Role of Offshore Patrol Vessels

Protecting India’s vast coastline of around 7500 kms is not an easy task. The challenge assumes even more significance given the fact that anti-Indian forces have tried and are trying to use waterways to spread terror in the country.

The 26/11 attack and incidents of many ships drifting undetected near Indian shores reinforces the common understanding that the Indian coastline is vulnerable to foreign intrusions.

Further, since Indian Navy has in recent years given commitments to the Indian Ocean Island nations to assist them in patrolling their Exclusive Economic Zone, the need to induct more and more Offshore Patrol Vessels is being felt by the naval planners.

The importance of OPVs has grown manifold in the recent past due to the changing nature of the maritime threat. While frigates form the bedrock of a fleet and are the principal surface combatants in many small to medium navies, OPVs have carved out their own niche because of the range of options they provide which makes them extremely cost effective force multipliers for a range of operations.

Considering the role Offshore Patrol Vessels can play in securing India’s maritime area, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard will be requiring these vessels regularly as they can play a very effective role in combating the low intensity maritime threat. Since the OPVs are considered very flexible in deployment and have the capabilities to act as multi mission platforms, they will be required in large numbers in the coming years.

OPVs are long range surface ships, capable of operation in maritime zones of India, including island territories with helicopter operational capabilities. Their roles include coastal and offshore patrolling, policing maritime zones of India, control and surveillance, anti-smuggling and antipiracy with limited wartime roles.

The OPV is a highly versatile ship, designed to perform Economic Exclusion Zone management roles, including the provision of maritime security to coastal areas and effective disaster relief.

Naval requirements

OPVs can be broadly classified into two types. Firstly, high-end war-fighting vessels with expensive weapon systems and C4I suites and more basic patrol vessels, designed for sustained low intensity missions and equipped with basic gun armaments, standard navigation sensors and built to commercial standards.

What type of OPV a country chooses depends upon its particular naval requirements, resulting from its geographic location, political aspirations and intended role of its naval force. However, the majority of OPV programs around the world are of the low-cost, multi-role variety. These are being used in an increasing number of roles, including fishery protection, pollution control, fire-fighting, salvage or search and rescue (SAR), counter-narcotics, humanitarian operations and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) patrol.

The OPVs can help meet naval requirement for undertaking ocean surveillance and surface warfare operations in order to prevent infiltration and transgression of maritime sovereignty and is suitable for monitoring sea lanes of communication, defence of offshore oil installations and other critical offshore national assets.

The Indian Navy and Coast Guard are going to have a recurring requirement of OPVs as they align themselves to combat the low intensity threat and expand their surveillance to regional islands.

OPVs by virtue of their flexibility are effective multi mission platforms. This versatility is an asset in times of strained budgets and with the advancement in technology has led to OPV platforms being configured for different roles. A growing number of navies are dispensing with specialised platforms such as mine hunters and are utilizing OPVs equipped with Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and AUVs to combat the mine and underwater threat. The offshore patrol vessel can conduct a range of missions, including maritime patrol, ocean surveillance and overseeing the sea lines of communication (SLOC), protection of offshore oil field infrastructure and offshore national assets and escorting the high value vessels.

India Navy has a great list of OPV which includes 53 vessels in 8 classes namely Saryu, Sukanya, Car Nicobar, Bangaram, Trinka, Super Dvora, Solas marine Fast Interceptor boat and Immediate support vessel. Indian Navy’s ‘Maritime Capability Perspective Plan’ is in place with as many as 46 ships being constructed in Indian dockyards. The Indian Navy is well on its way to becoming a 200-ship and 700-aircraft Force by 2027.

Indigenous development

The Indian Navy acquired its first modern OPVs from South Korea in the early ‘80s. Called the Sukanya class, the later ships of this class were built in India with considerable success. Although they were initially procured for defending India’s considerable offshore assets they proved to be worthy workhorses and were subsequently deployed for a variety of roles. OPVs have also become the mainstay of the Indian Coast Guard and their usefulness is underlined by the procurement programs underway in the navy as well as the Coast Guard.

The last few years have also seen the emergence of large, modern state-of-the-art shipyards in the Indian private sector which have the capability to participate in the country’s warship building program. Presently five 2000 ton OPVs are at various stages of construction. Private shipyards who have invested considerable sums of money to create capability and capacity are ABG, Pipavav, Bharti and Larsen and Toubro.

