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Analysis: Indian Navy needs new MCM mine countermeasures vessels

The Indian Navy (IN) urgently needs new blue-water mine countermeasures (MCM) vessels, according to local media and experts. In February 2019, the Indian Navy has inked a $42 Million deal with Thales Australia for eight mine counter-measure clip-on influence sweeps. On February 11, 2020, Navy Recognition has announced that Russia was ready to set up the production of the Project 12701 Alexandrit-E class minesweeper with a fiberglass hull in India under the Make in India program.

Indian Navy needs new MCM mine countermeasures vessels analysis 925 001 Project 12701 Alexandrite-E MCM vessel. (Picture source twitter account Johnhand)

“The Indian Navy is facing critical requirement of minesweeper vessels, as it only operates two minesweepers to protect its sea routes and ports,” writes Indian magazine The Week. This idea has been recalled by the news channel India TV: “The [Indian] Navy urgently needs minesweeper vessels. It only has two as of now”.

The Indian navy has a requirement for 24 MCMVs, but the acquisition case that began in 2005 is yet to take off despite the minesweepers being among the navy’s critical operational requirements.

In fact, the IN lacks any MCM vessels, let alone modern counter-mine naval platforms. The Navy’s official list of deployed ships contains no minesweepers at all: the last one, INS M71 Kozhikode (NATO reporting name: Karwar-class), was finally decommissioned last April. Therefore, the IN now has no MCM capabilities and there is no fast-track procurement to fix the issue. Moreover, the Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) seems to have no urgent operational requirement for such a buying. However, a tender for 12 new-built minesweepers for the IN is still active. In January 2018, the MoD terminated a proposed deal with the Republic of Korea’s (RoK’s) Kangnam Corporation for the construction of MCM vessels, with high building and technology transfer costs being the main reason behind the cancellation of the probable contract.

After the aforementioned break, Russia emerged as a strong player on the Indian MCM vessel market. At the DefExpo 2020 defense show held in Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh, India) on February 5-9, Director General of Russia’s arms exporting company Rosoboronexport (a subsidiary of state corporation Rostec) Alexander Mikheev told TASS that Moscow had sent India technical proposals under the IN’s MCM vessel program. “In response to an Indian request for proposals, we have offered our technical proposals. We are waiting for a solution of the Indian side,” said Mikheev. Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) also confirmed the country’s readiness to establish licensed production of Project 12701 Alexandrite-E (‘E’ for Export-oriented, Eksportniy) MCM vessels in India.

According to Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation, the Project 12701 Alexandrite-E MCM vessel has a displacement of 890 t and is 61.6 m long and 10.3 m wide. The naval platform is intended for counter-mine protection of naval bases, offshore areas, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and maritime mineral deposits; detection and destruction of all types of sea mines; counter-mine protection of blue force ships during sea cruises; counter-mine reconnaissance; and deployment of sea mines.

The MCM vessel features a draught of some 3.1 m. The platform is powered by two diesel engines with a power output of 2,500 h.p. each, producing a speed of 16 knots, a cruise range of 1,500 nautical miles, and an endurance of 10 days. The vessel is manned by a 44-strong crew.

The Alexandrite-E’s sensor suite integrates the Diez-12700E control system, Livadiya-ME mine detection sonar, two Alister 9 counter-mine unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), two K-Ster I UUVs, 10 K-Ster C disposable remotely operated vehicles, an Inspector-Mk.2 unmanned surface vehicle, a GKT-2 or GOKT-1 contact mine sweep system, and a ShAT-U sonar mine sweep system. The Project 12701 MCM vessel also carries some armaments, including an AK-306 30 mm close-in weapon system, eight short-range surface-to-air missiles, and an MTPU naval gun mount with a 14.5 mm heavy machinegun (this weapon system can be replaced by two 6P59 12.7 mm heavy machineguns).

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