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Mine Counter-Measures Vessel (MCMV)

Advanced minesweepers or mine counter-measure vessels (MCMVs) are around 900-tonne specialised warships that detect, track and destroy underwater mines laid by enemy forces to choke harbors and offshore installations, disrupt shipping and maritime trade. These highly-specialized smallish warships detect, track and destroy enemy mines to keep shipping traffic safe. The Navy, which began this acquisition case way back in July 2005, needs 24 MCMVs to guard the east and west coasts.

The Navy has repeatedly sounded alarm over delays in the acquisition of MCMVs, down as it was in 2014 to just seven ageing Karwar and Pondicherry-class of minesweepers for both the east and west coasts when it needs 24 to be comfortable. They had become all the more important due to the increasing forays of Chinese submarines, which can easily lay mines, into the Indian Ocean region. In November 2014, Navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan again stressed the "urgent need" for MCMVs. "They are required to keep our harbours open and safe in the event of hostilities. The government has to take a decision since our force-levels of minesweepers/mine-hunters has gone down drastically," he said.

Underwater mines, which are cheap and relatively easy to plant, can create havoc by choking up harbours. The around 1,000-tonne MCMVs are used to "clear" harbour approaches or departure routes as well as offshore installations for shipping activity. With high-definition sonars, acoustic and magnetic sweeps, these specialised vessels can detect marooned and drifting mines. They then use remote-controlled systems like small underwater vehicles to then detonate the mines at safe distances.

The Indian government failed to conclude a deal with foreign manufacturers to acquire mine countermeasure vessels since 2005. In the meantime, the last batch of minesweepers retired last year, rendering the Indian Navy devoid of the crucial asset. As the wait continues for the Indian Navy to get Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMVs), the last batch of which retired in 2018, the government arranged alternatives to these vessels, which are considered vital for keeping critical sea lanes safe. Without divulging too many details about the proposed alternative vessels, Subhash Bhamre, India's minister of state for defence, informed the parliament about the status of acquisition of alternate vessels to meet the requirement of the world's fifth-largest navy, which is operating without minesweepers. Some say the Indian Navy needs at least 24 MCMVs to plug the shortfall. China, on the other hand, has more than 100 MCMVs.

In early May 2004 the Ministry of Defense adopted a plan under which the Indian Navy would implement its future mine countermeasures vessel (MCMV) program. These MCMVs will search for mines using high-resolution sonar and neutralise them with explosives by remote-controlled mine disposal systems. The ships will be made of lightweight reinforced composite materials to lower their acoustic and magnetic signatures, and to better resist underwater explosions.

The plan envisioned the procurement of at least eight MCMVs in order to replace the dozen existing Pondicherry-class ocean minesweepers which entered service in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Navy planned on the delivery of the first unit by 2008, which coincides with the planned decommissioning of the first Pondicherry-class minesweeper. The twelve vessels of the Pondicherry-class were acquired in two batches, the first between 1978 and 1980, and the second between 1986 and 1988.

The $1 billion project entails the construction of glass reinforced plastic ships at India's Goa Shipyard. Indigenous companies such as Bharat Electronics will provide the fire-control radar and 30mm gun with assistance from OTO Melara of Italy. GSL would seek foreign naval companies for the sensitive equipment aboard these glass-reinforced-fibre ships.

A Request for Tender (RFT) for construction and/or technology assistance was scheduled for June 2004. The RFT was provided to Intermarine of Italy, Kangnam Corp. of South Korea and IZAR of Spain, all current builders of MCMVs. The Request for Proposals (RFP) for the mine-hunting and neutralization equipment was to follow in August 2004. The RFP was sent to Thales of France, Atlas Elektronik of Germany, FABA of Spain and ECA of France.

Goa Shipyard Ltd is modernising its shipbuilding yard to increase production and productivity, and improve the order book position. The Shipyard's plans are, however, based on the acquisition plans of the Government of India. Through the modernisation, the value of production and profitability of Goa Shipyard is likely to go up by more than three times by the end of the 11th Plan (2011-2012). As part of the expansion, the Shipyard is undertaking modular construction and installing a ship lift system. Certain production multipliers in the area of welding have also been added. ERP has been fully implemented for better project monitoring. Goa Shipyard is tapping the international market for new export orders. These include orders for Advance Offshore Patrol Vessels (AOVP) from Sri Lanka and Mauritius and Fast Patrol Vessels (FPV) from Mozambique and Maldives. The company has formed a consortium with other Indian defence shipyards, Magazon Dock Ltd and Garden Reach Shipbuilders, to seek the assistance of RITES Ltd, a Central PSU, to market its products globally.

In late 2008 the Indian Navy floated bids worth more than $1.4 billion to acquire eight mine countermeasure vessels (MCMVs). France's DCN International, Fincanteri of Italy, Izhar of Spain, Kangnam of South Korea and Northrop Grumman of the US were invited by the Indian Defence Ministry to participate. The MCMVs will hunt for mines with a high-definition sonar and then destroy them using explosives by remote-controlled mine-disposal systems. The MCMVs, with a planned lifespan of 30 years, will replace the 12 existing Pondicherry-class ocean minesweepers procured in the 1970s and 1980's. The vessels whould be 50 to 60 meters long with a beam of 11 meters, have a maximum speed of at least 16 knots and an endurance of at least 10 days.

The Indian government had a planned acquisition of eight MCMVs through indigenous construction, which was later revised to "acquisition of two from foreign collaborator and six from Indian Shipyard" in 2005. However, due to non-compliance of tender conditions by the foreign collaborator, the acquisition process was dropped in 2014.

