By N. C. Bipindra
New Delhi: After a failed seven-year attempt at procuring four Landing Platform Docks (LPDs), India has begun a new acquisition process expected to be worth over $3 billion for these amphibious warfare naval warships under the latest procurement rules.
The Ministry of Defence issued the Request for Information (RFI) to procure four LPDs for the Indian Navy from registered Indian shipyards, such as the state-run Mazagon Dock and Shipbuilders Limited, Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Limited, and Cochin Shipyard Limited, and the private sector Larsen & Toubro Shipbuilding. The shipyards have to reply to the RFI by Oct. 20.
The bidders are expected to obtain a technology transfer and design from a foreign vendor from nations like Russia, France, Spain, and Germany, but will have to strictly adhere to the Indigenous Content requirements, as per the latest procurement procedures.
“The Landing Platform Dock (LPDs) shall be capable to transport and land ashore a combined arms force and to sustain their operations ashore,” the RFI documents issued on Aug. 24 said, revealing the intended use of the warships.
“Inherent to this capability would be a capacity to embark and sustain a body of troops at sea for prolonged durations, to embark, stow onboard and discharge at the objective the full range of the combat cargo required for undertaking and sustaining the operations ashore and to enable operation of multiple means of ship to shore movement of troops and cargo,” it said.
LPDs will undertake Out of Area Contingencies (OOAC) through its inherent capability to transport and deploy forces ashore, ability to arrive quickly in area, and sustain operations at sea for prolonged durations.
LPDs will act as Command Centre for the Commander, Amphibious Task Force, Landing Force Commander and the Air Force Commander and also undertake Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief missions.
Additionally, LPDs will also act as mother ship for unmanned capability and to support operation/ exploitation of all dimensions of futuristic unmanned vehicles/platforms/equipment. The LPDs will also provide medical facilities for treatment of battle casualties.
The anticipated delivery time lines for the first vessel is maximum of 60 months followed by delivery of one vessel every 12 months. Vendors are to indicate their comments on the build period and timelines for delivery.
In Oct. 2020, the government had scrapped the 2013 tender issued for building the four LPDs at a private shipyard in India. However, the financial instability of the competing Reliance Naval Engineering Limited left only L&T Shipbuilding as the lone vendor in the tender, a situation that is not acceptable under the then prevailing procurement rules for the defence sector.
The specifications for the 2013 LPD tender were issued back in 2006. The long delay in the LPDs procurement process, the single vendor situation and the fast developing technology in LPD construction resulted in the navy recommending to the government to scrap the 2013 tender.
The Indian Navy currently operates one LPD, the INS Jalashwa, an Austin-class amphibious transport dock procured from the United States in 2007.
According to the specifications for the LPDs mentioned in the latest RFI, the LPDs will have a maximum length of 200 meters, and its maximum draught will be 8 meters.
The ship will be powered by electric propulsion through shafts and propellers. They must be able to sustain a speed of 20 knots or above and should cruise at the speed of 14 to 16 knots. They should also be able to provide logistical support to the troops for 60 days.
The LPDs will be equipped with 32 Vertical Launch Short Range Surface to Air Missile (VLSRSAM) and 16 ship-launched anti-ship missiles. They will have 4 AK 630 CIWS guns with Electro-Optical Fire Control System, 6 heavy machine guns with stabilised gun control stations, 8 medium machine guns, and Directed Energy Weapons in lieu of AK 630s when developed.
For counter-measures, it will have four chaff launching systems. They will also incorporate 3 Long-Range Acoustic Devices. The vessels must have the endurance of 10,000 nautical miles at economical speed with 25 per cent reserve fuel, and should be able to stay in the waters for minimum 45 days in terms of machinery and fuel.
The LPDs will be crewed by 530 people including 60 officers and 470 sailors. They will also carry 900 troops. The vessels must have facilities for 20% women officers and 15 per cent women sailors.
The RFI states that the ship should have a ‘through deck’ design and should be capable of accommodating at least two Heavy Lift Helicopters, 12 Special Operations Helicopters and two Naval Shipborne Unmanned Aerial Systems (NSUAS).
They are required to allow simultaneous operations of at least 4 Special Operations helicopters. The vessel should have hangar capacity for 2 Special Ops Helicopters and two NSUASs, while the two Heavy Lift Helicopters will be parked on the flight deck.
As the LPDs will have a through deck used to land only helicopters and there is no plan to dock vertical and/or short take-off and landing (VSTOL) aircraft, they will be actually Landing Helicopter Docks. As Indian Navy has retired its Sea Harriers, it currently does not operate any VSTOL aircraft, therefore the new LPDs will have only helicopters, not fixed-wing aircraft.
The Landing Platform Docks will be able to embark, stow and operate one chariot, two Special Operation Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats, two Special Purpose Crafts, and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles. They will have four LCMs (Landing craft mechanized), four LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel), and two LCACs (Landing Craft Air Cushion) or two L-CATs (Catamaran Landing Craft).
The well dock of the LPDs should be able to operate at speeds of upto five knots, and the Ballasting/ de-ballasting arrangements are to be suitable for launch and recovery operation in a short time up to Sea State Three.
The vessels should have one or more vehicle decks with a minimum area of 2000 m2 for parking combat vehicles, which should be able to accommodate six Main Battle Tanks (MBT), 20 AAVs/BMP Class armoured vehicles and around 60 heavy trucks at the same time.
They will have a total cargo space of approximately 1000 m2 and should be capable of warehouse stowage of around 400 standard marine pallets. The vessels are also required to have the facility to store 10 or more standard 20 feet containers, preferably on the flight deck without obstructing flight operations.
The RFI also details the other technical requirements, radar and aviation systems, attack and defence systems, facilities for the crew, medical facilities and other requirements for the LPDs.
According to the RFI, a Request for Proposal (RFP) will be issued to Shipyards who respond to the Request for Information, after verifying their credentials and capabilities to construct the LPDs.