Off­shore Pa­trol Ves­sels Navy’s Armed Pa­trol

ÒIt is not sur­pris­ing that some OPVs are multi-role and heav­ily armed, lighter scant­ling and faster, whereas oth­ers are larger, heav­ier, there­fore slower, and equipped for the pur­poses of sur­vey [and] pol­lu­tion con­trol. I think in the past some of the ves


It is not sur­pris­ing that some OPVs are mul­ti­role and heav­ily armed, lighter scant­ling and faster, whereas oth­ers are larger, heav­ier, there­fore slower, and equipped for the pur­poses of sur­vey [and] pol­lu­tion con­trol. Rear Ad­mi­ral Dr S. Kul­shrestha (Retd)

AMODERN NAVY OP­ER­ATES var­i­ous types of war­ships to meet its di­verse roles, from sim­ple coastal pa­trols to power pro­jec­tion and warfight­ing. While the In­dian Navy has air­craft car­ri­ers, cruis­ers, de­stroy­ers, frigates, sub­marines and mis­sile boats for its of­fen­sive mis­sions, it also has dif­fer­ent class of ships for pa­trol, pres­ence and sup­port roles.

The grant of 200 nm ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone (EEZ) and the ex­ten­sion from 3 nm to 12 nm of the mar­itime bound­ary/ ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters of a na­tion brought to fore re­quire­ment of naval ships that could ful­fill the roles of ex­tended coastal se­cu­rity as well as pro­vide se­cu­rity cover to the EEZ. The other coastal roles that are needed for the naval craft in­clude, pol­lu­tion con­trol, search and res­cue (SAR), law en­force­ment, fire­fight­ing, tow­ing, etc. Larger naval ships can­not ma­noeu­vre in the re­stricted and shal­low coastal wa­ters and would largely re­main un­der­utilised if de­ployed for EEZ pa­trols. This had given rise to the birth of off­shore pa­trol ves­sel (OPV) class of ships. The OPVs, how­ever, are be­ing built to sizes and roles spe­cific to a na­tion; they may range in size from a large at­tack craft to nearly a frigate size ship. They are prov­ing eco­nom­i­cal for smaller na­tions be­cause of their low cost and flex­i­ble roles. They are mainly be­ing used for, ex­tended coastal pa­trols, EEZ pro­tec­tion, mar­itime pres­ence, law en­force­ment at sea, hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and dis­as­ter re­lief (HADR), and if needed, for Arc­tic or Antarc­tic ice pa­trols. The pri­mary roles for the com­bat OPVs are anti-air war­fare (AAW), an­ti­sub­ma­rine war­fare (ASW) and Anti-Sur­face War­fare (ASuW). They can be clas­si­fied as com­bat OPVs and spe­cific ca­pa­bil­ity OPVs. The com­bat OPVs are faster and could be equipped with ASW, AAW, or ASuW weapon sys­tems. These OPVs can take part in com­bat and meet the sur­viv­abil­ity stan­dards of naval war­ships.

The ma­jor­ity of the com­bat role OPVs carry three types of weapons namely, a large/medium cal­i­bre main gun, a small cal­i­bre aux­il­iary gun, and a ma­chine gun.

Weapons on Com­bat OPVs

While some na­tions have equipped their OPVs with Ex­o­cet and sim­i­lar mis­siles, the ma­jor­ity of the com­bat role OPVs carry three types of weapons namely, a large/ medium cal­i­bre main gun, a small cal­i­bre aux­il­iary gun and a ma­chine gun. The ma­chine gun is also car­ried by the on­board heli­copter.

Main Gun. A war­ship’s main gun can be a large cal­i­bre or a medium cal­i­bre gun. Many navies pre­fer medium cal­i­bre guns like the Oto Me­lara 76mm, for their OPVs. The main gun’s max­i­mum ef­fec­tive range is sub­stan­tially higher than the aux­il­iary and the ma­chine gun’s max­i­mum ef­fec­tive ranges. Fir­ing from long range is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant in con­ven­tional war­fare, but not nec­es­sar­ily when fight­ing with ter­ror­ists. In lit­toral ar­eas, there could be many mer­chant ves­sels, which could make it al­most im­pos­si­ble to clas­sify a ship at long dis­tances. The only way to clas­sify an un­known ves­sel from a long dis­tance is with a heli­copter. There­fore, even though the max­i­mum ef­fec­tive range of the main gun ranges from 7,000 m to 10,000 m, the OPV would not be able to fire its main gun

un­til the enemy boat is clas­si­fied as hos­tile. The prob­a­bil­ity of hit is about 80 per cent at 500 m.

