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.