Role of Offshore Patrol Vessels
The growing spurt of Pirate activities and the unique 26/11 terrorist attack from the sea, has engendered the need to review the naval assets and determine the most economical and optimum solution to counter these menaces at sea. The Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) are most suited to fulfill these maritime watch missions. This paper deals with OPVs of the size capable of blue water operations.
The existing worldwide successful designs of OPVs in operation have been identified. The future developments and the OPVs under order and under projection have been explored.
The shipbuilding industry being cyclic in nature, the boom of the last six to seven years has suddenly dipped to all on time low due to financial crisis. This offers a golden opportunity in the sense that the available capacity in the shipyards can be utilized to quickly design and build adequate numbers of OPVs on fast track.
The analysis and trends lead to recommended solution for design of future OPVs. The shipbuilding industry being cyclic in nature, the boom of the last six to seven years has suddenly dipped to all on time low due to financial crisis. This offers a golden opportunity in the sense that the available capacity in the shipyards can be utilized to quickly design and build adequate numbers of OPVs on fast track and meet the demand of vigil ‘round the clock’ over large sea areas. The paper offers a challenge to the ship design and ship building fraternity worldwide to rise to the occasion and meet this sudden increase in demand for OPVs.
Impact Of 26/11 Terrorists Attack From Sea on OPVS
The terrorist attacks on 26/11 in Mumbai originated from sea. The need of the hour is not to fight wars but to help improve security and stability and coordinate more effectively the delivery of assistance. This has lead to greater importance of the maritime constabulary/watch role. Hitherto, the maritime watch tasks were confined to coastal navies or for specialized services like Coast Guard, Customs and law enforcement agencies. However, in the changing scenario, the maritime watch roles now influence and encompass the requirements also for the blue water navies. The navies are today more often called to fulfill wide variety of roles over and above the traditional war fighting task.
The maritime watch roles have variety of tasks including mere presence, search & rescue, EEZ patrol, fishery protection, enforcement of sanctions to maritime border patrols, and deterrence patrols against — smugglers, traffickers, pirates, illegal immigrants, etc. The watch against terrorists (invisible enemy) has added another dimension to the maritime watch tasks. These tasks demand vigil round – the – clock over large sea areas and therefore require a number of operating vessels. This requirement can be met more effectively and most economically by the OPVs built to merchant marine standards and complying with International Classification Society norms for design, building and exploitation and subsequent product surveillance & support.
So far the maritime watch roles are performed by warships. Minesweepers and fast attack crafts are deployed for peacetime patrols of coastal waters, whereas Corvettes and Frigates keep maritime watch in the blue waters. These simple missions put heavy burden on both machinery and crew of warships. These warships are very expensive and sophisticated assets with highly skilled manpower and usually their complex propulsion plants have greater fuel consumption. The deployment of such sophisticated assets for simple missions of maritime watch as a routine measure will not only be wasteful but also ultimately affect their performance for roles for which they were originally designed.
The terrorist attacks on 26/11 in Mumbai originated from sea. The need of the hour is not to fight wars but to help improve security and stability and coordinate more effectively the delivery of assistance.
The Navy is becoming a multi-force reality, where different assets responding to different authorities cooperate towards objective of the defending national interests. Defence against terrorists from sea has assumed great importance and is rather the most challenging task of the maritime watch force. In such a hostile environment, the less costly OPVs may be the inescapable imperative for the future. For smaller navies, versatile OPVs can be the mainstay of their inventory. For larger navies, the OPVs are the affordable extension in coverage of their duties.
Opvs Offer Affordable Optimized Solution to Maritime Watch Forces
Inspite of using sophisticated warships for the maritime watch roles, the most suitable unit is definitely the so called “Offshore Patrol Vessel” (OPV). The OPV is capable of patrolling the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for longer periods. They have the necessary range and the sea keeping characteristics needed for extended offshore patrols.