The Saryu class of OPVs are advanced patrol ships developed for the Indian Navy by the Goa Shipyard Limited. These vessels are capable of ocean surveillance and monitoring and can maintain control of shipping lanes. They can also be deployed to provide security to offshore oil installations, and other naval assets.

Saryu-Class already has 4 ships in service with Indian Navy. The first ship INS Saryu is the most advanced vessel constructed by GSL  in terms of design , performance and quality. The ships have been designed by GSL’s in-house design team. Construction of the first Saryu-class vessel took three and a half years and with this design and construction, GSL has become shipyard with the capability to both design and build naval warships in-house.

The Saryu Class can also be used to escort high value vessels and fleet support operations. The NOPV can conduct uninterrupted missions for an extended period of 60 days. The Saryu Class is armed with a 76mm Oto Melara super rapid gun mount (SRGM) and two 30mm close-in weapon systems (CIWS). The 76mm Super Rapid gun is fitted with a Fire Control System (FCS) and can fire 120 rounds per minute. The weapon package also includes chaff launchers, to deceive incoming missiles. The Saryu Class patrol vessels are equipped with a radar featuring automatic radar plotting aid (ARPA), Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS), gyro compass, magnetic compass, echosounder, speed log and Auto Pilot.

The INS Sumitra , the Indian Navy’s largest offshore patrol vessel, is fitted with most sophisticated weapons, guns, heavy calibre SRGM, rapid fire Russian AK630 guns, chaff launchers Kavach, Electronic warfare system Sanket and various other electronic sensors. The first, second and third of the series of 105 meter class of NOPV-INS Saryu, Sunayna and Sumedha are already in service.

Going by the increasing significance of OPVs, recently Goa Shipyard Limited has submitted a proposal to the Indian Navy to construct offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) armed with missiles. That will give more combat muscle to the vessel. If fitted with missile the pricing of the vessel goes up only by ten percent. GSL has the technology to construct next generation missile boats and missile corvettes which will strengthen Indian Navy’s prowess off shore. The proposal of fitting missiles on OPVs will not include those vessels which are already under construction or whose price negotiations are done. It can be done on future orders.

The GSL is currently working on Defence Ministry’s order of twelve mine countermeasure vessels (MCMV) costing Rs 32,000 crore. GSL currently has order of six OPVs for Indian Coast Guard, two for Sri Lankan Navy, two for Mauritian Coast Guard.

Larsen and Toubro Ltd has won a Rs1,432 crore contract to design and build seven offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) for the Indian Coast Guard. The contract from the ministry of defence is part of the government’s initiative to strengthen India’s coastal security.

In keeping with government’s ‘Make in India’ focus, complete design and engineering of OPVs is planned to undertaken in-house at L&T’s warship design centre. The first OPV under the project is scheduled to be delivered within 36 months from signing of the contract. Subsequent OPVs shall be delivered at six months interval.

L&T is already executing a contract for design and construction of 54 fast interceptor boats for the Indian Coast Guard. 26 interceptor boats have already been delivered. The last one was delivered 23 months ahead of schedule.

L&T is targeting to complete delivery of all boats far ahead of schedule. With contracts for 54 interceptor boats and seven OPVs, L&T is positioned as the largest private supplier of patrol vessels to the Indian Coast Guard.

However, the Naval Offshore Patrol Vessel (NOPV) project undertaken by Pipavav Shipyard  is running almost 18 months behind schedule. The NOPV project was the first ever Indian warship construction project that was handed over to the private sector and the first of five vessels under the plan was to be delivered by 2015. However, due to multiple reasons - one of them being a midterm change in the foreign design partner - the first vessel is now expected to arrive by June 2016.

Recently Indian Coast Guard Ship (ICGS) ‘Shoor’, the second ship in the series of six Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) was commissioned at Goa.

This 105 meters OPV has been designed and built indigenously by GSL, and is fitted with most advanced navigation and communication equipment, sensors and machinery. The features include 30 mm CRN 91 Naval Gun, Integrated Bridge System (IBS), Integrated Machinery Control System (IMCS), Power Management System (PMS) and High Power External Fire Fighting System. The ship is designed to carry one twin engine Light Helicopter and five high speed boats including two QRIBs for fast boarding operations, search and rescue, law enforcement and maritime patrol. The ship is also capable of carrying pollution response equipment to combat oil spill contamination at sea.

Presently, Indian Coast Guard has a Fleet of 120 Ships/boats, further 70 Ships/boats are at various stages of construction at different shipyards . The commissioning of ICGS Shoor will enhance the Indian Coast Guard’s operational capability to discharge the multifarious maritime tasks.

