The United States has offered a second assault ship like the USS Trenton to India, but for the time being the Indian Navy has said "no" to another acquisition.
According to the India Strategic defence magazine, Indian naval officers have examined the USS Nashville, listed in the US Navy as an Austin-class Amphibious Transport Dock, "but that there was no movement on the US offer".
The Indian Navy has also said 'no' to the highly sophisticated Northrop Grumman's Hawkeye II -- the all-weather carrier-based Tactical Airborne Early Warning Aircraft.
The reason is that its launch and recovery system is different from what would be available on board India's indigenously developed carriers or INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov), which India is buying from Russia.
Indian Navy carriers have ramps for short-take-off-and-landing while the US carriers use steam-powered catapults and arrester wires.
A second Trenton-type vessel would be an important asset for the Indian Navy to give it the capability to touch shores to land heavy equipment from tanks and troops to relief material in situations like a natural disaster or tsunami. But apparently the naval brass wants to see how the Trenton, now called INS Jalashva, helps boost the Indian Navy's capabilities in the Indian Ocean.
Jalashva left the US shores from Norfolk, Virginia, Aug 1 and is due to reach Mumbai Sep 10. Its departure was delayed slightly as the navy had to refurbish the vessel to the best possible state.
It will shortly set sail for the Eastern Naval Command at Visakhapatnam, where it will be deployed for operational requirements on India's eastern seaboard.
Naval sources in New Delhi said the Indian Navy had acquired a multi-role vessel like the INS Jalashva for the first time and that "it would be appropriate to assess how it fits in with our options before any more acquisitions".
"The navy needs all kinds of ships and another vessel like Jalashva would certainly be welcome but let's have our experience first hand first," India Strategic quoted sources as saying.
USS Nashville is listed as Landing Platform Dock (LPD) 13 in the US naval list while the Trenton was marked as LPD 14.
The US Navy is moving to another class of ships for LPD role. According to informed sources, the newer vessels could also be available to New Delhi if India expressed interest.
INS Jalashva has been fully refurbished to the Indian Navy's requirements. Its most potent weapon, two Phalanx guns, have been "optimized" to a near original state with their radar by Raytheon, the leading defence systems company which does not make platforms like aircraft, ships or tanks but gives them lethality through its weapon systems.
Admiral Walter Doran, Raytheon's President for Asia, said his company had the US government clearance to supply the newer versions of the Phalanx gun not only for the INS Jalashva but for other Indian naval ships as well.
An offer had appropriately been conveyed to the Indian Navy.
Phalanx is the main close-in Weapon Support (CIWS) system on most of the US warships to protect them from a variety of threats, including Exocet type sea-skimming missiles. It fires 3,000 rounds/minute of very hard non-radioactive depleted uranium shells.
Six refurbished Sikorsky UH-3 heavy lift helicopters are also on board the INS Jalashva, now the Indian Navy's second largest vessel after the ageing aircraft carrier INS Viraat.
Viraat is due to be phased out as soon as Vikramadiya arrives from Russia within a couple of years.
The 17,000-tonne Jalashva has a complement of about 300 sailors and 30 officers. It has been assigned to the Eastern Fleet, headed by Rear Admiral Robyn Dhowan, and will be based at Visakhapatnam, which will be its home port.
At the time of the 2004 tsunami, the Indian Navy had near-zero capability for amphibious operations. Its ships could not touch the debris-littered shores of affected coastal areas in India or in neighbouring countries where it offered help.
The Indian Navy committed around a fourth of its resources but even that was not enough.
The government then moved fast to clear the acquisition of USS Trenton when the US offered it to India under its Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.
(Gulshan Luthra can be contacted at email@example.com )