The OPVs are often built to commercial standards and are slower in speed compared to Corvettes and Frigates which are relatively faster and built to naval standards. An OPV is generally lightly armed but can carry missiles and ASW equipment in war time. Some OPVs are built to naval standards with growth margin for weapon upgrades. It is difficult to draw a clear line of separation between Navy and Coast Guard missions as far as maritime watch roles are concerned. The OPV has to span the gap between the Coast Guard and the Naval tasks.
Different Names of OPVs : International classification ascribe different names to similar vessels. France having a long tradition in ship patrolling the overseas territories, call OPVs “AVISO” or Surveillance Frigates. The US Coast Guard refers to them as Cutters. Others call them Large Patrol Craft, Fishery Protection Ship or even Gunboats. Nevertheless they fulfill the task of OPVs.
Defence against terrorists from sea has assumed great importance and is rather the most challenging task of the maritime watch force. In such a hostile environment, the less costly OPVs may be the inescapable imperative for the future.
Sizes of OPVs : OPVs come in different sizes. These can be Large Patrol Craft (300-500 tonnes) as well as larger units comparable to Light Frigates (2000-3500 tonnes). The Corvette like dimensions (800-2000 tonnes) is the most typical case.
Characteristic Features of OPVS
From the foregoing it may be seen that there is no unique definition of an OPV. Generally speaking, they are, as their name suggests, vessels conceived for patrol duties in offshore waters. This implies, they are not combatant and they are mostly able to operate far from the coast and have long endurance. The OPVs are relatively inexpensive vessels, due to their features. Most of them are designed and built to merchant marine standards, which means a very significant saving both in procurement and operation,as they embody commercial standards for equipment, machinery and outfitting, in order to contain costs. When compared to similar size warships, the OPVs normally have longer endurance, good sea-keeping, lower top speed, small and simple payload and spacious accommodation.
The spacious accommodation is required for making long patrols more acceptable. It allows the carraige of a large variety of additional personnel according to the mission, i.e. environmental scientists; law enforcement officers; rescued mariners, pirates, terrorists; boarding parties; trainees, etc. The damage control and survivability characteristics are provided as per merchant marine standards as those for passenger ships, which is as good as naval ones in case of fire, flooding and lack of power etc, except, of course, that in case of direct hit or an underwater explosion by way of shock, blast, splinters the etc which are quite unlikely for this class of vessels. Some Navies include naval damage control standards in their OPV design. The main propulsion is generally by diesel engines and longer endurance at cruise speeds can be achieved and the top speeds of around 20 knots can be met.
The stealth features of OPVs are becoming part and parcel of their design. They will ensure better protection in the event of clashes as they provide lesser detection from enemys vessels or coastal radar stations are less susceptible to detection by enemy vessels and coastal radar station.
As an economy measure and in consonance with their peace time roles, OPVs are normally equipped with limited payload. This could be just one large caliber gun and a couple of small caliber guns, a surface search radar and a helicopter. The commercial type navigation radar provides low recognition probability as a naval vessel by the opponents ESM. CIWS by way of two gattling guns, optronic sensors and ESM could be other additions. The Optronic Sensor and ESM both provide passive surveillance. The Optronic Sensor can provide fire control capability at lower cost as compared to radar directors.
Passive surveillance, secure communications, discrete electronic emissions and stealth are equally important in this field of operation. In fact, besides the possible operations in selected scenarios against naval assets, in today’s world, criminal organizations can sometimes exploit ELINT to pose masquerade as a legitimate armed force.
The stealth features of OPVs are becoming part and parcel of their design. They will ensure better protection in the event of clashes as they provide lesser detection from enemy’s vessels or coastal radar stations are less susceptible to detection by enemy vessels and coastal radar station.
