Fleet Support Ship of India
|Fleet Support Ship of India|
The request for information (RFI) sent out in 2011 for these ships itself clearly spells out that the functions for the FSS include:
(a) Transfer FOLs to all Naval Surface units while underway at sea, using the abeam and stern transfer methods.
(b) Transfer all types of Stores, Victuals and Personnel to naval units, while underway at sea.
Thus beyond the role of fuelling at sea (FAS) which involves delivering fluids such as low speed and high speed diesel (LSHSD), aviation fuel (AVCAT), fresh water and feed water these ships will also perform tasks typically carried out by combat store ships and ammunition ships by being able to deliver a variety of solid cargoes to serve as true replenishment at sea (RAS) vessels. As such the RFI calls for each ship to have a heavy Jackstay rig for transfer of a loads up to 2 tons ( which incidentally is quite standard for RAS ships) and specifies that a cargo drop reel (CDR) be provided for the heavy Jackstay. The ships will also have light Jackstay rigs on either side and these will be fitted with auto tension winches to transfer loads up to 250 kg. Furthermore, each ship will also have dedicated cargo lifts for cargo spare gear, ammunition and stores.
While the above refers to connected replenishment, the FSS naturally also has to be capable of vertical replenishment. This is accomplished by the use of a multi-role helicopter that the ship has to be designed to carry and operate. As per the RFI, the FSS should be capable of staging through helicopters with max take-off weight (MTOW) of up to 16 tons. It must also use a helicopter traversing system to secure and manoeuvre the helicopter from the landing area to the hangar in all weather conditions for which the ship is designed.
Now the projected size of these ships will make them only slightly smaller than the INS Vikramaditya which recently became fully operational with its complement of Mig-29ks. With an overall length of 200 m, a beam of about 25 m and and full load displacement of 40000 tonnes, the FSS will easily count among the IN's biggest ships. These FSSs will thus be more than 10000 tonnes larger than India's latest fleet tankers of the Deepak Class. Interestingly the RFI also says that the draught of these ships should not exceed 10m thereby rendering them easily capable of traversing the Suez Canal and even shallower navigable channels.
The relatively large size of the FSS should allow it to hold at a minimum 20,000 tons of LSHSD, 2500 tons of AVCAT, 1000 tons of Fresh water and 1400 tons of Feed water. Commensurately, the FSS according to the RFI must be able to perform a 60 day mission with the latent capability to operate for an extended mission on requirement. And the designed minimum endurance of the ship needs to be as follows (with 25 percent balance fuel left on board)-
(a) 12,000 nautical miles at 16 knots.
(b) 9,000 nautical miles at 20 knots.
The IN also wants these ships to have a high degree of automation and make do with a complement of about 190 with 24 officers. The RFI specifies that the IN is looking for "automation in hotel/domestic services, ship's husbandry, maintenance, logistics and management service is to be maximised." Power automation is also a requirement. Basically an Integrated Platform Management System (IPMS), is to be provided, capable of controlling and monitoring main propulsion system components, DAs, auxiliaries and ship systems including damage control systems.
Further in keeping with a contemporary integrated deck environment the ship will also have to host an advance composite communication system (ACCS) fusing together all external and internal communication equipment in all modes (voice, video, IP based data) and will be of commercial off the shelf (COTS) technology grade. The ACCS will consist of two L-band radars, one E/F band radar,one log, and two echo sounders. These ships will naturally be compatible with the IN's maritime domain awareness (MDA) network.
The on-board communication equipment will probably have several indigenous contributions that would help the primary contractor discharge mandatory offset requirements. Military grade indigenous content could be in the form electronic support measures (ESM) and communications intelligence (COMINT) equipment.
The fact that the IN is looking to acquire high end capability through the FSS program can also be gauged by the level of RAS capabilities sought. A RAS speed of 12-16 knots is specified in the RFI which is pretty much in keeping with the highest international standards. The FSS clearly cannot be like a sluggish auxiliary of old and must maintain a speed of 'not less than 20 knots of maximum continuous speed, at ambient temperatures of up to 40 degrees celsius, in fully laden condition up to Sea State 3 and while less than six months out of dock. It should also be capable of an economical speed of 15 knots. Minimum transfer rates for the FAS function will be as follows - 2400 tonnes per hour (TPH) for LSHSD, 1200 TPH for AVCAT, 750 TPH for both fresh water and feed water.
Clearly the FSS will keep pace with the IN's principal surface combatants and achieve underway replenishment even in trying circumstances. To facilitate this, the FSS's propulsion setup has to be of relevant capability. The IN wants these ships to have combined diesel and diesel propulsion (CODAD) in a single shaft configuration with controllable pitch propellers (CPP). The FSS must have bow thrusters commensurate with the size/ tonnage. The design will naturally be optimized keeping in mind overall power supply requirements that will be met through shaft generators and diesel generators of adequate capacity and required redundancy. Suitably rated emergency diesel backups must be located appropriately and should have double line shafting with CPP.
The requirements laid out in the RFI at some level show that the IN is also confident of the seamanship standards in its ranks and wants ships that can help it leverage those. The sea-worthiness requirements for the FSS which is expected to serve for at least three decades underlines the same. As per the RFI, the FSS:
(a) Should be sea-worthy up to Sea State 8.
(b) Should be capable of operating helicopter in Sea State 5 on favourable headings.
(c) The combat systems should be operable up to Sea State 5.
(d) Should be able to survive on the best heading up to Sea State 9.
(e) Should be seaworthy after discharging all fuel and stores onboard.
(f) Should possess ballast capability.
(g) Should be capable of carrying out RAS up to sea state 5.
(h) The ship should meet all stability criteria as stipulated in NES 109.
Naturally good sea-keeping will require maintaining high construction standards. The main hull would be constructed of all welded steel DMR 249A or equivalent. Modern polymer paints approved by IHQ MoD (N) are to be used throughout the ship. The ship is to be built in accordance with IRS Classification Society Standards which includes conforming to an amendment to MARPOL regulations (the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973 and the Protocol of 1978) that requires tankers to be double hulled. The FSS will also have active anti-corrosion and anti-fouling measures.
The FSS's weapon systems will have high indigenous content. For instance, The RFI explicitly calls for the fitment of an 'indigenous Advanced Torpedo Defence System (ATDS)' which could be the DRDO developed Mareech. One Expendable Conductivity Depth Temperature Profile launcher is also to be fitted in the aft section, besides a store for holding ammunition. The ship will also be fitted with two 30 mm Guns and two 12.7 mm guns in addition to four chaff launchers all of which will are likely to be supplied by the Ordnance Factory Board.
The IN wants the first vessel delivered with 36 months of contract signing with one ship following every six months. The RFP is likely to elicit responses from many major shipyards across the world. This procurement move alongside the IN's desire to build two large submarine tenders shows that its auxiliary fleet is coming of age. While the induction of new destroyers and frigates certainly improves the IN's striking power, it is a rapid augmentation of its support fleet that will obviously give it true 'staying power' in the Southern IOR and beyond.