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Indian shipyards come of age as US naval vessels dock in Chennai

With the MSRA certification, the L&T Kattupalli shipyard may bid on US Navy and Military Sealift Command ship repair contracts throughout the 7th Fleet area of responsibility (Image courtesy: Larsen and Toubro)

Advancing India’s indigenous production and logistics goals and giving a major boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India for the World’ initiative, a US Navy Ship (USNS) is currently undergoing voyage repairs at the Larsen and Toubro (L&T) shipyard in Kattupalli, near Chennai.

USNS Salvor – that regularly conducts salvage, diving, towing, offshore firefighting, heavy-lift operations, and theatre security cooperation missions – is the third US Navy ship visiting the L&T Shipyard for voyage repairs since last August.

However, it is the first US vessel to arrive at the Kattupalli shipyard for mid-voyage repairs after the signing of the landmark five-year Master Ship Repair Agreement (MSRA) between the US Navy and L&T on July 10.

The MSRA is a legally non-binding arrangement between the US Navy and private shipbuilding contractors to pre-approve shipyards to repair US Naval vessels.

The agreement, which has been signed after PM Modi’s pathbreaking visit to Washington last month, not only signifies the capabilities of Indian shipyards in the global ship repairing market but also adds a new dimension to the strategic partnership between the two countries aiming at a free and open Indo-Pacific.

US Navy Ship
A file image of US Navy’s Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS Salvor (Image courtesy: US Navy/Blake Florhe)

Terming it as a “historic” agreement and another milestone in the “ever-expanding” India-US partnership, Washington is also looking at other Indian shipyards, especially on the western coast, that offer a wide-ranging and cost-effective ship repair and maintenance services using advanced maritime technology platforms.

“With MSRA certification, the L&T Kattupalli shipyard may bid on US Navy and Military Sealift Command (MSC) ship repair contracts throughout the 7th Fleet area of responsibility,” said Judith Ravin, the US Consul General in Chennai during the welcome ceremony held for USNS Salvor, last week.

Salvor is one of only two rescue and salvage vessels in the inventory of MSC and the only of its kind in the Far East Combat Logistics Force (CLF) that ensures approximately 50 ships in the Indo-Pacific Region are manned, trained, and equipped to deliver essential supplies, fuel, cargo, and equipment to the US warfighters, both at sea and on shore.

USNS Salvor
US Consul General in Chennai Judith Ravin, USNS Salvor’s captain Andrew MacLeod, L&T Defence Business Executive Vice President and Head A T Ramchandani, and L&T Vice President K S Nathan onboard USNS Salvor at Larsen & Toubro’s Kattupalli Shipyard (Image courtesy: US Embassy in India)

L&T’s Kattupalli Shipyard – a major node in the Southern Defence Corridor – 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. It will not only be able to undertake quality ship repair jobs and refits on the vessels of US Navy and the Military Sealift Command, but L&T’s global network of offices & facilities will contribute towards logistics support in supply chain management.

“This agreement marks a global recognition of our unmatched capabilities and facilities to undertake quality ship repairs and refits. We are happy to be of service to the US Navy and the Military Sealift Command. L&T will dedicate all its dynamism, innovation, and Shipbuilding 4.0 techniques to meet the quality and delivery requirements of the US side,” said A T Ramchandani, Executive Vice President and Head of L&T Defence.

It was during the 4th India-USA 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue held in Washington in April 2022 that the US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had expressed their intent to utilise repair facilities on a regular basis at the L&T Shipyard in Kattupalli.

Four months later, MSC’s Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship USNS Charles became the first US Navy ship to be repaired in India as it docked and underwent repairs at Kattupalli for 11 days.

Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar who was present at the shipyard to welcome the vessel said that the event was a red-letter day for the Indian shipbuilding industry and the Indo-US defence relationship.

“India has six major shipyards with turnover of nearly $2 billion. We are making ships not only for our own requirements. We have our own design house capable of making all kinds of state-of-the-art ships. The country’s first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier Vikrant is a shining example of the growth of the Indian shipbuilding industry,” he said

In March this year, USNS Matthew Perry became the second ship of the US Navy to complete maintenance works in India as it visited Chennai for more than two weeks to complete maintenance and repair work at the Kattupalli facility.

larsen and toubro
Judith Ravin, the United States Consul General in Chennai, at L&T Kattupalli Shipyard in Chennai earlier this month (Image courtesy: US Consulate General in Chennai)

“The Master Ship Repair Agreement with Larsen and Toubro demonstrates how the US Navy and Indian companies are better together for the advancement of our collective maritime security. By partnering to deliver economical and effective repair of US Naval vessels, our shipping industries positively contribute to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” commented Ravin.

Both countries are already working on enhancing defence industrial cooperation, including technology partnership, long-term research and development and improving supply chain security.

With the US President Joe Biden scheduled to visit India this September for the G20 Summit in New Delhi, marking another highest level summit between both countries in a timespan of less than six months, it is expected that the potential areas and projects where the Indian and US defence companies could work together would only grow.