck which measures a staggering 227 by 55 ft.
The main living quarters of Juan Carlos can provide quarters for up to 400 people. The main search radar of the Juan Carlos is the Indra Lanza-N 3D search radar. The radar has azimuth of 360 degrees and has a maximum range of 470 kms and can detect incoming targets within the range of 3-10000 feet. The planar array antenna consist of precision cut horizontal linear elements vertically stacked, each with its own receiver. Ultra low side lobes are achieved by precise control of the phase and amplitude of the signal fed to each element. The array is driven by distributed solid-state transmitter modules which are phase controlled. The shapes and the positions of the narrow pencil beam are controlled in range and elevation Target height is obtained using monopulse techniques, with enhanced measurement at low elevation angles by means of special pencil beam combination techniques. Using advanced digital pulse compression techniques, the processor provides extremely accurate range and height information while automatically adapting to the prevailing environmental conditions.
For advanced surface search capabilities the ship is equipped with the ARIES–LOW PROBABILITY OF INTERCEPT (LPI) RADAR. The ARIES family is a complete Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) and High Resolution Radar (HRR) solution. The ARIES family is suitable for the detection and acquisition of low Radar Cross Section (RCS) surface targets in severe sea clutter environments. This radar maintains a 360-degree search for all targets within line-of-sight distance from the radar, determining the ranges and bearing of the detected targets.
For smoothed air operations of the flight deck the ship is also equipped with Precision approach radar developed by Indra. Precision approach radar (PAR) is a radar guidance system which can provide lateral and vertical guidance to a pilot approaching for landing. Juan Carlos comes with state of the art REGULUS electronic warfare systems. The RIGEL systems take care of the decoys systems. The ship is also armed with a defensive system.
The defensive system is taken care by 4 20mm guns and a heavier 12.77 mm machine gun takes charge of the longer range threats. The ship is powered by a diesel-electric propulsion unit. A standby gas turbine power plant is connected to a pair of azimuthal pods.
The first of the ship under this class the Juan Carlos was started in May 2005; the ship was launched on 10th March 2008 and was inducted to the Spanish forces on 30th September 2010. The total spending for the ship was estimated at around US$600 million.
Australia purchased two ships of the class which were designated as the Canberra-class LHD. Navantia was to complete the ship in Spain from keel to flight deck and then to be transferred to Australia for further development of system by BAE systems. The first o the ship under this class was named HMAS Canberra and was commissioned to the forces in November 2014. The second ship HMAS Adelaide is under construction and is expected to be delivered to the force by 2016. Turkey has opted for the Juan Carlos and is expected to be furnished under a ToT and the contract is signed for an expected $500 millions.
India has for long has had ideas of operating three main CBG’s and be backed by two small carriers that can effectively fulfil India’s need for monitoring the EEZ without opting for the main CBG’s whose operations may cost in crores. The ship also promises an longer period of endurance in the high seas and can be used for operations across the Indian Ocean Region(IOR). Navantia has been part of India’s Nava technology for quite some time and with tie ups to L&T the position of Navantia has only been compounded. But Juan Carlos currently has an Diesel-Electric propulsion system against India’s need for an all exclusive Electric propulsion system.
The maximum speed attained by Juan Carlos is only 21 Nautical miles which crosses India’s requirements by a very small margin. The podded thrusters have again been used in the design. But if Navantia and L&T comes up with an newer design Juan Carlos can surely be one of the ships Indian Navy would like to operate.