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US allows GE to work on Indian warship

Ajai Shukla  |  New Delhi 

India’s new stealth warship, the INS Shivalik, is back on track. On March 12, 2009, the US government gave General Electric (GE) the green signal for resuming work on the two LM 2500 gas turbines that power the Shivalik. On March 6, 2009, Business Standard had reported that the stealth frigate was being delayed by “stop all work” instructions to GE from the US State Department.

Vice-Admiral HS Malhi, the chairman and managing director of Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL), which is building the INS Shivalik, has confirmed to Business Standard: “The issue has been resolved. GE has communicated to us that they have been given permission to go ahead. Earlier, GE had indicted that the permission could take 3-4 months in coming; but now (the US State Department) has cleared it.

The US State Department’s complex defence export procedures appear to be behind this delay. US industry sources explain that the LM 2500 gas turbines are dual-use power plants — they have commercial as well as military uses. For that reason, they are not listed on the US Munitions List and do not require an export licence from the State Department’s Directorate of Defence Trade Controls (DDTC). However, for fitting these dual-use turbines on a warship, that is, for providing a “military service”, a Technical Assistance Agreement (TAA) is needed from State Department. This was only received on March 12, after which GE resumed work on the Shivalik.

Nikhil Khanna of the US-India Business Council (USIBC) confirms: “GE needed to apply for a TAA from the Political-Military Bureau at the State Dept, which they did…. Simple procedures needed to be completed according to US technology release policies and we’re confident and proud that GE’s LM2500 engines will power India’s cutting-edge stealth warships.”

GE has confirmed to defence industry publication, Jane’s: “GE continues to provide the Indian Navy with LM2500 gas turbines for its ship programs… with no export licence required. This week GE obtained a licence from the US Department of State, to authorise the delivery of all shipboard services being requested.”

Partly as a result of this delay, MDL is racing to try and complete work on the Shivalik before the monsoons make sea trials difficult. Vice-Admiral Malhi says: “What time was lost cannot be regained now. We wanted the gas turbines in mid-January; we are now looking at end-March. So, we have lost about two months. I hope GE is able to crash it (work on an accelerated basis) and reduce the time that has been lost.”

The US industry is bitter about “undue attention” on the Shivalik delay. Says an industry source: “This is when we should be celebrating recent successes, such as the Lockheed C-130J sale, Boeing VVIP jets and, recently, the largest-ever deal between the US and India, that of the $2.2 billion Boeing P-8i (maritime reconnaissance aircraft) sale to the Indian Navy, (which will be) the first international customer for the P-8i, a huge step forward in the growing strategic relationship between our countries.”

First Published: Tue, March 24 2009. 00:21 IST