Aux­il­iary Gun. The aux­il­iary gun for the OPV is a small cal­i­bre gun for ex­am­ple a 30mm CIWS naval gun. The aux­il­iary gun’s pres­ence is im­por­tant espe­cially when the OPV is not able to use its main gun for some rea­son. If the hit prob­a­bil­ity of the aux­il­iary gun is high, it can be a game changer.

Ma­chine Guns. A ma­chine gun, nor­mally a 12.7mm, is op­er­ated by OPV per­son­nel, and it has a rel­a­tively short ef­fec­tive range when com­pared to the ranges of the main and the aux­il­iary guns. Its main pur­pose is to warn other ships and to pro­tect its own ship from small tar­gets. The ma­chine guns are very use­ful in crowded ar­eas, since it is very dif­fi­cult to clas­sify a small boat from a long dis­tance. It is also im­pos­si­ble to use mis­siles or long-range guns at shorter dis­tances. Fur­ther, rules of en­gage­ment may not al­low fir­ing at hos­tile craft un­less it ap­proaches within a cer­tain threat­en­ing range. In this case, the OPV can use its ma­chine guns both for warn­ing the ap­proach­ing craft and for pro­tect­ing it­self. The prob­a­bil­ity of hit at 500 m is about 50 per cent; it in­creases as the dis­tance to tar­get de­creases.

On­board heli­copter and its weapon.

The high-speed ca­pa­bil­ity of the heli­copter makes it one of the most valu­able as­sets of an OPV. It can per­form search, de­tec­tion, and re­con­nais­sance oper­a­tions in rel­a­tively short amounts of time, and with high ac­cu­racy. Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances also al­low the he­li­copters to use cam­eras that help them to clas­sify the tar­gets. When the heli­copter de­tects an un­known ves­sel, it moves to­wards that tar­get for clas­si­fi­ca­tion at its max­i­mum speed, which ranges from 50 knots to 180 knots. The friendly craft have Au­to­matic Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Sys­tem (AIS) which al­low clas­si­fi­ca­tion of al­most all the ves­sels in the area. How­ever, there could be some ves­sels that can­not be clas­si­fied via AIS and thus could be iden­ti­fied by the heli­copter. The clas­si­fi­ca­tion dis­tance may de­pend on weather con­di­tions, ca­pa­bil­ity of the cam­era, or the train­ing of the op­er­a­tors. A 12.7mm ma­chine gun is nor­mally used on the heli­copter. Larger com­bat OPVs: Some ex­am­ples: UAEÕs Bay­nunah class OPVs. These OPVs are de­signed to meet the re­quire­ments of com­bat pa­trols in the Strait of Hor­muz. Their dis­place­ment is about 930 tonnes with full load, length of 71.3 m and top speed of 32 kt. The Bay­nunah class are fit­ted with mis­sile sys­tems in­clud­ing the MBDA Ex­o­cet MM40 Block 3 sur­faceto-sur­face mis­sile (SSM) and the Raytheon Evolved SeaS­par­row Mis­sile ( ESSM) RIM162 sur­face-to-air mis­sile (SAM). The gun sys­tems fit­ted are Oto Me­lara 76mm gun and two 27mm can­nons. They also carry an or­ganic heli­copter, mine-avoid­ance sonar sys­tem (MASS) and de­coy sys­tem, 3D radar and a full com­mu­ni­ca­tions suite. These OPVs meet the AAW and ASuW re­quire­ments of the UAE for pro­tec­tion of its as­sets and mer­chant ship­ping in the re­gion. The first of these OPVs was built in France by Con­struc­tions MŽ­caniques de Nor­mandie, while the rest are be­ing built in the UAE by Abu Dhabi Ship­build­ing.