The combat data systems are now available based on commercial standards, thereby accruing significant savings . There will be force multiplier effect for area surveillance and therefore a valid support for reducing manpower. Both hardware and software can be selected from a variety of COTs products. The ships information system also facilitates navigation and mission planning for specific tasks, e.g interdiction patrol, fishery protection, pollution control , search & rescue .
The Irish OPVs , for example are issued with an information system featuring legal advice to the Captain, i.e. “Fishery legislation Expert System — FLES and a large data base of fishing vessels, i.e. “Fishing Protection Information System — FPIS. The latter is updated daily via HF or Sat-Com data-link with the shore command. FPIS contains all possible information on fishing vessels including permissions, criminal records, digital images, etc. To quote another case, the Italian Customs CI system features mission planning and two way secure link-voice, data, video — with the corps shore command, as well as a data base on suspected vessels, including digital images.
Helicopters have become an inescapable requirement for OPVs. Helicopters provide extended capabilities for surveillance and target classification, search & rescue and other tasks. The helicopter recovery and handling systems are now being provided on all major OPVs to ensure sustained helicopter operations in bad weather and high sea states.
UAVs are another possible add on to the OPVs. They require smaller decks and hangars. In future, UAVs may play an important role in maritime surveillance, carrying radar sensors and cameras.
RHIBs — Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats are also carried using stern ramps or hydraulic cranes for fast deployment and recovery. Their speed — 30 knots and above make them affordable and reliable solutions for delivering rescue, inspection and boarding parties.
Analysis, Trends And Recommendations
As known to the author, there are eight existing successful designs of the OPVs of the size capable of blue water operation. These are US Coast Guard Cutters, U.K River Class OPVs, Royal New Zealand OPV, German MEKO 100 design, Fassmer GmbH design, Netherlands SIGMA design, Italian P-1500 and Indian Sukanya Class. They range in displacement from 1500 t to 2000 t, length from 80m to 100 m, speed from 20 to 28 knots, endurance from 3500 nm to 12,700 nm at varying speeds. They are equipped with simple gun payload, helicopter and RIBs. All these OPVs are doing excellent work for their respective navies.
It had been long realized that the available number of OPVs are inadequate and as such measures had been taken by various nations to augment the strength of OPVs in their Fleets. Presently 93 OPVs are already on order. These are 14 for India, 6 for Malaysia, 4 for Indonesia, 5 for Argentina, 4 for Chile, 2 or Colombia, 9 for Trinidad & Tobago, 8 for Venezuela, 4 for Mexico, 3 for Morocco, 7 for Poland, 10 for Portugal, 8 for Spain, 4 for Thailand, 3 for Oman, and 2 for USA.
In the wake of the 26/11 terrorists attack from the sea and the recent intensified Pirate activities, the nos of OPVs required will grow much more. There will be a need for another estimated 250 OPVs to effectively counter threats at sea for maritime watch.
In addition to the above 93 OPVs already on order and being built, there are 172 OPVs whose designs and shipbuilders are in the process of being finalized and whose orders are in the pipeline. These are 25 for US Coast Guard, 55 for US Navy, 8 for Canada, 8 for Saudi Arabia, 4 for UAE, 2 for Montenegro, 4 for Uruguay, 4 for Peru, 6 for Mexico, 2 for Colombia, 11 for Brazil, 21 for Malaysia and 22 for Indonesia.
In the wake of the 26/11 terrorists attack from the sea and the recent intensified Pirate activities, the nos of OPVs required will grow much more. There will be a need for another estimated 250 OPVs to effectively counter threats at sea for maritime watch. The total number of OPVs to be built will, thus, be of the order of 515 including 93 already on order, 192 in the pipeline (for order) and 250 additional requirements.
The trends in the design and development of OPVs can be briefly outlined. Length has been increasing from about 80 m to 105 m plus. This will improve sea keeping in rough seas and will reduce wave making resistance at top speeds. The top speed has been increasing from 20 knots to 28 knots and cruising speeds fro 12 to 18 knots. This has been necessitated to keep pace with the fleet units. There is need for greater endurance at cruising speed to enhance mission times. Helicopter is a force multiplier and extends the range of operation. The hanger gives opportunity to operate two helicopters from the same OPV. The helicopter traversing & handling system and helicopter recovery through harpoon grid improves operability in high sea states.