Global market

OPVs are the fastest growing segment of the naval vessels market. At least 24 countries are known to have a total of 136 OPVs on order and 30 countries have plans for up to another 276 at a total value of over $60 billion.  According to reports, the total number of OPVs on order has increased by 4% in the last year, while the number planned has also increased by 4%.

Asia has the largest proportion of the current fleet (44%) and the numbers on order (46%). Japan and India have 50% of the Asian vessels between them, while India alone has 26% of the total vessels on order worldwide.

There are many companies which are producing state of the art OPVS and have developed expertise to meet the expanding naval requirements of navies.

BAE Systems is building a new class of three 90m Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) to meet multiple mission requirements of the UK Royal Navy.

The offshore patrol vessel is intended to carry out a range of economic exclusion zone management tasks such as maritime security, border control, routine patrols, anti-smuggling, counter-terrorism, counter-piracy, and fishery protection, as well as effective disaster relief. It can also be used for the protection of natural resources.

BAE Systems received a £348m ($529m) contract from the UK Ministry of Defence to build three new OPV class ships for the UK Royal Navy in August 2014. Construction of the first patrol ship in the class, HMS Forth, began in Glasgow in October 2014 and the vessel is set for delivery in 2017. The second and third vessels will be named HMS Medway and HMS Trent, respectively.

The 90 metre vessel is equipped with an air surveillance radar which can be used to detect low flying aircraft often used in smuggling operations. Its automated 30 mm small calibre gun system can engage fast inshore attack craft armed with short-range missiles, rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns or explosives, while 25 mm guns mounted port and stardboard provide secondary armament to the vessel.

Featuring a 20 metre long flight deck, the 90 metre ship can land and fuel a medium-sized helicopter, up to 7 tonnes. It also provides ample deck space to up to six 20ft ISO containers for mission stores or humanitarian aid, with a 16 tonne capacity crane enabling cargo to be easily discharged to a jetty.

It also incorporates additional cabin accommodation for up to 50 other personnel such as trainees, special forces, scientists or medical teams.

Fincantieri is accelerating the expansion of its presence in Asia, which focuses on three main markets- India, Bangladesh and Vietnam. The history of Fincantieri in the field of naval vessels counts over 2,000 vessels built for the Italian Navy and many foreign navies. Fincantieri is able to design and build a wide range of surface ships, aircraft carriers, frigates, corvettes, patrol vessels, in addition to support ships and submarines.

Fincantieri has been awarded the contract with the Bangladesh Coast Guard (BCG) for the supply of four Italian Navy “Minerva” class corvettes to be upgraded and converted into Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), and to provide the related logistics support services. At the end of the upgrading and conversion works, which will take place in Italy and will last about 2 years, the vessels “Minerva”, “Sibilla”, “Urania”, and “Danaide”, whose lifespan will be extended by more than twenty years, will form the backbone of the Bangladesh Coast Guard fleet.  The vessels will be used to patrol the country’s maritime boundaries and traffic in its Exclusive Economic Zone, with capabilities to contain environmental pollution and to rescue and assist civilians in the case of humanitarian emergencies.

Fincantieri had earlier launched multi mission “Luigi Dattilo” Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) for the Italian Coast Guards. These ships are designed to operate in open seas in particularly bad marine weather conditions and will be used for search and rescue, anti-pollution and fire-fighting missions and to control illegal immigration. They will also be able to perform complex naval missions for central command. With a length of 94 metres and 16-metre beam, they will be able to reach a top speed of about 18 knots with a range of more than 3,000 miles, and will have a full load displacement of some 3,600 tons. They will be able to accommodate a crew of 38, with room to board 12 additional technicians and 60 shipwreck survivors.

The ships are also equipped with sophisticated command and control systems and latest-generation radar able to find and follow surface marine pollution and they will have a large stern door to let vehicles enter and be transported on a large working deck.

Fincantieri and Italian defence group Finmeccanica have signed a contract to build a new class of OPVs for the Italian Navy. In a €3.5 billion ($3.9 billion) deal, up to six multi-purpose offshore patrol ships, known as PPAs, will be built, with options for four more. The PPA vessels will be delivered in 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024  and 2025.

Navantia has promoted its Avante range of OPVs to many countries. Recently Navantia is positioning its Avante range of ships for the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN’s) Australia’s SEA 1180 Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) program. The Avante family was originally developed to replace a wide range of vessels that were approaching the end of their life in the Spanish Navy.

Variants of the Avante series are currently in service with the Spanish and Venezuelan navies.

