December 15, 2007:
A year ago,
when India bought a used 17,000 ton amphibious ship from the United States,
there was talk of using it as a disaster relief ship along India's enormous
coastline. Now that the former USS Austin has arrived, and been renamed INS
Jalashwa, the Indian navy are touting its capabilities as a warship.
The Indian paid $50 million
for the former USS Trenton, an Austin class LPDs that entered service in 1971.
This is a large ship, 570 feet long and with a flight deck that can hold half a
dozen large helicopters, and support simultaneous landings and takeoffs. The
well deck can hold up to 24 landing craft (like AAVs), or four lighter type
boats, for transferring cargo and personnel. These ships require a crew of 420,
and can carry up to 800 combat troops. The Indians are getting four smaller
landing craft, to operate from their new LPD, as part of the deal, and are
negotiating to buy navalized transport helicopters as well.
This ship can, and probably
will, be used as a floating helicopter bases and emergency response center. The
troops berthing spaces can be used for storing relief supplies, in addition to
the space already available for some 2,000 tons of supplies and equipment.
There are also seven cranes on board (one 30-ton and six 4-ton cranes). The
elevator from the flight deck to the hanger deck can carry eight tons. There
are tanks for 224,500 gallons of aviation fuel and 119,000 gallons of vehicle
fuel. The Indians have noted the frequent American use of ships like this during
recent natural disasters.
To build new, the Austin class
ships would cost about a billion dollars each. The Indians can get another
twenty years out of this ship, which means a fair price as a second hand ship
would have been closer to $300 million. But the U.S. and India are cooperating
more these days, and offering surplus warships at bargain prices was seen as a
These ships cost the U.S. Navy
about two million dollars a month to operate, but the Indian navy, with a lower
operating tempo and lower labor costs, could probably operate them for about
half a million dollars a month each. The Indian Navy has been operating smaller
amphibious ships for decades, and has plenty of sailors experienced in this
type of ship.
The only weapons carried were
four automatic cannon for stopping anti-ship missiles or small boats. India may
mount similar weapons, as their LPD could also be used for military operations.