The RIBs/Interceptor boats are essential for constabulary roles. The speed of RIBs have been increasing up to 50 knots. UAVs are a welcome development for add-on to the OPVs. The essential payload is 1×76 mm gun, 2×30 mm guns and 4×12.7 mm M.Gs. Growth Margin : – The OPVs can be fitted for (but not fitted with) suitable SSM, SAM, ASW and EW suite. Containerized mission packages in modular form. Stealth provides added protection. Reduction in radar cross-section, IR suppression and minimizing radiated noise can be done within affordable limits. It is possible to balance the use of COTS technology, commercial standards and military requirements by suitable compromise at affordable costs.
The need of the hour is that the shipbuilding fraternity including designers, industry and shipyards can quickly project viable OPV designs for the future and present them to the prospective nations and obtain orders for building.
The principal parameters of the OPVs will depend on the mission profile which varies from country to country. However, length of 100 m plus and displacement of 2000 tonnes plus and speeds around 25 knots are optimized parameters, and will meet variety of mission profiles.
The normal operating profile for an OPV would be that top speed is only required five percent of the mission time, transit speed 15 percent and patrol at loiter speed occurs 80 percent of the time. The propulsion system chosen has to match this operating envelope for economic exploitation. The diesel engines will meet the requirements of propulsion of OPVs in simple and economical manner. The number of diesel engines, number of shafts, FPP/CPP/water jets can be judiciously selected based on above considerations.
Integrated platform management system together with integrated bridge system and ECDIS provide instantaneous overview of all conditions. This improves the quality of tactical information presented and reduces the need for verbal communication.
The Indian Navy project 28 ASW Corvette hull form, propulsion, and principal design parameters are considered most suitable for future OPVs capable of blue water operations even in high sea states. Eight multi-role CODAD Corvettes (2400 tonnes, 110×13.5×3,5 m, 26 knots, 4000 nm at 15 knots) are being built at Garden Reach Ship Builders, Kolkata. They have been designed by the Indian Navy’s in-house design organization. It is possible to reconfigure this design to OPV requirement, i.e. simple payload, ample growth margin enabling ‘fitted for option’ for sophisticated payload and increased endurance. The judicious selection of COTS technology, commercial standards, maintaining balance with the essential naval specifications will make the design an affordable OPV .
Another revolutionary concept is that of LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) of the US Navy. The evaluation results are expected by 2009. This will have multi-role capability and will be more expensive with regard to initial cost also in running cost. It is possible that such a concept will have overall strategic advantages. However the conventional OPV as recommended will meet the requirements of all the navies in the world for effective maritime watch missions at affordable costs.
Acquisition Of OPVS On Fast Track
The design of OPVs for the future can be finalized quickly. The building of the OPVs can also be accelerated due to available shipbuilding capacity in the world. There was a boom in the shipping and shipbuilding for the last six to seven years. Suddenly, there is a sharp dip due to global financial crisis and cyclic nature of shipbuilding industry. Nevertheless, the available idle shipbuilding capacity can be diverted to build OPVs on fast track. The requirement of about 500 OPVs can be liquidated gradually and progressively in the next five years.
The need of the hour is that the shipbuilding fraternity including designers, industry and shipyards can quickly project viable OPV designs for the future and present them to the prospective nations and obtain orders for building. This is a challenge to be met by the design houses and the shipbuilding industry worldwide. They have to take the initiative to go to the customer and offer affordable solutions. The shipbuilding industry has all the time at their disposal to fulfill this global requirement so that the maritime watch at sea can be conducted round the clock to counter undesirable elements and their activities to save innocent lives and property.