US Navy cargo warship USNS Charles Drew arrived at Larsen and Toubro’s Shipyard at Kattupalli in Chennai for undertaking repairs and allied services. This is the first ever repair of a US Navy ship in India. The ship which arrived on Sunday is a huge statement of confidence for the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmnirbhar Bharat in Defence’ initiatives of the government, according to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The US Navy had awarded a contract to L&T’s Shipyard for undertaking maintenance of the ship. “The event signifies the capabilities of Indian shipyards in the global ship repairing market. Indian shipyards offer wide-ranging and cost-effective ship repair and maintenance services, using advanced maritime technology platforms,”, the Ministry said in a statement.
Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar, Vice Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral SN Ghormade and other senior officials of the Defence Ministry visited the shipyard to welcome the vessel. US Consul General in Chennai Judith Ravin and Defence Attaché at the US Embassy at New Delhi Rear Admiral Michael Baker were also present.
Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar described the visit by the US ship to undertake repairs as a “red-letter day” for the Indian shipbuilding industry and the Indo-US defence relationship. “We are indeed pleased to welcome US Naval Ship USNS Charles Drew to India, for making her voyage ready. India’s initiative also assumes special significance in furthering the strategic partnership between India and the US,” he said and added, “it marks the beginning of a new chapter for deeper engagements”.
Kumar described the arrival of USNS Charles Drew for repairs as a sign of maturing Indian shipbuilding industry. “Today, India has six major shipyards with a 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,” Kumar said.
Pointing out the high technology levels of Indian shipyards, Kumar said “under the new innovation ecosystem, vessels capable of undertaking autonomous missions have been built by Goa Shipyard Limited and some of our start-ups. The shipbuilding industry today is not just carrying out conventional things but is also amalgamating the latest technologies with it”.
According to MoD officials, India had proposed during the “2 + 2 Indo-US Dialogue” in April that the US Navy could avail of the services and expertise of Indian shipyards.
“In April, at the US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin affirmed their intention to explore utilising Indian shipyards for repairs on US Navy vessels. This inaugural repair of USNS Charles Drew is a landmark development to be celebrated as a symbol of our strengthened US-India partnership,” said Judith Ravin, US Consul General in Chennai.
Enabling the repair of US Navy vessels in Indian shipyards was the conclusion of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016. The LEMOA eases the exchange of goods and warlike stores between the two navies. The Indian side offered that, with the US “pivot to the Indo-Pacific”, there would be 200-250 US Navy vessels at any given time in the Indo-Pacific. These could be serviced in Indian shipyards, rather than sail all the way to American shipyards in the Pacific.
The Defence Secretary asserted that US-India ties have been expanding and are based on common values and beliefs in an open, inclusive, and rule-based order in Indo-Pacific and rest of the global commons. “Indian defence exports have seen a massive increase in the last four-five years. Exports, which were worth about Rs 1,500 crore in 2015-16, have now grown by 800% to around Rs 13,000 crore. A major destination for Indian exports is the US,” said Ajay Kumar.
“The Marine Sealift Command of the US Navy had undertaken rigorous evaluation of select shipyards in India and cleared L&T for undertaking repairs on their vessels. It is a recognition for the modern infrastructure at the shipyard built to global standards,” said J D Patil, Member of the Executive Council and Advisor to the CEO of L&T for Defence and Smart Technologies on the occasion.
The USNS Charles Drew will be at L&T’s massive Kattupalli shipyard for a period of 11 days and undergo repairs in various areas.