India wants to buy another four American Austin Class LPDs. Four years ago, India bought one of these recently retired, 17,000 ton, amphibious ships from the United States. At the time, the story was that the ship would be used as a disaster relief ship along India's enormous coastline. But once the Austin class ship arrived, and was renamed INS Jalashwa, the Indian navy was touting its capabilities as a warship. To the annoyance of many Indian politicians, the American LPD came with strings. India had to promise not to use the ship for offensive purposes. If another four are purchased, this restriction will probably have to be eliminated.
There were twelve Austin class ships built, and they entered service between 1965-71. Four are still in service. The Indians paid $50 million for the former USS Trenton, an LPD that entered service in 1971 and was decommissioned in 2007, and was shortly on its way to India.
This is a large ship, 184 meter (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 received four smaller landing craft, to operate from their new LPD, as part of the deal. The Indians added six UH-3 Sea King helicopters. The only weapons carried are 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.
These LPDs can, and probably will, be used as floating helicopter bases and emergency response centers. 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. 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 U.S. and India are cooperating more these days, and offering surplus warships at bargain prices was seen as a good move. With China moving into the Indian ocean, via visits by warships and bases in Myanmar (Burma), the U.S. will probably go along with providing India with more of these ships.