Kha­reef class OPVs. BVT of UK (now BAE Sys­tems Mar­itime–Naval Ships) has built com­bat OPV, for Oman that have a length of 98.5 m with a dis­place­ment of 2500 tonnes. They carry Ex­o­cet anti-ship mis­sile and Mica ver­ti­cal-launch close-area air-de­fence sys­tems.

Pro­ject Pa­trouilleschepen OPVs. Dutch ship­builder Schelde Naval Ship­build­ing (DSNS) has built four OPVs for the Royal Nether­lands Navy un­der Pro­ject Pa­trouilleschepen. These ships are 108 m long, dis­place 3,750 tonnes and have a speed of up to 21.5 kt. They are to meet the re­quire­ment for pa­trol, sur­veil­lance and in­ter­dic­tion oper­a­tions in the Nether­lands EEZ. They carry a heli­copter, a sin­gle 76mm gun, a 20-30mm gun and two ma­chine guns.

Buque de Acci—n Mar­itima pa­trol ships. Na­van­tia of Spain has al­ready con­structed four Buque de Ac­ción Mar­itima pa­trol ships for the Span­ish Navy. These are built to a mod­u­lar de­sign for pro­tec­tion of mar­itime re­sources; mar­itime in­ter­dic­tion; port se­cu­rity and counter-ter­ror­ism pa­trolling. These OPVs carry a heli­copter and are armed with a sin­gle Oto Me­lara 76mm gun and two 20mm can­non, and fit­ted with the ÔSis­tema de COM­bate de los Buques de la Ar­mada’ SCOMBA com­bat man­age­ment sys­tem. Two more of the same OPVs are un­der con­struc­tion.

Spe­cial Pur­pose OPVs

The spe­cific ca­pa­bil­ity OPVs are built to com­mer­cial stan­dards and are equipped with lesser ar­ma­ment. They are rigged for spe­cific role that they are de­signed for and may not be able to take part in bat­tle at sea since they are bulkier and slower than the com­bat OPV. An area of de­vel­op­ing role for OPVs are en­durance and pres­ence mis­sions in the Arc­tic and Antarc­tic re­gions, which would ne­ces­si­tate changes in its de­sign to meet op­er­at­ing con­di­tions in bro­ken ice. With the likely hood of open­ing up of North­west Pas­sage, it is ex­pected that mar­itime trade from China and Ja­pan would use this route for cart­ing goods to Europe. Rolls-Royce has been de­sign­ing OPV type ships for meet­ing the Arc­tic/ Antarc­tic con­di­tions. The Dan­ish Arc­tic pa­trol ship, the Knud Ras­mussen class is an ex­am­ple of such ships.

Ger­man OPVs. ThyssenKrupp Marine Sys­tems of Ger­many has de­vel­oped a se­ries of 1,000/2,000-tonne OPVs. These are: a 67 m fast OPV; an 81 m Guardian class OPV dis­plac­ing 1,800 tonnes; an 85 m, 1,900tonne Sen­tinel class mul­ti­mis­sion OPV; and a larger 99 m ver­sion of the Sen­tinel OPV dis­plac­ing 2,100 tonnes. Built to com­mer­cial stan­dards, the ves­sels are equipped with a heli­copter and boat ca­pa­bil­ity, have mod­est speed, sen­sors and weapons equip­ment.


