Apparently, we are not the only ones who believe the Kitty Hawk is in play. This is the first article in the US media that has covered this topic, previous coverage has been exclusive to Indian press sources.
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.
If true--and if New Delhi accepts--this can do more than just sink the Russian carrier deal and the MiG-29K contract. The Indian Air Force (IAF) are deep in the throes of a tender to purchase almost 200 new fighter aircraft, with Boeing and RSK-MiG both in the field of six contenders. An order of 200 fighter airplanes is unheard of--larger than any such export sale in more than 20 years. In an era where sales of 12, 20, or 40 fighters are more common, this is the PowerBall Lotto of export competitions.
If the Indian Navy decide to take on the F/A-18E/Fs, it makes logistical sense for the IAF to do the same and the competition for this massive sale would probably be over for all of the other competitors before it gets started.
The rumors of this possibility entered the media discussion in India back in December, in fact earlier this week we highlighted the difference in cost between Russia and India appears to be $600 million. As both the Weekly Standard article and we have pointed out, it is the purchase of 200 fighters that is the real objective, not the carrier.
We are mixed on this. As comments have pointed out, this is basically a 180 degree approach than that of the Washington Treaty which moved to limit arms buildups across the world. In this case, both Russia and apparently the US are looking to 'give' an aircraft carrier away, because both Russia and the US know India is the primary military sales market for the next decade. India is building its capacity for domestic military production, but they are still many years away from this.
We believe this is a difficult choice for India, not as cut and dry as it might appear. The Kitty Hawk might be old, but she is much more capable than the Gorshkov, and unlike the Gorshkov the Kitty Hawk can be fielded within the time frame India desires a replacement carrier, but there are problems that would need to be addressed.
First, the Kitty Hawk isn't just big, she is huge and requires a much larger crew than the Gorshkov. Second, she will be more expensive to operate and she will need some work done to be remain operational for an extended period of time, work the US is unlikely to pay for. While the article points out the US is willing to 'give' the Kitty Hawk to India for free, that doesn't mean there won't be maintenance costs that will need to be worked out.
Will this happen? We will have to wait and see, but there is a good reason the US may sweeten the pot. Russia has not converted its economy from a military industrial complex economy yet, and an order of 200 fighters from India would allow Russia to continue as is for several more years. The only way Russia converts out of its military sales mentality is for sales to dry up, and should the US win the fighter deal with India it could force major changes within Russia's export economy, and while that would create many short term problems for Russia, it would be very good for Russia and the world long term as their economy is forced to adapt to compete.
If the US wins the fighter deal, it is a good bet Russia is going to be pissed off. If the US ends up replacing the Gorshkov with the Kitty Hawk as well, it would be like a double kick in the nuts for Russia. At that point, the predictive variables become difficult to measure. It honestly has us wondering out loud if the India does pick the US, would Congress block it solely out of fear of backlash from Russia? Nevermind the proliferation issues, which are important issues, but the question whether the US Congress would back down to Russian rhetoric is not a small issue, as many are ready to do so today on the missile defense issue.
Welcome to the future, where globalization is the only new factor to the energy desires of rapidly developing nations. After all, in the 1930s, the need to secure resources was a major motivation for Japanese expansion. Over the next several decades, it isn't about conquering nations for resources, but it is about protecting access and delivery of those resources, and the Kitty Hawk can go a long way towards those ends for India.
One final thought. If you have read our previous coverage of this topic then read Reuben Johnson's article, we wonder if he is simply 'reporting' our coverage and speculation, or if he did this on his own. It may be this article simply repeats our coverage, speculation, and reporting and we are completing a loop by covering it. It is highlighted the Weekly Standard article used our picture of the Kitty Hawk from December. This is a common image, but he connects several dots that were connected here first, and are not connected anywhere else that we are aware of (including in the India reporting). Not that it matters, we don't copyright and it isn't like he can cite a blog who is an anonymous source, but it is something we noted.
By the way, we will probably hear more, not less of this, see here for why.