India has acquired its first warship from the United States to add punch to its maritime forces.
The acquisition of what is technically known as Landing Platform Dock (LPD) 14 is viewed as a significant event in the evolving Indo-US relationship with free and open access to sea considered an important and critical challenge by both navies.
The hot-transfer of the massive amphibious loading dock, USS Trenton, the first of its type for the Indian Navy, was accepted by Naval Attaché Commodore P Murugesan, at a ceremony at Norfolk Naval base in Virginia Wednesday.
India has also purchased four Mark Eight landing craft and six H-3 Sea King helicopters to operate from the 173-metre-long vessel that has seen action in Somalia, Liberia and Lebanon among other places, landing US troops and rescuing American citizens.
With a displacement of 17,000 tonne, it is set to become the second largest ship with the Indian Navy after the 28,000-tonne Hermes-class aircraft carrier Viraat. The vessel has an unrivalled capacity to carry close to a battalion strength troops and sustain them over a long duration.
Expected to be formally commissioned into the Indian Navy as INS Jalashva (Sanskrit for seahorse) sometime in May, the Trenton flotilla will undergo retrofitting in the US before it sets sail for Vishakapatnam to join the Eastern Naval Command.
Built by Lockheed at a cost of more than $400 million and commissioned in 1971, the amphibious ship has been sold to India for about $48 million under a US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.
After its formal decommissioning from the US navy on Wednesday, a full complement of more than 300 Indian sailors and 27 officers led by Commodore B S Ahluwalia took charge of the ship.
They have been in Norfolk since October 2006 learning the ropes about one of US's most trusted vessels. The training in harbour and at sea included handling flight operations, assault craft operations, weapon firings, machinery space drills, specialist equipment operations and safety evolutions besides two sea-sorties extending to about 20 days.
The primary role of the ship is transportation of troops and logistics for amphibious operations using landing craft and aircraft.
Its secondary role could include logistics/technical support for fleet operations, maritime surveillance/interdiction operations, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief missions, non-combatant evacuation operations and hospital ship.
The ship is equipped with good sensors, electronics and self-defence gun systems. It has a large well deck of the size of two basketball courts that can accommodate four Mechanised Landing Craft (LCM 8) boats. The LCM-8 can carry troops and vehicles from ship to the shore.
Its flight deck of the size of two tennis courts is capable of handling all types of helicopters. The flight deck can be used as emergency recovery deck for VSTOL aircraft such as the Sea-Harrier.
When loaded with the combat cargo, the ship is designed to propel at speeds of 20 knots with two Foster Wheeler 600 psi boilers, feeding steam to two De Laval GT turbines, driving two propellers, providing 12,000 Shaft Horsepower (SHP) each.
Four electrical power generators are also powered by the steam from the boilers. They can generate 3 MW of electric power, enough electricity to power a city of 26,000 people. The ship has two evaporators capable of 25,000 gallons of water a day each.
The ship's upper and lower vehicle storage areas have significant cargo space for supplies, equipment, tanks and vehicles of an army battalion. It also has accommodation and support infrastructure for 900 troops, evacuees or personnel detachments, besides an eight bed sickbay and dental facilities.