Tell us about your response to the Indian Navy RFP (Request For Proposal) for four LPD (Landing Platform Dock) vessels.
We have offered the Mistral-class. But because of the very specific requirements of the Indian Navy we have been obliged to propose significant changes to the Mistral-class design – original design.
And initially, very frankly, we thought that the best value for money for India would be to acquire the Mistral as it is – maybe with some modifications, as we did for the Russians, for instance. But it appears that they wanted to have very big modifications in order to comply with the depth and standard which are applicable to this particular ship.
And for instance, they did not accept the engines which normally equip the Mistral family which are essentially the (azimuth thrusters) – they are installed on pods – they wanted to have normal normal shaft lines – maybe it doesn’t speak to you, but it means that since, now the well dock, which is the main part of the Mistral cannot be realized in th same way because of the shaft lines – two shaft lines, at least – we have to redesign the whole aft-section of the ship.
So most of it is going to be more or less similar to the Mistral and same from the outside. You will still see it – more or less similar.
But indeed, the modifications are really, really significant and we have some doubts, very frankly, about the real value for money. But once again, those are the requirements of the Indian Navy – let’s abide by that, let’s try to meet all those requirements and maybe later in the process of negotiations we might end up in convincing the Indian Navy that they might do significant savings by going for the more off-the-shelf solution.
Why is the Indian Navy circumspect about the existing engine pods?
It works (existing azimuth thruster propulsion) but certain navies think that the pods are very – well, first of all have not been designed with all the military requirements taken into account. Secondly, that they are more difficult to maintain over time, which is not at all our view – quite the contrary. It’s a perception issue.
I can tell you that all the countries in which we have marketed the Mistral – all countries have accepted the pod approach without any problems – even the Russians.
So we were very much surprised when the Indian Navy said, “No, no, no, no – this is not what we want. You have to follow exactly the requirements that we have expressed in our RFP, otherwise you might be eliminated right away,” and we said, “Okay, okay – don’t frighten us with elimination. If this is what you want we can certainly do it.” It’s not a technical issue, it’s only a question of value for money.
This is one of the things – there are other things, which have led us to study all those changes but, once again, this is not at all a big deal. This is a very flexible ship, not only in terms of the capacity and military operations or whatever, but even in terms of design.
We have conducted, for instance, a number of changes for the Russians who wanted ship capable of moving in Arctic seas. For instance, in the Russian version, the deck can be heated, which is not a requirement in India. They also wanted to change the height of the lower decks in order to accommodate ‘higher’ helicopters, so all of this can be very easily done. This is not an issue.
How difficult is it to modify the original design?
Modular design and modular construction. This is the reason why it was for us relatively easy to design those modifications. As a matter of fact we did the job in less than four months (for the modifications of the response to the Indian Navy RFP). So we see that as a real advantage of our design. Now obviously the other advantage that we have is that this ship amply proven at sea.
And for the Indian Navy we have proposed a basic design, as we normally do in a proposal – concept design – but we will have to – if we happen to be selected at the end of the day, we will have to do the detailed design and that will take some more time.
But the other thing, also, which we believe is an advantage is – and this is something that has not been matched by any other competitor – is the time needed to build such a ship. This is a big ship – between 22 and 26,000 tons – only an aircraft carrier would be bigger than this – and that ship has been built for he Russians in 32 months. For the French Navy – same thing and therefore we have now a track record which demonstrates that we can build it quickly.
Now, obviously, in India – it will have to be built in India, so we have to transfer the technology. But this is what we did, for instance, for the Russians and they have been capable to follow the same.
How confident are you about your partnership with Pipavav in bidding for this RFP?
We have developed those changes to make a good proposal in association with our partner Pipavav – maybe tomorrow, Reliance Defence – we don’t know.
To us, very frankly, this was a fantastic news because we were very anxious about the future of Pipavav. And up to the point where, because of the situation of Pipavav and the situation of the ABG at the same time we were about to have the Indian Navy canceling the RFP by saying ‘Okay guys – let’s redo the whole thing because now we have only one solid proposal on the table’ – which is the one of L&T – Larsen and Toubro.
There are three contenders, basically, each of one with one occidental partner – ABG with Alion Technologies from the US, L&T with Navantia of Spain and we are with Pipavav.
In any case, we built most of the ship in France for the Russians but in India have known right from the beginning that the whole thing would be built in India. So this is not something which is a problem for us. Pipavav has a very large capacity – very large dry dock – probably the biggest in India and therefore they are an ideal partner for building that type of ship, so we’re very confident. And now we will also to find a a suitable partner to build, integrate and install the combat system that will equip the ship.
Not (identified) yet. There are many, many contenders for this type of thing – it’s not a very complex ship in terms of military capacity. So BEL might do it, Tata might do it. And here again, we will be very flexible and we will listen to the Indian Navy – have always their way of thinking about their partners, their privileged partners and this not a domain in which there should be any difficulty to accommodate any partner of their choice.