Sustenance is obviously key, if the Indian Navy (IN) has to push further into the Southern Indian Ocean Region (IOR) besides being ready to operate for reasonable lengths of time even in areas such as the Mediterranean and the South China Sea (SCS). With the aim of boosting its blue water sustenance capability, the service sent out request for proposals (RFPs) in April 2013 for the construction of five new fleet support ships (FSSs). These new ships were to be procured under the ‘buy global’ category of the defence procurement procedure (DPP). However, by 2016 it became clear that competitive tendering had been abandoned for this project and Hindustan Shipyard Limited, Vishakapatnam (HSL) which was brought under India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 2009, had been awarded this project on a nomination basis.

However, not all five ships will be built at HSL which has tied-up with South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd (HHI) to execute this contract worth around Rs 10,000 crores. As part of a strategic partnership between  HSL and HHI, which is being negotiated at the inter-governmental level as well as at the level of the two shipyards, the first of the new FSS class will actually be built in HHI’s Shipyard along the  Mipo Bay coast in Ulsan, South Korea.

HSL believes that  under the terms of the strategic partnership which is likely to be sewn up by  mid-2018, HHI will be in the position to deliver the first ship by October 2022, with the remaining four being built at HSL’s facility in Vishakapatnam with technical assistance from HHI. The IN had initially wanted the first vessel to be delivered within 36 months of contract signing with one ship following every six months. However, HSL says that it will deliver each of the remaining four ships, at intervals of ten months subsequent to the delivery of the first ship by HHI.


Be that as it may, the specifications laid out by the IN for the FSS project, suggest that it is looking for serious underway replenishment capability from these ships which will have roles and capability beyond the standard fleet tankers of yesteryear. The  initial decision to ‘buy global’ had apparently been guided by the fact that Indian defence shipyards were already overloaded and the ships were required on a priority basis. However, given the fact that HSL has been utilizing only 48 percent of its extant capacity  it was decided that this project be executed domestically with foreign technical assistance under the ‘Make in India’ rubric. The choice of South Korea as a strategic partner for this project reflects not only India’s growing geo-economic alignment with that country but also the fact that HHI does seem to have credible capability in this sphere. HHI is currently involved in building an ice-capable fleet replenishment tanker  for the  Royal New Zealand Navy that is scheduled to be delivered in January 2020  under the Maritime Sustainment Capability  project. This ship will replace RNZN’s legacy tanker, the HMNZS Endeavour.



Role and Functions

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  fuel, oils & lubricants (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 loads  of 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  of 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 metres (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 10 m 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.


Contemporary features

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. 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 performance 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 ‘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 up to the mark. 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 its 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 at 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 will  have to be constructed of all welded DMR 249A steel or  an equivalent. Modern polymer paints approved by Integrated Headquarters 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.


Indigenous Content

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 will be the Defence Research and Development Organization 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 be supplied by the Ordnance Factory Board.


HSL turnaround

The FSS contract is expected to contribute heavily to HSL’s ongoing turnaround with the company posting an operational profit of around Rs 38 crores in Fiscal 2017 and a profit after tax of around Rs 54 crore in the same period. HSL CMD, Rear-Admiral (retd) LV Sarat Babu has stated in the past ‘that the negative worth of the company had been reduced through sustained efforts to improve its performance from Rs 1,252.5 crore to Rs 750.51 crore. Once the restructuring package, which is a book adjustment without any cash flow, is sanctioned, HSL’s negative net worth would go’.  During 2016-17, HSL reportedly achieved an income of Rs 650.08 crore and a value of production of Rs 629.04 crore. It seems that HSL needs a  break even order value of around 5000 crores at full yard capacity and the FSS contract will certainly help attain that figure, apart from other Indian naval tenders that HSL hopes to be nominated for.


For the Indian Navy

Overall, this  move  to acquire five FSSs alongside the IN’s project 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.


Saurav Jha is the Editor-in-Chief of Delhi Defence Review. Follow him on twitter @SJha1618

Feature Image: INS Jyoti, Courtesy, Indian Navy

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