According to numerous sources inside India, when U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visits New Delhi late in February (provided his Tuesday Potomac Primary Day broken shoulder does not alter his itinerary) he will be carrying a signed letter from U.S. President George W. Bush offering a better deal for India than the one they have been struggling to get out of Moscow for four years now. The Indian Navy will reportedly be offered the soon-to-be decommissioned USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) aircraft carrier for free–provided the Indian Navy will agree to purchase 65 of the newest model Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to be operated off of it.
Since 2004, the Indian Navy has planned to buy a Russian Kiev-class carrier, the Admiral Gorshkov (formerly the Baku), and place her in service as the INS Vikramaditya. Laid down in 1978, she was launched in 1985, and was operated on and off until 1996. The Russians offered her to the Indians for ‘free’ as part of a package that would include $1.5 billion for the refitting of the ship and an air arm of up to 30 Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-29K Fulcrum aircraft. When the deal was struck four years ago, Russia and India imagined she would enter Indian service this year. It seems MiG is ready with the aircraft, but the scope of the refit has grown and estimates of the ships availability range from 2010 to 2012.
If one believes the Weekly Standard’s ‘numerous sources,’ the United States looks like it plans to capitalize on India’s frustration with Russian delays with this offer of the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. America’s relationship with India has been warming in the past decade, and arms deals are always an excellent way to cement these sorts of relationships.
The Kitty Hawk (CV-63) herself has a rich history. Lead ship of her class, she was laid down in Camden, New Jersey in 1956, and launched four years later. Commissioned in 1961, she is the second-longest-serving ship in the U.S. Navy, after the U.S.S. Constitution. She is the sole conventionally powered carrier in the U.S. fleet, and is our sole forward deployed carrier, with a homeport in Yokosuka, Japan since 1998. She is slated to be replaced in that service this year by the U.S.S. George Washington (CVN-73). Historically, the Japanese have not permitted nuclear-powered, or armed, vessels in their ports, but relented in 2005. (It seems the Navy agreed not to use the Truman, or the Nimitz, or the Bush given that all three men personally waged was against Japan, making the Washington more politic.) There has been talk in North Carolina of docking the retired Kitty Hawk next to the U.S.S. North Carolina (BB-55). Interestingly, America has never previously sold a fleet carrier to another nation.
If this deal were to move forward, it would clearly be a horrible blow to Russia’s defense industry. The Indian market has long been theirs, and there are not many multi-billion dollar deals in the world. For MiG, the loss of thirty sales would of course hurt, but what every nation has its eyes on is India’s pending contract for 126 combat aircraft, which issued its RFP in June of last year. Russia’s MiG, France’s Dassault, Europe’s Eurofighter, and America’s Boeing and Lockheed are all focused on this $8-10 billion dollar deal. If India were indeed offered the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet for their carrier, that plane would gain a huge leg up in the subsequent MRCA deal. Equipped with modern AESA radar, the Super Hornet is a very capable aircraft used by the U.S. Navy and Marines, as well as Australia.
As a personal aside, I am of mixed mind about this deal. The Kitty Hawk has seen long and proud service in the American Navy, sending her planes into seven years of combat in Vietnam, and then later against Iraq in late 1992 (yes, 1992), as well as being part of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, and then again against Iraq in 2003. I admire her old-style name (see ‘Politics ruins everything‘), and think she’d make a fitting museum in North Carolina. Still, continued service in the Indian Navy would be a more noble end than the fate of the her sister, the U.S.S. America, in 2005, when she was sunk in the Atlantic after four-weeks of live-fire experiments. She now lies over 2,800 fathoms down and 250 miles off of the North Carolina coast, the largest warship ever sunk.
Note: While writing this, I also found an older source for this rumor from September of last year in the Calcutta Telegraph.
Kitty for India
The Kitty Hawk is on its last deployment. …
The buzz is that the Kitty Hawk will be up for sale. Will India bid for it? There is a certain logic to this. The Superhornets are a competitive bidder for the IAF’s $10.2-billion multi-role combat aircraft order. The Kitty Hawk flight deck is crammed with them. If India were to take the Kitty Hawk and the Superhornets, it would gel just fine.