An IDC Analysis

(With inputs by Sayan Majumdar)


New Delhi, 28 September 2004

As a measure to economically increase its inventory the Indian Navy may consider the acquisition of platforms of Western nations who may decommission them as they no longer suit their needs as also their manpower costs are enormous. The UK was reported to go in for three new large Aircraft Carriers with the American made Future Combat Aircraft, which will also be capable of vertical landing.

Hence the Royal Navy's HMS Invincible is projected for early decommissioning in 2006. A serious effort to procure this ship, which serves as one of the finest multi-purpose naval platforms of the present generation, will be invaluable in fulfilling vital roles of Command Cruiser (CC), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) platform and a Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) in an amphibious assault role. The ship is powered by Combined Gas turbine And Gas turbine (COGAG), consisting of four Rolls Royce Olympus TM3B gas turbine engines generating 97,000hp, providing a speed of 28 knots. At the economical speed of 19 knots the range of the ship is 7000 miles. HMS Invincible completed a refit as recent as in March 2003.

Incidentally it was reported the Indian Navy did make an effort to procure a specialized CC during early 1990s. During the "Black Sea Fleet crisis" immediately after the "break up" of the Soviet Union the Indian Navy tried to obtain 'Zhdanov' that served as the CC of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet. 'Zhdanov', a traditional handsome twin-funneled Sverdlov class gun armed cruiser (CA) completed modification as specialized Command Cruiser (CC) in 1973 and had her third 152-mm turret replaced by a tall deckhouse, probably housing a new signals department. A tall tripod mast with lattice supports carrying V-Cone HF antennae was constructed forward of the new deckhouse. An SA-N-4 'Gecko' missile "bin" was installed on top of the deckhouse, with its Pop Group guidance radar on a platform projecting from the new tripod mainmast. Four twin 30-mm mountings together with their Fire Control (FC) radars were fitted around the fore-funnel. A helicopter-landing circle replaced the mine-rails on the quarterdeck.

A sister-ship of Zhdanov's 末 'Admiral Senyavin' was more extensively modified. In addition to "Zhdanov modification" both the rear turrets were removed for construction of an enlarged hanger for two Kamov-25 'Hormone' helicopters. 'Admiral Senyavin' served as the flagship CC of the Soviet Pacific Fleet. 

The extensive Command & Control facilities of the modified Zhdanov were backed up by its original armament of impressive 152-mm guns 末 nine of them in three turrets 末 which were retained for ship-to-shore bombardment operations. However the "Zhdanov deal" had to be scuttled due to payment complications regarding the share to be paid to the sellers. If media reports were true the ship was to be sold at a throwaway price of only 2.2 million pounds!

The HMS Invincible, a "through-deck Cruiser" was built by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering (now BAE Systems Marine) at Barrow-in-Furness and was commissioned in July 1980. The role of the 20,600t aircraft carrier was envisaged as a command headquarters for the task group and to support the operations of the Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing (V/STOL) aircraft and helicopters. Thus extensive "Flag Facilities" were incorporated right from the start. For the amphibious assault role the ship has facilities to accommodate a force of 500 marines.

The ship served with distinction during the Falklands campaign of 1982 fulfilling its multi-role obligations although it was lucky enough to escape destruction from a murderous Argentine "Exocet air attack" that destroyed the high-profile troop transporter 'Atlantic Conveyer'. A tactical "zig-zag" pattern of movement was practised during the Falkland campaign to avoid sub-surface attacks while strike missions of Sea Harrier FRS.1s were conducted at carefully chosen intervals.

The elaborate combat data system now is BAE SYSTEMS ADIMP with communication links 末 Link 10, Link 11 and Link 14. Following the refit, HMS Invincible has had the combat system upgraded with new multi-function consoles and flat-panel colour displays and the secure satellite communications system, the Astrium (formerly Matra Marconi) SCOT.

The BAE SYSTEMS Type 996 surface search radar antennae are mounted very high on the tower between the two funnels operating on E and F-bands. BAE SYSTEMS Type 1022 air-search radar operates on D-band. HMS Invincible is equipped with the Kelvin Hughes Type 1006 navigation radar operating on I-band. The sonar system is the hull-mounted Type 2016 active/passive search and attack sonar by Thales Underwater Systems.