Under the UPA-2 regime the final price negotiations with South Korean company Kangnam Corporation had concluded in October 2011. Under it, two MCMVs and transfer of technology were to be acquired from Kangnam in a deal worth Rs 2,700 crore, with Goa Shipyard building another six such vessels for over Rs 6,000 crore. The inking of the deal, however, was kept on hold due to the allegations swirling around it. The MoD had already "encashed" the Rs 3 crore bank guarantee furnished by Kangnam under the pre-contract "integrity pact".

By November 2014 India was set to scrap the long-pending deal for South Korean mine countermeasure vessels (MCMVs), due to allegations of agents having vitiated the entire selection process. Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi recommended scrapping of the entire selection process for the MCMVs, which began in July 2005, since Kangnam hired agents to facilitate the deal. Instead, in recognition of Navy's critical operational requirement for MCMVs, the defence ministry will "nominate" defence PSU Goa Shipyard (GSL) to build eight such specialized vessels with foreign collaboration through a fresh tender soon.

Subsequently, in 2015, Goa Shipyard was nominated to construct MCMVs under a Transfer of Technology (ToT) agreement from the South Korean company Kangnam Corporation, but due to non-compliance with the ToT requirement, Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) cancelled the process.

GSL had a collaboration agreement for construction of Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMVs) for the Indian Navy. The hull of MCMVs is Single Skin Non-stiffened GRP. In addition to the essential characteristics for MCMVs such as very low acoustic, magnetic, electrical and pressure signatures, these vessels are designed to have high shock resistance against underwater explosions. The equipment fit conforms to latest IMO / MARPOL / MEPC regulations in force and these vessels have the capability to operate in inshore, shallow and deep waters with endurance of over 10 days. These MCMVs are able to locate, classify, sweep and neutralise all types of ground, moored and drifting mines. In addition, these vessels are suited for channel conditioning / route survey / sanitisation as well as to carry out local naval defence roles.

These MCMVs are fitted with state of the art MCM Suite for mine hunting and neutralization / sweeping capabilities with MCM Command and Control System. These vessels are based on proven design and will be constructed with stringent quality norms at GSL.

The Ministry of Defense has informed that in respect of MCMVs, the last bid was submitted by South Korean company Kangnam Corporation on January 11, 2016. Even after a passage of almost a year, no decision could be taken on the matter. The MCMVs are slated for de-induction by 2016-2018. 2016 has already passed and moreover, building the MCMVs will also take considerable time, read a report submitted by the parliamentary committee on defense in early 2017.

In April 2017, Vice Admiral DM Deshpande, Controller of Warship Production and Acquisition of the Indian Navy, had said that the issues between Goa Shipyard and the South Korean collaborator in the project have been sorted out and the deal should be sealed by the end of 2017. This negotiation was started in 2016, following the cancellation of a 2008 contract almost awarded to Kangnam Corporation, as the company had responded to Indian government's tender with the lowest bid. However, the deal had to be canceled amid charges of corruption by the South Korean company to bag the deal.

"Regarding MCMVs, the parliamentary committee has been [informed by the defense ministry] that the six MCMVs in operation are over 26 years old. Therefore, the rapid induction of MCMVs must be taken care of," noted a parliamentary panel report tabled on December 19, 2017.

India's first major defense hardware deal with South Korea for the co-production of 12 minesweepers for the Indian Navy fell apart in January 2018 after prolonged negotiations between Goa Shipyard Limited and Kangnam Corporation, as differences persisted over the transfer of technology and cost. The Indian Defense Ministry did not agree with Kangnam Corporation, which was seeking over $1 billion for design and technical know-how of the 12 mine countermeasure vessels (MCMV). The South Korean firm had also refused to provide intellectual property rights and production support guarantees for the vessels.

India was expecting the delivery of the first MCMVs in 2021 but it may get further delayed due to technology transfer negotiation yet to be completed between India and the South Korean company. The committee feels that the entire process of procurement of MCMVs will be delayed inordinately. Therefore, the committee desires that sincere and concerted efforts must be made with urgency to resolve the situation, the committee noted. This means that the Indian Navy will have to cope without any MCMVs for more than three years.

In yet another major blow to the 'Make in India' plan in the defence sector, the government cancelled the Rs 32,000 crore project to construct 12 advanced minesweepers in collaboration with South Korea at the Goa Shipyard. The government directed the Goa Shipyard to start the entire process afresh for the already long-delayed MCMV project, which was strongly pushed by Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar when he was the defence minister, after scrapping the protracted commercial negotiations with South Korean shipyard Kangnam. "Goa Shipyard has been asked to issue a new global expression of interest (EoI) for the MCMVs. The fresh RFP (request for proposal) or tender will follow thereafter. Final negotiations with Kangnam were stuck for long because it wanted deviations from the original RFP. There were also some ToT (transfer of technology), build strategy and cost problems," said a source. No major "Make in India" defence project has actually kicked off in the last three to four years due to lack of requisite political push and follow-through, bureaucratic bottlenecks and longwinded procedures, commercial and technical squabbles.

The Defense Ministry issued a global expression of interest (EOI) on 21 March 2018 to South Korea's Kangnam Corporation, Italy's Intermarine, Spain's Navantia, Germany's ThyssenKrupp, and Russian Shipyards. The deadline for submitting a response to the EOI was May 10. It received a response from Russian and Italian firms.

The Indian Navy is in urgent need of minesweepers, considering the increasing operational deployments of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean Region. It is well-known that the stealth attribute of submarines makes them the most appropriate platforms for laying an offensive minefield in the enemy's littoral waters. The Indian Navy also issued a request for information (RFI) for at least eight units of expendable underwater mine disposal systems in 2018, which is a portable and expandable, remotely operated vehicle (ROV)-based system that can detect and neutralise mines in harbours and sea approaches.





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