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Kitty Hawk to India?

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Last August I wrote:

It’s unclear whether the Indians will keep Viraat around for another three years or accept a carrier deployment gap. It’s kind of interesting to me that, in spite of our newfound tight friendship with the Indians, I haven’t heard a peep about selling India one of the six supercarriers the US currently has rusting in mothballs. Although five of the six have been stripped down (Kennedy is just beginning the process), I can’t imagine that they’re in much worse condition than the Russian ship, and even though older, the US carriers are much larger, more effective platforms than the Russian Gorshkov will ever be.

And now, via Drum:

As reports begin to suggest that Russia and India are too far apart to agree on the Gorshkov refit, speculation grows that the USA intends to solve India’s problem with a stunning offer during Defense Secretary Gates’ imminent visit to india. instead of retiring and decommissioning its last conventionally-powered carrier, the 81,800 ton/ 74,200t USS Kitty Hawk [CV-63, commissioned 1961], would be handed over to India when its current tour in Japan ends in 2008. The procedure would resemble the January 2007 “hot transfer” of the amphibious landing ship USS Trenton [LPD-14], which become INS Jalashva. The cost? This time, it would be free. As in, $0.

As a number of sources point out, this is a multi-pronged move that would achieve a number of objectives all at once. First, the offer removes all Russian negotiating leverage over India by removing the issues of sunk costs, foreign possession of the Vikramaditya, and any danger of being left without a carrier. The Indian Navy would be greatly strengthened, and its ability to police the Indian Ocean from the Straits of Malacca to South Africa would take a huge leap forward. Any additional work to upgrade or refurbish the carrier could be undertaken in India, providing jobs and expertise while maintaining full national control over the refit. The USA gains financial benefits of its own, as the Navy avoids the expensive task of steaming the Kitty Hawk home and decommissioning it. Americans would almost certainly receive maintenance contracts for the steam catapults, and possibly for some new electronics, but those economic benefits pale in comparison to the multi-billion dollar follow-on wins for Boeing (Super Hornet), Northrop Grumman (E-2 Hawkeye), and possibly even Lockheed Martin (F-16 E/F, F-35B). All of which works to cement a growing strategic alliance between the two countries, and creates deep defense industrial ties as well.

In short, pretty much everyone wins. Except for the Russians; they lose.

…I probably should actually explain why I think this is a good idea. On the US side, it makes good fiscal sense; the Kitty Hawk would be expensive to tear down and put into reserve, so giving her to the Indians actually saves money. The F/A-18 deal (or whatever fighter aircraft we sell) also makes a fair amount of economic sense, and down the road India may be another F-35 customer. The US also wins, I think, from an increase in Indian naval capacity; an extra carrier in the Indian Ocean makes for more secure sea lanes, etc. On the Indian side, I think it’s fair to say that the Kitty Hawk is significantly more capable than the Gorshkov is likely to be, even with the Russian refurbishment. Indeed, in a stroke India will have the second most powerful carrier fleet in the world. I’ve seen some concerns regarding the state of the Kitty Hawk; the JFK was newer, but in terrible condition when she was finally decommissioned. Again, this is basically a comparison issue, and I find it hard to believe that Kitty Hawk will be in worse condition that the Gorshkov. The Kitty Hawk will represent a leap forward in Indian naval aviation capability.

On the political side, the issues are with Pakistan and Russia. Of the latter, I could care less; the Russians promised to deliver the Indians a carrier at a certain time and at a certain price, and have failed utterly. If the Indians tell the Russians to fuck off it’s their own business, and not ours. The Pakistanis are more of a concern; as a direct military contribution the Kitty Hawk wouldn’t make that much of a difference in an Indo-Pakistani War, but it does send a message that we’re solidifying a relationship with India. But I’m okay with that; if we can solidify a friendly relationship with the world’s largest democracy without gutting the NPT, it’s a good thing.

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