US Navy Eyes Indian, Japanese & Korean Shipyards To Quickly Repair Its Warships During War With China

The United States is considering conducting maintenance of up to six of its naval warships at international shipyards in countries including Japan, South Korea, and India in the next fiscal year. 

If approved by Congress, the move signals a significant effort in identifying foreign shipyards for the upkeep of US Navy vessels and underscores the growing focus on countering China’s naval might.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro disclosed plans during a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing on the fiscal 2025 budget, emphasizing the necessity to diversify repair locations to ensure operational agility.

Del Toro highlighted the importance of preemptive measures, “If we should have to go to war, we will then have full knowledge of which shipyards and what countries we could actually send these ships to be able to do the damage repair that’s going to be necessary.”

If an American warship gets damaged during a conflict over Taiwan or the Philippines, the US would be compelled to transport the damaged vessels back to Guam, Hawaii, or the US West Coast for repairs.

Guided-missile destroyer, USS John McCain
Representational Image

However, by leveraging foreign shipyards closer to potential conflict zones, the US aims to expedite repairs and swiftly send vessels back to the battlespace.

Del Toro mentioned that maintenance activities at international shipyards would typically be completed in under 90 days, providing a rapid turnaround for critical repairs.

The proposed expansion of utilizing foreign shipyards builds upon recent efforts by the US Navy to explore partnerships with allied nations for ship maintenance.

During a visit to South Korea in March, Del Toro toured shipyards operated by HD Hyundai Heavy Industries and Hanwha Ocean. During his tour, Del Toro hailed South Korean shipbuilding as a vital asset in countering China’s aggressive pursuit of naval dominance.

Subsequently, Del Toro visited Japan, where discussions with shipbuilding executives at Mitsubishi’s shipyard in Yokohama further explored avenues to revitalize the US maritime industry.

India, too, emerges as a key player in America’s naval strategy, with efforts underway to establish it as a major hub for maintenance and repair activities in the Indo-Pacific region. A joint statement issued after a September 2023 meeting between President Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscored India’s role in servicing US Navy assets.

The US Navy has signed Master Ship Repair Agreements with multiple Indian shipbuilders like Larsen and Toubro, Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders, and Cochin Shipyard, with ongoing audits to expand operations to Kolkata port.

Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s spokesman, stated last year that the US sought to make India a logistical center for the US military and other Indo-Pacific partners, suggesting that Indian ports could serve a strategic purpose in potential conflicts.

Shashank S. Patel, a Geopolitical and defense analyst, told the EurAsian Times, “Amid China’s rise as a new naval powerhouse, certainly, the US is actively exploring strategic arrangements with allied nations due to three major considerations – A) Creation of competitive maritime strengths. B) Reduction in downtime of US naval assets. C) Establishing advance docks outside Chinese striking range.”

Patel added, “Currently, there are only a limited number of shipyards where advanced US vessels can undergo maintenance. The US government signed more than seven MSRA-type reciprocal agreements globally to cope with this scarcity.”

The US Needs Asian Allies To Counter China 

To bolster its presence in the Indo-Pacific region, the United States is pursuing a strategy termed “places, not bases,” seeking access to locations where it currently lacks military installations.

This initiative is crucial for deterring China. According to Pentagon officials, it will also ensure swift mobilization in the event of a conflict. The move comes amidst China’s proactive engagement with countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan, where it has been constructing or expanding ports under its Belt and Road initiative.

To counterbalance this, the US has been swiftly establishing new security agreements or enhancing existing ones with several nations in the region. In recent years, the US has forged agreements with Vietnam, Japan, Palau, the Philippines, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and India.

The agreements vary in scope, with some involving arrangements for ship and submarine repair and resupply, while others focus on improving infrastructure and enhancing maritime law enforcement capabilities.

These efforts are essential to counter China’s formidable Navy, which surpasses the US fleet in numbers. Presently, Beijing boasts a fleet of no fewer than 350 warships, surpassing America’s contingent of 290 naval vessels.

Ships from the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group conduct a strait transit exercise. The Navy will grow rapidly over the next five years, according to Navy officials. (MC3 Michael Chen/Navy)

Also, the US Navy has been facing challenges in completing maintenance of its Navy surface vessels on time, prompting exploration into utilizing allied shipyards to maintain its warships in the Indo-Pacific region.

In a Bloomberg op-ed, Retired US Navy Adm. James Stavridis emphasized the importance of building a coalition of allies to balance China’s naval power.

“Given the global demands on the US fleet and the fact that any combat in the South China Sea would take place in the shadow of the Chinese mainland — in effect, a massive and unsinkable aircraft carrier — the US must pursue a coalition strategy to balance the numbers,” he wrote.

The push to utilize foreign shipyards underscores the pressing need to expand the US Navy’s capacity amid concerns about domestic limitations.

Patel explained, “USA’s decision to sign reciprocal maintenance agreements with like-minded nations vested in their incapable shipyards lagging in full maintenance or repair of their ships currently due to volume and frequency. Another reason is the US Navy is saddled with shrinking and uncertain budgetary allocations in recent years.”

He pointed out, “It is popularly heard in PLA-N discussions that the US shipyards are the biggest weakness in their war potential. To recondition it in American favor, the only way out is to align with India, Japan & South Korean coastal machineries alongside developing them as per US requirements.”

Patel added. “It will co-benefit the said countries due to shared interests against China and reinforce their domestic capabilities to the next level of advancements. Through naval yard advancements, the US and its allies materializing regional obligations, which they signed under multiple groupings.”