India-US to Expand Naval Cooperation

India-US defence ties continue to grow with the US Navy acknowledging India as an important destination for its naval ships in the Indo-Pacific, and signs agreements with Indian ports to maintain and repair US naval ships, in the region

By Asad Mirza

Foreign Affairs

India and the US are in the process of examining Kolkata port for a potential new agreement that would enable US warships to undergo repairs at the port. This move signifies a deeper collaboration between the two countries in the Indo-Pacific region. If the move fructifies, then Kolkata Port would become the fourth Indian port where the US naval ships could come in for repairs.

Just last month, Cochin Shipyard Ltd also signed a similar deal. These agreements provide the world’s most powerful navy access to Indian ports, including Cochin and Chennai’s Kattupalli. Talks are also on for an MSRA agreement with Goa Shipyard Ltd.

Last year, the US Navy inked agreements with Larsen and Toubro shipyard in Kattupalli near Chennai to make it a hub for repairs of US Navy ships, including battleships, for five years as the US Navy signed a five-year master shipyard repair agreement (MSRA) with the company.

The Kattupalli Shipyard near Chennai is a major node in the Southern Defence Corridor, which has been undertaking voyage repairs of the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command vessels. Kattupalli shipyard is equipped with a heavy ship-lift, multiple dry berths, and wet berths to concurrently enable building of new ships and undertaking repairs and refits. So far, three USNS ships have docked at L&T port for repairs.

In 2023 USNS signed Master Shipyard Repair Agreement (MRSA) agreements with Cochin Shipyard Limited, Larsen and Toubro and Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited for US naval ship repairs

In 2023 USNS signed Master Shipyard Repair Agreement (MRSA) agreements with Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL), Larsen and Toubro (L&T) and Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL). As India and the United States look forward to expand cooperation in ship repair and maintenance to turn India into a regional hub for such expertise.

In fact, the expansion of cooperation in ship maintenance and repairs is mutually beneficial for both India and the US, as Indian shipyards gain business opportunities and expertise, while the US Navy gains access to alternative options for smaller repairs of its ships without having to travel far, thereby reducing turnaround time and costs.

India and the US have been actively seeking to expand cooperation in ship repair and maintenance, with the aim of transforming India into a regional hub for these services.

The Master Ship Repair Agreement (MSRA) allows qualified shipyards to compete for US Navy repair projects and encompasses various clauses concerning security, payments, and liabilities. Minister of State for Defence, Ajay Bhatt, informed the Lok Sabha in 2023 that American Navy vessels would be docked at Indian shipyards during their repair periods.

The inclusion of Kolkata Port in this network strengthens India’s defence ties with the US and could attract interest from other American allies like the UK. Earlier this year, the UK’s Royal Navy announced plans to have two auxiliary ships undergo maintenance at Kattupalli Shipyard in Chennai.

Indo-US MRSA agreements also underscore the growing defence partnership between New Delhi and Washington, marked by increased military exercises, foundational defence agreements, and plans for defence industry cooperation

During PM Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in June, both countries highlighted India’s role as a hub for maintenance and repair of US Navy assets. This aligns with the Defence Industrial Roadmap, aiming for collaborative efforts in logistic, repair, and maintenance infrastructure for aircraft and vessels in India.

These MRSA agreements also underscore the growing defence partnership between New Delhi and Washington, marked by increased military exercises, foundational defence agreements, and plans for defence industry cooperation, including joint production initiatives such as the F-414 jet engine by HAL and General Electric in India.

Earlier, in March this year, the UK’s Royal Navy said two of its auxiliary ships would undergo repair and maintenance at Kattupalli Shipyard in Chennai.

In January 2024, the UK launched Defence Partnership-India, designed to further defence collaboration between the two countries, which includes sending the UK’s LRG (South) to India for joint exercises and use of the Indian dockyard at Chennai for essential maintenance.

The UK has also announced plans for the Carrier Strike Group 2025 to visit the Indo-Pacific, which includes the intent to operate and train with the Indian armed forces.

The UK has also announced plans for the Carrier Strike Group 2025 to visit the Indo-Pacific, with intent to operate and train with the Indian armed forces

The logistics-sharing agreement between the UK and India allows for the provision of logistics support, supplies and services between the UK and Indian armed forces for joint training, joint exercises, authorised port visits and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations.

In fact, the US already has an extensive network of naval maintenance and support facilities in the Indo-Pacific region, the addition of India will serve to bring additional capacity to US and allied maritime efforts, while also denying China from gaining its own footholds in the strategically located country.

Indeed, China’s own naval presence at Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, Gwadar in Pakistan, and Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, which in 2017 fell into China’s hand with the award of a 99-year lease following Colombo’s failure to repay Chinese loans, is likely a key influence in US efforts to secure access to Indian naval infrastructure.