Hunt for the MCMV

The Indian Navy’s need for modern Mine Counter Measure Vessels is yet to be met

Atul Chandra

The Indian Navy has been looking for modern Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMV) for close to two decades. The search that began in 2005 is yet to result in the induction of new minesweepers. Plans to induct modern MCMVs received a setback in 2018, when the Ministry of Defence (MoD) cancelled a Rs 32,000-crore) project, in which Goa Shipyard had partnered with a South Korean shipyard to build 12 minesweepers.

The navy remains some time away from acquiring these vessels, which are vital to naval operations by locating, classifying and neutralising all types of ground and moored mines, in addition to undertaking mine laying, channel conditioning, route survey and sanitization. MCMVs can also undertake Local Naval Defence, Search & Rescue, Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO) and Visit Board Search and Seize (VBSS) operations. The navy’s fleet of six Russian origin MCMVs were originally to have been decommissioned from service in 2016, when they were already 25 years old. The operational relevance of these obsolescent minesweepers (now over 30 years old), even if they are still in service, is questionable.


Fresh Attempt

In keeping with the trend of sidestepping the Indian defence procurement quagmire by leasing military platforms, the ministry of defence (MoD) issued a request for information (RFI), late last year, for procurement/ leasing of 3-4 MCMVs from a foreign government or a shipyard backed/ funded by a foreign government. The RFI asked for a sovereign guarantee through a government to government (G2G) agreement. Following the conclusion of the tender process, the MoD anticipated delivery timeline for the first vessel after 10 months followed by delivery of subsequent vessels every four months. The speed of deliveries asked for indicates the urgency of the procurement.

The MoD has chosen to follow two separate paths, which involve either the procurement of in service/ decommissioned MCMVs to be retrofitted to meet Indian Navy requirements or leasing of such vessels, again retrofitted to meet Indian requirements. A lease period of 10 years, extendable to 15 years, with the option of purchase of the asset at the end of the lease period has been asked for. It will be either a finance lease or an operating lease (Dry lease) for 10 years extendable up to 15 years. The vessels are to have a service life of 20 years, though the navy is likely to keep them in service for at least 25 years.

Mine hunting requires sophisticated equipment such as Hull Mounted Sonar and Side Scan Sonars (SSS), Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) such as Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV)/Propelled Variable Depth Sonar (PVDS) and Mine Identification & Disposal Vehicles. The same is the case for mine neutralisation which requires Expendable Mine Identification and Disposal Vehicles. Mine hunting and identification also require sophisticated MCM Command and Control systems that help plan, execute and evaluate MCM and survey missions. The ship is to be fitted with system capable of launching, recovering and guiding Expendable and/ or Reusable Mine Identification & Disposal Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs)/Propelled Variable Depth Sonar (PVDS) for detection, classification and identification of mines and subsequent mine-disposal.

The AUVs/ PVDS should be capable of operating in wide range of depth from shallow to deep waters and have extended endurance and capable of operations in autonomous, semi-autonomous, supervised or in tethered mode. The control of the vehicles is to be through a ship borne control console and a portable control unit. All equipment for mine detection classification and identification are to be integrated with the vessels MCM Command and Control System. The ship should be capable of sustaining its mission for at least 10 days at economical speed and the Navy has asked for an Ops-cum-Refit cycle of ≥ 18 months duration followed by a period of refit. These vessels must also have adequate self-defence capability and the navy has asked for its MCMVs to have a lightweight 20/30 mm anti-surface NSG with an Electro Optical Fire Control System (EOFCS) and a Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS), in addition to two 12.7 mm SRCGs for force protection.


Developments in Minesweepers

South Korea’s Defence Acquisition Program Administration announced in November 2021, that it would soon deliver the ‘Namhae’, the first ship of the second minesweeper project, to the Republic of Korea Navy (RoKN). ‘The Namhae ship will have improved mine-searching and clearing capabilities compared to the existing mine-sweeping ships, and will become a strong support for protecting Korea’s major ports and maritime traffic routes,’ DAPA quoted the head of its naval division as saying.

The 60m long, 10.5m wide MCMV weighs 700 tons and features enhanced mine detection and removal capabilities as compared to its predecessors. The second and third ships of the Second Minesweeper Project—‘Hongseong’ and ‘Goseong’, will be delivered to the RoKN sequentially. Once in service these vessels will also be able to collect information on the undersea environment in peacetime, in addition to undertaking mine search and clearing missions in major ports in wartime. They will also be capable of performing non-military and humanitarian operations such as search/ rescue operations in case of disasters.

The Belgian and Royal Netherlands Navies are to receive 12 next-generation MCMVs which will also be equipped with drone systems. The contract for twelve MCMV for both navies was notified in May 2019 and will span over more than ten years. A design period of two years has been envisaged and the consortium had planned to complete the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for the programme at the end of 2021. Belgium Naval & Robotics (Naval Group/ ECA Group consortium) will lead the production phase, which will be executed by Kership. First delivery is scheduled for September 2024 and six ships will be delivered to the Belgian navy and six to the Royal Dutch Navy. They will be equipped with a complete drone module containing a total of more than 80 underwater, surface and aerial drones entirely dedicated to mine hunting.

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