A few foreign players are offering state-of-the-art Landing Helicopter Docks to the Indian Navy
Landing Helicopter Docks (LHD) are some of the most versatile amphibious support platforms for 21st century naval operations. They have played a vital role during high intensity operations, low intensity conflict and peace time.
In the military role they can carry Main Battle Tanks, Armoured Personal Carriers, Troops, hovercraft, Supplies and an assortment of helicopters. LHDs can also double up as mini aircraft carriers launching short take-off and vertical landing aircraft (STOVL) fighters. They are the backbone of any expeditionary force, especially supporting troops in sub-national conflicts where the local population can be unhappy with an on-land base. In peacetime they can be used to carry relief during natural disasters by carrying relief material, personnel, rescue helicopters or can act as hospital ships with a large number of beds.
Amphibious Operations: They play a critical role in military interventions in conventional and sub conventional conflicts when access to land routes are not available to the target country. They can deploy light/heavy armoured vehicles, marines supplies and ammunition to the region of interest. They can also be handy in protecting island territories like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands with the ability to deploy large military deployments on short notice.
Special Operations: They support covert operations over land, insert and extract reconnaissance teams to perform deep reconnaissance, landing zone engineering recon and counter terrorism operations.
Anti-Submarine Warfare: The large number of helicopters which can be carried can be useful to detect enemy submarines over a large area and also neutralise the targets; in comparison frigates destroyers and corvettes usually carry a single helicopter or at the most two.
Air Defence and Strike: Some LHDs can support launching short take-off and vertical landing aircraft (STOVL) such as the Harrier or the F-35 which can support air defence operations or carry out anti ship and strikes at land targets. Many a times attack helicopters are deployed from these ships too.
Search and Rescue: LHDs contained in smaller boats, air cushioned vehicles and deck-based helicopters can carry out search and rescue during war and natural disasters.
Hospital: The ships can double up as sea-based hospitals treating patients from combat zones and natural disasters where land deployment of medical units might be restricted.
Existing Amphibious Capabilities
The Indian Navy acquired the former USS Trenton and renamed it as INS Jalashwa post 2004 Tsunami, recognising the utility of amphibious support ships in such crisis. The Jalashwa played an important role in Operation Safe Homecoming during the 2011 Libyan crisis when it was used to evacuate Indian and foreign citizens under a cloud of conflict. The vessel carried its full contingent of helicopters and Marine Commandos (MARCOS) to assist in the operations and provide security in the potentially hostile environment. The Jalashwa is more of an Amphibious Transport Dock (ATD) than a LHD with less deck space for helicopters. It is also limited in its military role as the US government has restrictions on its use, and its age also demands replacements. The new Multi-Role Support Vessels (MRSVs) will be larger, able to carry more men, material and aircraft. The Indian Navy is looking to build four such ships at Indian Shipyards under transfer of technology. The ‘Make in India’ programme worth Rs 20,000 crores was cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by the defence minister Arun Jaitley in 2017. The vessels should be able to deploy tanks, APC, troops in Landing Craft Utility (LCU), Landing Craft Mechanised (LCM), Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) and should be able to deploy heavy special operations helicopters weighing up to 35 tonnes.
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