Saturday, February 23, 2008

INS Kitty Hawk?

By Cernig

The Weekly Standard's Reuben F. Johnson has an interesting piece today. He says the Bush administration are considering giving the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, due to be decommissioned this year, to the Indian Navy for free.

The Indians, however, would have to make a committment to purchase 65 of the newest model Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to arm the Kitty Hawk with. As Johnson points out, this would sink the Indian-Russian $1.5 billion deal to purchase the refitted Admiral Gorshkov which is so far behind schedule and it's attendant deal to buy Mig's to operate from the Gorshkov.
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. This would be a huge blow to the fortunes of RSK-MiG, who are bidding an advanced, developed MiG-29 model they have now re-labeled the MiG-35. It could make it hard for the famous Russian planemaker to stay in the military aircraft market.

Just last December Boeing placed $1 billion worth of outsourced production with India's HAL. To run for 10 years, this contract will have the Indians building portions of the F/A-18E/F, the Chinook CH-47 helicopter, and other Boeing platforms. This incentive--plus the carrier deal--could make the Boeing Super Hornet the proverbial offer that is too good to pass up.

Moscow's reaction is likely to be less than joyful.
That's an almost British use of understatement. Russia would be furious and out for some kind of revenge for the stolen deal - and even more livid if their largest indigenous military aircraft manufacturer collapses thereby. Even if the U.S. would just be offering a sweeter version of the deal Russia has already offered.

It's an illuminating look at arms deals as foreign policy - and a moments thought presents some downstream consequences which show why using arms deals as such a blunt FP intrument isn't always a good idea. Russia, for one, is going to become far more recalcitrant over every issue from Iran to missile defense to Kosovo to free trade. Johnson nails it: "All of which will look just like what it is--a return to Cold War behavior, as well as the thinking that is behind it all." I'm left uncertain from reading his piece whether he thinks that would be a good thing or not.

But there's also a small matter of regional inter-relations to consider. That the U.S. will be seen by everyone in the region as cynically arming both Indian and Pakistan in their own arms race is not going to make America more trusted. Others may look elsewhere for a hoped-for edge over ubiquitous American equipment, pushing them further towards Europe, Russia or China.

That the Bush administration is considering giving away a Navy carrier taxpayers have already bought and paid for long ago to provide billions in corporate welfare to Boeing may make short-term sense to them, as well as being a golden opportunity to throw a spanner in Putin's works - but I'm rather worried about what the long-term tail of such a deal would be.

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