India will be serving as a future maintenance hub for U.S. Navy assets in the Indo-Pacific, according to a joint U.S.-India statement issued last week on the sidelines of G20 in New Delhi.
President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the signing of a Master Ship Repair Agreement between the U.S. Navy and Mazgaon Dock Shipbuilders, Ltd in August. This is the second agreement this year between the Navy and Indian shipyards – the first being with Larsen & Toubro (L&T) in June. These two yards construct some of the Indian Navy’s largest and most advanced warships. According to the joint statement, leaders also “welcomed further commitments from U.S. industry to invest more in India’s maintenance, repair, and overhaul capabilities and facilities for aircraft.”
These agreements are part of a larger Navy effort seeking shipyards in the Indo-Pacific to maintain and repair forward-based assets. Currently, there are a limited number of yards at which U.S. vessels requiring maintenance can dock, and all of them are within striking range of Chinese forces. While there are other facilities in Hawaii and the Continental United States, these are not readily available for forward-deployed assets. Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro highlighted using foreign yards in the region to remedy this issue in a February speech. According to reports, the Navy was studying private Japanese shipyards for maintenance and repairs.
Discussions about using shipyards on the subcontinent began last year, with the 2022 U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue declaring U.S. intentions to examine Indian yards. This was quickly followed by USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE-10) docking at L&T shipyard in Kattupalli, Chennai, marking the first time a U.S. vessel was maintained and repaired in an Indian shipyard. The Indian Ministry of Defence said the repair opened a “new dimension to the burgeoning Indo-US strategic partnership.” Since then, two more U.S. vessels, USNS Matthew Perry (T-AKE-9) in March of 2023 and USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52) in July of 2023, have docked in L&T’s Kattupalli shipyard for maintenance and repairs.
Washington and New Delhi have been deepening security and defense ties amid tensions across the Indo-Pacific, facing common issues and interests regarding China. From the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue to increased multilateral engagement with U.S. allies Japan and Australia, India has taken a more proactive role in regional security. The United States also has stepped up its engagement with India, from the sales of 31 drones and licensing the production of jet engines in the country.