The Avante 1400 design has an overall length of 79.9 m, a maximum beam of 11.8 m and a draught of 3.7 m. The platform displaces approximately 1,500 tonnes at full load and can take a complement of 35 with additional space for 29. The ship has a maximum speed in excess of 22 kt and a range of 4,000 n miles at the cruising speed of 16 kt. The Avante 1400 is currently in service with the Venezuelan Navy’s Coast Guard Command as the Guaicamacuto-class patrol ship.

Meanwhile the Avante 3000 has an overall length of 93.9 m, a maximum beam of 14.2 m and a full load draught of 4.5 m. The design displaces approximately 2,840 tonnes at full load and can accommodate a crew of 35 with additional space for the same number.

Last year Damen introduced their newly designed 2nd Generation OPV. This new generation of re-configurable Damen OPVs is highly efficient and incredibly versatile. Damen’s famous Sea Axe hull shape is used for these 2nd generation OPVs. Due to this hull design, these vessels demonstrate superior sea keeping including exceptional low heave accelerations. This makes the vessel very comfortable, even in stormy sea states. Since the hull is designed to reduce water resistance, the new OPV is also very fuel efficient and capable of speeds up to 25/26 knots.

Versatility has been reinvented by three newly developed multi-mission locations-namely the bridge, hangar and bay. The Multi-Mission Bay (MM Bay) can be equipped with dedicated mission modules (e.g. mission containers) for missions such as counter piracy, counter-drug operations, anti-mining warfare (AMW), search-and-rescue (SAR) etc. The MM Bay is also equipped with a nine metre RHIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat), which can be launched over a dedicated slipway through the rear of the vessel while the OPV is sailing. In the Damen-built Holland Class Ocean Patrol vessels for the Royal Netherlands Navy this system has already proven to be safe in operations up to SS 5 conditions.

Unlike other OPVs, the command-and-control centre (C2 Centre) is located directly behind the bridge. Damen calls this development their Multi-Mission Bridge (MM Bridge). Both spaces can be separated by means of a blinded sliding wall. OPVs are less likely to take part in combat situations such as those faced by a frigate. During a mission, when lowering the sliding wall, situation awareness in the C2 Centre is improved, allowing C2 Centre officers to observe the situation immediately with their own eyes.

The Multi-Mission Hangar (MM Hangar) is capable of storing an 11-tonne NH-90 helicopter and a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) such as the Boeing ScanEagle. The MM Hangar has been designed so that the OPV crew can deploy either the helicopter or the UAV without having to move either one. Furthermore, there is space for a spare parts store and workshop for both the helicopter and UAV.

L’Adroit is a Gowind Class offshore patrol vessel (OPV), which was designed and built by DCNS for the maritime safety and security (MSS) missions of the French Navy. L’Adroit was designed by DCNS under a self-funded program. The design includes a semi-planing steel monohull. It can offer covert deployment of fast commando boats within five minutes. The ship is also provided with a helicopter / UAV flight deck.

L’Adroit has an overall length of 87m, beam of 13m and design draught of 3.3m. The full load displacement of the ship is 1,450t. It can complement crew of 30 and has space for 30 passengers. It has an endurance of three weeks and a range of 8,000 nautical miles at a maximum speed of 21kt. The vessel is mainly used for conducting maritime surveillance and reconnaissance missions and anti-piracy and anti-smuggling operations. It is capable of providing 220 days of at-sea-availability in a year.

L’Adroit can be fitted with lethal or non-lethal weapons. The ship is equipped with a 20mm gun on the foredeck. It has an outreach of about 2km and can be operated manually. It is also equipped with two 50 cal. machine guns.

Frigates, OPVs and corvettes can form the perfect building blocks for the private shipyards to hone their shipbuilding skills and ascend the learning curve towards becoming not only shipbuilders but lead integrators of ever more sophisticated weapon platforms such as destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers.

India is currently emphasizing upon Make in India in defence as well.  Indian MoD should look at the larger picture and take a long term perspective of national security. It is important at this juncture , when Indian Navy is seeking a bigger role for contributing to the national maritime operations, to develop fully indigenous capacity by giving the private shipyards tangible and quantifiable milestones to achieve the level of capability desired of them  for construction as well as for providing lifecycle maintenance and support.

There is tremendous potential in India to utilize its expertise in building OPVs not only to meet domestic requirement but also to offer these vessels for export to other countries in the region. Warship export can strengthen the diplomatic and economic influence of India among the littoral countries.