UK for First Time Sends Auxiliary Ships to India for Maintenance

Royall Navy Auxiliary vessel
RFA Argus arriving at the Indian ship repair facility (L&T Shipbuilding)

Published Mar 28, 2024 3:18 PM by The Maritime Executive


The UK Royal Navy confirmed that for the first time, it has sent two of its auxiliary vessels to India to undergo essential maintenance. It follows a similar move by the U.S. Navy in 2022, all part of the efforts to strengthen Western ties with India.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels RFA Argus and RFA Lyme Bay arrived in India at the L&T Shipbuilding (Larsen & Toubro) Kattupalli shipyard near Chennai, India. The Royal Navy did not provide details on the nature of the work being performed on the two ships, but the yard has comprehensive facilities including a ship lift, multiple dry and wet berths, and is equipped to undertake a full range of maintenance tasks.

The ships arrived at the facility after conducting exercises with the Indian Navy as they entered the Arabian Sea. Both ships were deployed last October as part of the UK mission into the Eastern Mediterranean after the start of the war in Gaza. At the time, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called it part of the UK’s larger effort with the RAF and RN positioning forces in the region.

The RFA Lyme Bay is a 16,600 dwt Bay-class landing ship dock designed to deliver troops, vehicles, stores, and ammunition and support the ongoing waves of an amphibious assault. The RFA Argus (28,000 dwt) is a Primary Casualty Receiving Ship of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. With a 100-bed medical complex on board, she acts as a floating medical facility.

The scope of the vessels’ operations were not disclosed during their time in the Mediterranean. However, in January, the RFA Lyme Bay delivered 80 tonnes of vital supplies into Egypt as aid to the residents of Gaza.

It was reported that the UK’s destroyer HMS Diamond along with two U.S. Navy vessels recently escorted a naval task force through the Red Sea and into the Indian Ocean. Those reports indicated that it included UK support ships, likely the Argus and Lyme Bay. Both vessels are part of the UK’s Littoral Response Group.

Confirming that the vessels had arrived in India for maintenance, the Royal Navy said, “It also signals the continued growing importance of the strategic defence partnership between the UK and India as we build towards achieving the ambition set out in the India-UK 2030 Roadmap.”  In January 2024, India’s Defense Minister made a visit to the UK that was also seen as a step in strengthening the ties.

The U.S. Navy sent the USNS Charles Drew, one of a class of 14 dry cargo ships in the Military Sealift Command Combat Logistics Force, to the same shipyard in August 2022. It was also the first time the U.S. Navy used India for maintenance activities. The USNS Matthew Perry and the USNS Salvor were also sent to India in 2023 as part of the formalized repair agreement with the same shipyard.

The Royal Navy reports following the maintenance in India, the ships will operate in the Indo-Pacific region conducting training, exercises, and a wider engagement with allies and partners. They also highlighted plans for a Carrier Strike Group to visit the Indo-Pacific region in 2025. They said the intent is to operate and train with the Indian Armed Forces during that visit.