For ECM the Invincible is fitted with the Thales Defence Type 675(2) jamming system and a UAT(8), Electronic Support Measures (ESM) system. The ship's decoy system is the Royal Navy's Outfit DLJ with Sea Gnat.

HMS Invincible has three Thales Nederland Goalkeeper Close-In Weapons System (CIWS). Goalkeeper's Gatling principle 30mm gun provides a maximum firing rate of 4,200 rounds/min with a range of 1,500-m and effectively throws a "blanket" of high-density shells before an incoming airborne threat including Anti-Ship Missiles (AShM). The ship is also equipped with two GAM-B01 20-mm anti-aircraft artillery that have a maximum range of 2-km and firing rate of 1,000 rounds/min. If procurement is made the Navy could easily install an appropriate point-defence SAM on the vessel. A credible point-defence SAM will ensure destruction of air threats at sufficient distance and avoid damage of the ship even from the debris.

Invincible was originally armed with a Sea Dart twin Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) launcher, installed on the forecastle of the ship near the ski-ramp. The Sea Dart SAM however proved ineffective during Falklands campaign since the Argentine Navy was familiar with this particular SAM system. The Argentine Navy did procure two British Type 42 Sheffield Class destroyers naming them 'Hercules' and 'Santisima Trinidad' armed with Sea Dart SAM and during the conflict most Argentine air attacks were made outside the performance spectrum of Royal Navy Sea Dart equipped ships. Presently the missile system has been removed and the flight deck extended, to provide more capacity for aircraft and enable take-off for Royal Air Force (RAF) Harrier GR.7/9 aircraft.

The ship's flight-deck runway is about 170-m long with a ski ramp set at 12 degrees. The ship supports nine Harrier aircraft including both the Royal Air Force (RAF) GR7/GR9 Harrier II and the Royal Navy (RN) FA2 Sea Harrier, now operated by the combined RAF/RN Joint Force Harrier 末 a conception that both Indian Navy and Indian Air Force (IAF) will do well to emulate. Rotary-wing components include nine Sea King HAS 6 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopters and three Sea King AEW 2 and ASaC Mk 7 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) helicopters.

While various versions of Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) 'Dhruv' and compact Kamov-28 ASW and Kamov-31 AEW will be natural choices for rotary-wing components, the Navy will do well to procure the well maintained part of Sea Harrier FA2 with decent Beyond Visual Range (BVR) capability. As naval manoeuvres during Kargil conflict had demonstrated, subject to innovation and will, V/STOL fighters can be operated from makeshift decks of tankers and perhaps even from Light Cruisers/Destroyers if the situation demands. Moreover the Sea Harrier force can be rapidly based on makeshift runways on strategic points once an enemy beachhead or further inland is properly secured.

'Invincible' if inducted into the Navy will be able to serve as a dedicated multipurpose assault ship capable of embarking V/STOL strike fighters and assault helicopters/gunships for sustained ship to shore offensive operations. In addition the ship will also serve as battle-proven command and control platform of any amphibious operations.

The Navy will additionally need at least two Landing Platform Docks (LPD) similar to Russian 14,000 ton plus Ivan Rogov class 'Mitrofan Moskalenko' or French 11,880 ton 'Foudre'. The objective should be to embark battalion-sized marines at various strategic points along with their equipment, armour and vehicles at a "short notice" and disperse them quickly from the landing or DZ (Dropping Zone) before any adequate enemy response. This nucleus force could be supported by an adequate number of landing vessels and platforms like "Roll-on Roll-off" vessels and Landing Ship Tank (LST). Political treaties should provide us access to distant bases for amassing propositioned stocks at strategic points.

With the emergence Indian Navy's active collaboration with United States Navy and navies of littoral States in the Indian Ocean region, amphibious operations should gain immense importance in the visions of the higher echelons of the Navy. And there lies the importance of multi-purpose platforms like HMS Invincible.

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