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The Indian Navy Wants Four Massive Amphibious Assault Ships

May 30, 2017

India’s defense ministry is laying the groundwork for a marine contingent that will bring Delhi’s hard power to the far corners of the globe. In May the ministry’s Defense Acquisition Council announced two firms, Reliance Defense and Engineering Ltd. and Larsen & Toubro, were each qualified in an ongoing vetting process for the construction of four amphibious assault ships.

The two firms are expected to submit fresh proposals for the contract in a clear sign of growing cooperation between India’s arms industry and the private sector.

Examining open sources reveal the Defense Acquisition Council wants vessels that share the same dimensions as the French Mistral or the South Korean Dokdo complete with defensive systems and enough internal volume for a battalion of marines and their armored vehicles. Another alternative is building a licensed version of the Navantia LHD that Turkey and Australia have chosen for their navies.

One of the two firms competing for the project, whose estimated cost is worth more than $3 billion, the conglomerate Larsen & Toubro, already partnered with Navantia to localize its LHD shipbuilding. Its competitor Reliance, however, is ready to assemble a Mistral-type vessel with help from DCNS.

Yet the chances of either can be nil. With a contract for the ships still in the works, and not expected till the end of 2017, the Defense Acquisition Council can just fork these out to a state-owned shipyard with a track record of naval shipbuilding.

India’s newfound requirement for marines dates back to 2010 when the army and navy wanted to cooperate in forming a brigade-sized rapid reaction force. At the time it was believed at least 5,000 soldiers trained in amphibious warfare were needed with full logistical support. The requirement for amphibious assault ships was explored by the defense ministry in the following years after experimenting with a small collection of transports, including an ex-US Marine Corps LPD.

The impetus for Indian marines is driven by the likelihood of a future war scenario anywhere in South Asia, the Middle East, or East Africa, that forces the Indian Navy to respond.

Little progress was made on this project until now. With the navy still caught up in a slow modernization program involving multiple deals and contracts, the creation of an Indian marine branch didn’t materialize beyond assigning two army units, the 340th Independent Infantry Brigade and the 91st Infantry Brigade, for sea-based operations.

India’s newfound awareness of an expeditionary branch isn’t unique. The decade so far has seen multiple projects by rising states for establishing their own marine contingents. In early 2017 China outdid the rest when it started reorganizing its army to boost a newly minted PLAN marine corps.

But India faces a serious learning curve for its would-be marines. Not only will the force have to start small and train small, but specialized gear, vehicles, and air support is needed for the oncoming branch. Delhi sees itself as a world power anyway, with an outsized economic footprint, so marines figure in whatever passes for its grand strategy.

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