Tasks and role. As de­tailed in the web­site of the In­dian Navy, in its con­stab­u­lary role, the In­dian Navy is em­ployed to en­force law of the land or to im­ple­ment a regime es­tab­lished by an international man­date. The pro­tec­tion and pro­mo­tion of In­dia’s mari- time se­cu­rity is one of the In­dian Navy’s prime re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. This en­com­passes a con­stab­u­lary role, where it re­lates to threats that in­volve use of force at sea. The tasks that the In­dian Navy has to un­der­take in the con­stab­u­lary role ranges from Low In­ten­sity Mar­itime Oper­a­tions to main­tain­ing good or­der at sea. It also in­cludes coastal se­cu­rity, as part of In­dia’s over­all mar­itime se­cu­rity. With the es­tab­lish­ment of the In­dian Coast Guard (ICG) in Fe­bru­ary 1978, law en­force­ment as­pects of the con­stab­u­lary role within the Mar­itime Zones of In­dia (MZI) have been trans­ferred to the ICG. Se­cu­rity in ma­jor har­bours and ports are the purview of the port au­thor­i­ties, aided by cus­toms and im­mi­gra­tion agen­cies. Con­stab­u­lary tasks be­yond the MZI are vested with the In­dian Navy. Af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Mum­bai on Novem­ber 26, 2008, the over­all re­spon­si­bil­ity for coastal se­cu­rity has been man­dated to the In­dian Navy, in close co­or­di­na­tion with the ICG, State marine po­lice and other cen­tral/ state gov­ern­ment and port au­thor­i­ties.

ICG. The ICG has been tasked to pro­tect In­dia’s mar­itime in­ter­ests and en­force mar­itime law, with ju­ris­dic­tion over the ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters of In­dia, in­clud­ing its con­tigu­ous zone and ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone. The ICG also op­er­ates OPVS. ICG de­ploys Sa­mar class ad­vanced OPVs hav­ing 2,005 tonnes dis­place­ment, Vish­wast class OPVs (1,800 tonnes dis­place­ment) and Vikram class OPVs (dis­place­ment 1,220 tonnes). How­ever, the num­ber of OPVs ap­pears in­suf­fi­cient to meet the re­quire­ment of pa­trolling and pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity to more than 7,000 km of coast­line and Is­land ter­ri­to­ries of An­daman-Ni­co­bar and Lak­shad­weep.

In­dian Navy. The In­dian Navy had started in­duct­ing the OPVs in the late 1980s, but the num­bers in­ducted ap­pear to be far less than that re­quired to ef­fec­tively safe­guard the mar­itime as­sets, sea lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and tackle sea pi­rates.

Made in In­dia

Goa Ship­yard Lim­ited (GSL). GSL has been build­ing a se­ries of 105-m-long, 2,215tonne OPVs for the In­dian Navy. They are fit­ted with a 76mm naval gun and two 30mm can­nons, and are ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing a sin­gle Dhruv heli­copter.

Pi­pavav (now ac­quired by Re­liance De­fence). It is build­ing naval off­shore pa­trol ves­sels (NOPVs) which were de­layed due to fi­nance crunch but in June 2016, it was re­ported that the ship­yard is now ac­cel­er­at­ing work on the de­layed or­der where the first ship was sup­posed to be de­liv­ered in early 2015. As per the re­vised sched­ule, the first ship will now be de­liv­ered in early 2017 and all ships will be ready for in­duc­tion by the end of 2017. The ships are be­ing con­structed in two batches of two and three ships with a shorter de­liv­ery sched­ule for the sec­ond batch. Sig­nif­i­cantly, the In­dian Navy OPVs can also be mod­i­fied to ac­com­mo­date Twenty-foot Equiv­a­lent Unit (TEU) pay­loads, hence they can be con­sid­ered as low cost war­ships with big­ger roles.


OPVs have carved out a place for them­selves mainly due to en­hance­ment of ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters and the dec­la­ra­tion of EEZ. The smaller na­tions too have equipped them­selves with OPVs be­cause of their ver­sa­til­ity and low costs. The cost of the OPVs de­pend upon the com­bat sys­tems and sen­sors re­quired by a coun­try to be put on board. To keep the costs low the com­bat sys­tem should there­fore be mis­sion spe­cific and lim­ited to the low-in­ten­sity ca­pa­bil­i­ties. While OPVs are not equipped for full-fledged, com­bat they should be able to ac­com­plish the con­stab­u­lary tasks they are as­signed to do. The OPV arena is set to ex­pand with the like­li­hood of the open­ing of the North West Pas­sage to Europe.

PHOTOGRAPHS: In­dian Coast Guard, In­dian Navy

(Top to bot­tom) Vaib­hav, the third in the se­ries of 90 m class OPV; ICG Ship Sa­marth and INS Su­nayna.

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