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India & US to expand naval ship repair network

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NEW DELHI : The US and India are auditing Kolkata Port as they are looking for a new Master Ship Repair Agreement (MSRA) that will allow US warships to access repair services at the port, according to persons aware of the matter. This is part of attempts by New Delhi and Washington to make India a major hub for maintenance and repair of US Navy ships in the Indo-Pacific. The US navy signed MSRA deals with Larsen and Toubro as well as Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd last year. 

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.

Queries mailed to the Kolkata Port Trust, the US Embassy in New Delhi and the ministry of external affairs went unanswered at press time.

“MSRA qualifies a shipyard to compete for carrying out ship repair projects for US Navy. The MSRA includes clauses on security, payments, liabilities etc. The agreement is reviewed every five years, or as required. Undertaking repairs of these ships serves the commercial interest of Indian shipbuilders and will potentially lead to more such opportunities. An American Navy ship shall be berthed in an Indian shipyard for the duration of its repair,” minister of state for defence Ajay Bhatt told the Lok Sabha in 2023. 

Growing network

The addition of Kolkata Port to this growing network will deepen India’s defence relationship with America. It could also potentially lead to increased interest from American allies abroad, like the UK, in using India as a hub for ship maintenance and repair. 

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

“President Biden and Prime Minister Modi also welcomed India’s emergence as a hub for maintenance and repair for forward deployed US Navy assets and the conclusion of  Master Ship Repair Agreements with Indian shipyards. This will allow the US Navy to expedite the contracting process for mid-voyage and emergent repair. As envisaged in the Defence Industrial Roadmap, both countries agree to work together for the creation of logistic, repair, and maintenance infrastructure for aircrafts and vessels in India,” the two countries said in a joint statement in June, during PM Narendra Modi’s state visit to America.

These agreements reflect the closer defence relationship between New Delhi and Washington, which has developed rapidly in the last two decades. The two countries hold a slew of military exercises, have signed a number of foundational defence agreements and have unveiled plans for cooperation between the defence industries in both countries, including plans for HAL and General Electric to co-produce the F-414 jet engine in India. 

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