INS Jalashwa, a Landing Platform Dock (LPD), imported from the US in 2007

by Sujan Dutta

NEW DELHI: The Indian Navy has briefed the government on an urgent requirement for warships that can transport at least 3000 fully armed troops and speedily disembark them on land.

The requirement, listed by the navy earlier, was flagged as urgent after recent turbulence in an Indian Ocean littoral country. India was not only unwilling but had an operational limitation when it chose to be hands-off the zone despite an appeal for intervention, a senior military official told The New Indian Express. There were diplomatic pressures against Indian involvement even though Indians accounted for a large diaspora in the territory.

The navy has pointed out that the army has dedicated a Brigade, made up of about 3000 troops (the 340th Independent headquartered in Thiruvananthapuram) for amphibious operations – moving from the ocean to land – for such contingencies.

But the navy’s current “Landing Ships” were either too old or too small (or both) to execute such operations in a 1000 nautical mile radius speedily. The ships were also required to have helicopters based on them.

The largest of such kind of ships in the navy’s inventory is the INS Jalashwa, a Landing Platform Dock (LPD), imported from the US in 2007. But it has aged despite refurbishment. It was commissioned as the USS Trenton in 1971. 

After being delivered to India the deal ran into controversy. Displacing 16590 tonnes at full load, the Jalashva is technically capable of carrying up to a 1000 troops and six helicopters. It is the largest ship in the fleet after the INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier.

In 2008, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) slammed the government for contracting the warship that was too old. It said India had committed to the US that it would not be used for “offensive operations”. It basically meant that the navy had bought a warship that it would not be able to send to war.

The other ships for similar tasks are the Shardul-class Landing Ship Tank Large (LSTL) that are still too small for the nature of operations that are envisaged. They are made in a public sector shipyard in Calcutta.

The navy has said that it definitely wants at least three LPDs for the kind of hostile and/or humanitarian operations that it is preparing for in waters just off Indian shores.

Last May, the defence establishment shortlisted two companies – Reliance Defence and Larsen & Toubro – to build LPDs of about 40,000 tons for an estimated $ 3 billion. The contract negotiations were to end by December 2017. But that has not happened.

Among countries that operate such vessels are France with its Mistral-class, Australia with a multi-mission vessel and South Korea with its Dodko-class.