The United States and India are weighing the potential to maintain and fix U.S. Military Sealift Command ships in Indian shipyards, the State Department announced this week.
Following a dialogue between Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Tony Blinken and their Indian counterparts, the State Department said the two countries would look at how feasible it is to maintain and repair MSC ships in Indian yards to help the defence industrial base.
“To further enhance defence industrial cooperation in the naval sector, both sides agreed to explore possibilities of utilizing the Indian shipyards for repair and maintenance of ships of the U.S. Maritime Sealift Command (MSC) to support mid-voyage repair of U.S. Naval ships,” according to a State Department announcement.
It’s unclear what this evaluation stage would look like. The Navy did not immediately respond to questions from USNI News.
Sal Mercogliano, a maritime historian at Campbell University, noted Military Sealift Command already maintains ships at yards in other parts of the world.
“MSC currently uses yards in the Middle East and Singapore so India would be an ideal supplement,” Mercogliano told USNI News. “Currently, MSC is dealing with lack of yard availability so the addition of India would be a great advantage for U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacom area.”
During the discussions, the U.S. and India also reiterated the significance of naval exercises like Malabar and Milan, according to the State Department announcement. Malabar is a yearly naval exercise that includes participation from the U.S., Australia, India and Japan – the four countries making up the informal alliance known as “the Quad.” Milan is a biennial naval exercise that India hosts. The U.S. Navy started participating in Milan for the first time this year, according to a service news release.
India and the U.S. will also evaluate how their respective supply chains could collaborate.
“Both sides would explore and further promote the means to encourage reciprocal participation of U.S. and Indian vendors in each other’s defence supply chains. Acknowledging India’s focus on developing its domestic capabilities and helping to ensure reliable defence supplies, the Ministers committed to work closely across their respective governments on co-production, co-development, cooperative testing of advanced systems, investment promotion, and the development of Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities in India,” according to the State Department announcement.
The decision to evaluate maintaining MSC ships in India comes as the Pentagon continues to emphasize its focus on countering China in the Indo-Pacific. Under the Trump administration, former Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite proposed standing up a U.S. 1st Fleet that could straddle the Indian and Pacific oceans, USNI News reported at the time. That proposal has been stalled since the Biden administration took office, several defence officials have told USNI News.
While India buys weapons systems from Russia, it has also started buying platforms that the U.S. Navy uses. For example, in 2020 India inked a deal to buy 24 of the Sikorsky-built MH-60R helicopters that the U.S. Navy uses for anti-submarine warfare. India also flies the Boeing-built P-8I Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft.