India's landing platform dock Jalashwa could eventually be joined by four additional vessels. (Indian Navy)
NEW DELHI — The Indian Navy’s plans to add four landing platform docks (LPDs) underscore its long-term goal to boost lift capabilities throughout the vast Indian Ocean territory.
These vessels, at a cost of more than $3 billion, will join the US-built Jalashwa, acquired in 2008. In addition to the Jalashwa, the Navy has five landing ship tanks.
“The Indian Navy is in dire need of modernizing its amphibious capacity and enhancing its sealift capability,” said Probal Ghosh, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, based here. “Given its large island assets and the fact that India is emerging as a security provider and guarantor in the Indian Ocean region [which has many island nations], the need of amphibious assets cannot be understated. The addition of four LPDs is hence an instrument in the fulfillment of India’s growing strategic role.”
Defense analyst Anil Jai Singh said the Navy’s lift requirement would be about a brigade (3,000 troops), which should be adequately addressed with the induction of four LPDs. But a follow-on program would need to be initiated soon after to maintain that capability.
In early December, the Navy floated a $2.6 billion domestic tender for construction of four LPDs with bids sent only to domestic shipyards Larsen & Toubro, Pipavav Defence, Offshore Engineering and ABG Shipyard. The proposal is to build two LPDs at the selected private-sector yard and another two at the state-owned Hindustan Shipyard.
It will mark the first time India has constructed a more than 20,000-ton LPD.
For their bids to build the ships in India, Larsen & Toubro has tied up with Spain’s Navantia, while Pipavav Defence and Offshore Engineering has teamed with France’s DCNS, and ABG Shipyard with US company Alion.
Navy officials say in private that the service’s strategic lift capability is inadequate and must be improved to compete with that of China.
“As the geostrategic drivers in the Indian Ocean region gather intensity, Indian naval assets, especially in ... littoral warfare, will need to be enhanced considerably,” Ghosh said. “We not only need large LPDs but new landing craft utility squadrons and other smaller crafts, landing ship tanks and hovercrafts or hydrofoils to have a balanced littoral inventory. Most importantly, we need highly trained marine troops ... to carry out littoral operations.”
A Defence Ministry official said bluewater capabilities remain essential to prevent enemy vessels, including submarines, from reaching Indian coastal regions. This includes thwarting enemy offensive submarine activities and associated sea-based logistic support systems.
“Presently, we have a credible sea-denial capability, but the delay in the modernization of the submarine arm could lead to a critical deficit in the near future, which would become increasingly difficult to bridge if not addressed urgently,” Singh said. ■