On 10 July U.S. Navy signed a Master Ship Repair Agreement (MSRA) with Larsen & Toubro (L&T), a private defence giant in India, for maintenance & repairs of its warships at L&T’s shipyard at Kattupalli, Chennai. Even before signing, two U.S. Navy warships had completed repairs at Kattupalli as test run, and work on third warship USS SALVOR is in progress. Speaking on the occasion, U.S. Consul General in Chennai said that it “will contribute to a free and open Indo-Pacific.” This implies that India while maintaining facade of strategic autonomy has yielded to U.S. demand of permanently stationing U.S. warships on Indian soil to enhance U.S. footprint astride Chinese jugular, the Sea Lines of Communications. A similar MSRA is being negotiated for Mazagon Docks Ltd Mumbai and Goa Shipyard Ltd. This would give U.S. a permanent presence well east of its stronghold at NAVCENT Bahrain. The move is a part of ongoing geo-strategic effort by U.S. to retain its pre-eminence in the face of a rapidly rising China and an increasingly resurgent Russia. Some analysts are of the view that Russia was provoked to be militarily embroiled in Ukraine for weakening it and providing a raison-d’etre for strengthening NATO. A similar design is being unfolded against China vis Taiwan through repeated provocative Freedom of Navigation passes by U.S. warships through Taiwan Straits. U.S. objective seems to keep both countries embroiled in separate theaters and rule out any chance of a Russo-Chinese combine. However the move has backfired. Putin’s relentless pursuit of Ukraine war, a strong stance by China to safeguard its territorial integrity and the visible signs of a Russo-Chinese convergence has turned a new page in the ongoing Great Power contestation. While U.S. professes a more military oriented approach as seen in its renaming of erstwhile Pacific Command as Indo-Pacific Command and reliance on a number of overseas military Bases, the Chinese model is more of a participative economic development in the shape of BRI and Maritime Silk Road of the 21st century. Contrasting with U.S. overseas Bases and continuous shaping of the Quad to emerge as Asian NATO, China has so far established one naval overseas Base only at Djibouti to secure its security of the supply. While Indian propaganda machinery continues to highlight Gwadar as a Chinese naval Base, the fact remains that it is a purely commercial port designed to act as one of the important maritime interfaces of CPEC. A number of diplomats of Western countries have toured Gwadar and seen with their eyes the absence of any Chinese naval footprint. Will Indians now deny the presence of U.S. naval footprint at Kattupalli in the same breath that they talk about Gwadar? Albeit from an Indian perspective, while its military dependence on Russian supplied hardware continues to be significant and while it can water down the threat from Pakistan buoyed by the latest military hardware acquired from the west, it is China that poses a clear and present danger to it in Ladakh and elsewhere along McMohan line. The triple dilemma for Indian planners is that they can no longer afford to be ambivalent on Russia’s position in Ukraine war while also seeking a stronger US commitment against China in Ladakh without striking a Faustian Bargain as has been done in Kattupalli by projecting it as a commercial venture. It tantamounts to crossing of the ‘LakshmanRekha’. It is also a win-win solution for both countries. For the US, containing a rapidly rising China is no longer possible without acquiring closer naval Bases. A 2500 men strong U.S. Marine Rotational Force remains deployed permanently at Darwin, Australia in the vicinity of Indonesia overlooking Malacca Straits. U.S. permanent presence is already there in Japan, Singapore, Hawaii, Diego Garcia and Guam with prospects of moving back into the Philippines. However, theses do not provide what Kattupalli brings exclusively on the table; roping in the might of Indian private Defence-Industrial sector and giving a more active role to the Indian Navy as part of U.S. imperial burden sharing. Strands of the U.S. strategy can be gleaned from two articles authored by junior U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine officers printed in recent The Proceedings magazine published by U.S. Naval Institute in which they propose to target Chinese Navy’s vulnerabilities in the form of Chinese flagged vessels carrying China’s oil and trade plying on extended Sea Lines of Communications through Malacca straits, Bab-al-Mandab and Straits of Hormuz. With Iran-KSA rapprochement under Chinese mentorship, it is difficult to predict for how long the U.S. is going to enjoy liberty of action by host nations in the Gulf. Therefore a new pattern of U.S. upping the ante against Iran may be seen in deploying low cost unmanned Task Force 59 to counter perceived Iranian Navy threat to merchant ships/ oilers. In the backdrop of maritime theater heating up to the west and east of India, it makes sense for the U.S. to secure naval Bases on Indian coasts. Indian Navy seems to be already shifting gears to fit the new role. Last month it boasted carrying out an operational manoeuvre involving two Aircraft Carriers in the Indian Ocean, an obvious power projection episode sending a message to China. It will participate in the next round of Malabar exercise involving Quad partners in Australian waters in August this year. A number of agreements have already been signed between U.S. and Indian armed forces focusing on interoperability and logistics. With India-U.S. Defense Acceleration Ecosystem, or INDUS-X set to motion recently, the defence collaboration is likely to witness new heights. Also linked to Kattupalli is the uncertain future of India’s sub-sea component of the nuclear triad that resides in predominantly indigenous submarines but heavily supported by Russia especially in terms of reactor operation and maintenance. With AUKUS, pandora box has already been opened by U.S. and India may now be eagerly eyeing a similar deal from France as almost fifty percent of the Indian submarine fleet is going to be of French origin. U.S. could also facilitate by rubbing France’s back as a compensation for the canceled French-Australian submarine deal on the altar of AUKUS. However, it will be difficult for India to let go of its Russian dependence in near future, that’s why MSRA has been given a civilian look, and transfer of AUKUS like technology from France will be kept under strict garb. Indian Navy is already developing a new naval Base INS VARSHA at Rambilli north of Kattupalli to house six nuclear powered attack submarines (SSNs). It will have covered pens to house SSNs as well as dedicated berth for INS VIKRANT, India’s latest aircraft carrier. Together with U.S. naval Base at Kattupalli, the Indian SSNs and aircraft carrier operating out of east coast will be poised to create a bulwark against ingress of Chinese Navy west of Malacca. Lastly, charismatic leaders of States at the crossroads of history play a key role in shaping major policy decisions. Modi has led with passion India’s drive to emerge on the world stage as a main player. His innate desire for self actualisation makes him see his image in the mirror as a deity, a god-incarnate, surpassing Nehru’s stint at PM office for 17 years. He wants to be remembered as the man who propelled India in the big league at UNSC. He isn’t risk-averse and knows how to play his cards. Hence a drastic shift in India’s policy towards alignment with the US in the form of U.S. naval Base at Kattupalli is plausible. This is the new India for which Chinese would not be too surprised. The writer is an independent maritime scholar based in Lahore.