US Navy Enhances Maritime Collaboration with India: Strategic Shipyard Agreement and Growing Indo-Pacific Cooperation

Feature and Cover US Navy Enhances Maritime Collaboration with India Strategic Shipyard Agreement and Growing Indo Pacific Cooperation

The US Navy inked a five-year Master Shipyard Repair Agreement (MSRA) with Larsen and Toubro (L&T) shipyard situated in Chennai, marking a significant development in maritime cooperation. The L&T shipyard at Kattupalli near Chennai, on the East Coast, has been actively involved in voyage repairs for Military Sealift Command vessels and has successfully conducted repairs for US Navy ships.

The recent agreement with CSL (Cochin Shipyard Limited) provides the US Navy with a shipyard facility for repairs on both the eastern and western coasts of India. CSL disclosed on April 6th the signing of the MSRA with the United States Navy. This non-financial agreement is set to facilitate the repair of US Naval vessels under the Military Sealift Command at CSL.

CSL secured eligibility for the agreement following a comprehensive evaluation and capability assessment conducted by the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command. CSL is already engaged in the maintenance and repair of several vessels, including INS Viraat, INS Vikramaditya (formerly known as Admiral Gorshkov), and the indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant of the Indian Navy. Additionally, CSL undertakes repairs for tankers and bulk carriers of the Shipping Corporation of India.

Vice Admiral AB Singh, a retired Indian Navy officer, emphasized the significance of CSL and MDL (Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd) in the maritime landscape. He highlighted the potential of these entities, particularly with the forthcoming development of the Vizhinjam International Transhipment Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport in Kerala.

The strategic location of Chennai proves advantageous for ship repair due to the port infrastructure at L&T shipyard, which meets the substantial depth requirements for US Ships. Notably, the USNS Salvor, the first warship, has already arrived at the shipyard for steel repairs.

Expanding on this collaboration, the UK seized the opportunity, with two British vessels, RFA Argus and RFA Lyme Bay, undergoing essential maintenance at the L&T shipyard. This marks the first instance of a Royal Navy vessel undergoing maintenance at an Indian shipyard, a direct outcome of the logistics-sharing agreement between the UK and India.

The potential for Andaman and Nicobar Islands to evolve as aviation hubs in the Indo-Pacific region has garnered attention, especially amidst the growing maritime cooperation between the US and India. These islands hold a strategic position at the mouth of the Malacca Strait, a crucial entry point to the South China Sea.

While India may initially be hesitant to expose the Andamans, possibilities such as overflight and ‘Gas and Go’ services could emerge in the future, considering the precedents set by the US in Changi, Singapore, and mainland India. The Andamans’ strategic significance is underscored by the US Navy’s utilization of the region for aviation logistics.

In 2020, amid heightened tensions between India and China, the US Navy’s P-8 Poseidon conducted its inaugural refueling from India’s strategic base in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, further emphasizing their importance. Plans to enhance infrastructure on these islands align with their role as India’s gateway to the Asia Pacific region and as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.”

Recognizing India’s pivotal role in maritime operations, the West, including the UK and the US, has turned to India for maintenance support for their warships navigating the Indo-Pacific waters. This trend is fueled by growing maintenance delays and costs faced by the US Navy, amidst challenges posed by China’s expanding naval fleet.

Efforts are underway to revitalize the US Navy’s shipbuilding capabilities, with Japan and South Korea being urged to contribute. Additionally, there are considerations to utilize private shipyards in Japan for maintenance, repair, and overhaul services, aiming to alleviate servicing backlogs in the US.

The collaboration between like-minded countries aims to counterbalance China’s naval growth, with India’s strategic position on the Malacca Strait being pivotal in sustaining Western operations in the region. It is anticipated that the US will extend support to enhance infrastructure in India to bolster logistics support for its naval assets in the Indo-Pacific.

However, the US Navy faces challenges in meeting its repair needs amid budget constraints. Operating and support costs have surged across various ship classes, while propulsion hours have declined over the past decade. This underscores the importance of partnerships with reliable providers like L&T and CSL to ensure the operational readiness of the US Navy’s fleet.

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