8ak exclusive: India should initiate re-commissioning the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier for joint patrolling
11 Jul 2009 8ak report: China’s secret construction of 6 aircraft-carriers is now out in the open and its aggressive expansion is scaring its neighbours. The Chinese have border disputes with most of their neighbours like India, Tibet & Taiwan. They also have a bad history with Japan and are eyeing the resources in Australia (see the news about Rio Tinto arrests) it needs to secure the continued economic progress of 1.3 billion people.
Neighbouring countries are too small in numbers, economic strength and political will to take on the might of an aggressive China but need to prepare for the worst. The only country that can contain it is the U.S. but under Obama and waning domestic support in the U.S. for solitary military campaigns, especially against a powerful enemy, support is quickly fading so they cannot be expected to intervene.
The Austral-Asian region needs to strengthen up in groups like IONS. We need to leave behind our history, our differences and come up with creative solutions. One such suggestion is this; the Quadrilateral Initiative countries (Australia, Japan, India and the U.S.) should band together and operate the supercarrier USS Kitty Hawk that the U.S. decommissioned in January 2009. If China’s growth is really peaceful as it claims, then it should feel no threat because getting 4 diverse countries to agree on a particular course of action will be inherently difficult. But if their intentions turn out to be bad, then it is in the interests of each of the group members to band together because:
* On their own, none of the Quad can take on China except U.S. (see above)
* Australia cannot afford a super carrier on its own and is having problems manning its current naval craft
* It is against the Japanese constitution to own a full fledged carrier (so it only has a helicopter carrier)
* India is currently naked, ie. It does not have a working carrier. When they do come on board India does not have the military strength to match China anyway.
8ak Editor, Manu Sood interviewed U.S. historian Jason Verdugo and writer for the magazine Wings of Gold to answer some basic questions. Comments from various Indian, U.S. and Australian experts have been discussed with Jason at various stages and incorporated in the responses below.
8AK: Is the Kitty Hawk a capable ship?
JV: Comparing the Kitty Hawk (Kitty) to the Gorshkov which India is about to buy from Russia, the Kitty is a full sized aircraft carrier, a supercarrier which the Gorshkov was never intended to be, therefore it can fly more fighter aircraft types than a Gorshkov. Even after the deck extension the Gorshkov’s full-load displacement will be 45,400 tons as against 60,933 tons surface displacement for the Kitty which is 326m long. By the way, some people are already questioning the stability of the extension and construction quality of the Gorshkov.
The Kitty will carry at least 48, F18's in addition to 30 helicopters and radar AEW aircraft. The Gorshkov will carry 16 x MiG-29K and 10 additional helicopters. Note here that the MiG’s STOBAR configuration is a disadvantage hence, the Gorshkov is lacking in aircraft capacity, overall sortie generation and sortie sustaining capability. The Gorshkov may be younger but it was decommissioned after an internal explosion and sat idly, rusting for 10 years while former USSR states dealt with their break-up and bankruptcy. The Kitty Hawk on the other hand was in full service and the reason it was decommissioned in Jan 2009 was because the U.S. has the budget to constantly build newer aircraft carriers, wants a 100% nuclear carrier force and has moved on to next generation Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier.
8AK. But it is an old ship with old technology
JV: This will basically translate to higher operating costs which can be offset against the near zero capital cost for acquisition. I believe that the ship is worth $3 billion. If the U.S. were to give to the Quad Initiative for free, then the members have saved $3 billion up front. In this case don’t compare the operational cost of a new ship because a new ship of similar construction would cost about $6 billion now. Even if you spend another $100m in extra operational costs, you still got an aircraft carrier for free!
While a ship may be old, the attack and defense capability depends on other factors as well, for example the aircraft that fly from them. So whether you fly the Mig-29, Su-27, Rafael, or F-18, the capabilities of the ship are directly related to those planes.
8AK: Can it be re-commissioned easily?
JV: The normal practise of severing the shaft to make it useless has not been done and unlike other ships that have been decommissioned for a longer period, the Kitty has been kept so that in case of emergency it can be ready to go. Some systems that could be used on other ships have been removed and need to be replaced, aircraft have to be bought etc.
8AK: What are the costs and how are these to be shared?
JV: A study would need to be conducted to get the exact cost and details. In my estimate,it would take 6 months and cost $150 million to bring her back in to shape, $400 million to further equip her with reasonable condition fighter jets & systems and $50 million to train the crew and bring her to Asia. $650 million and we would have a full fledged aircraft carrier, not a pretend one like the Gorshkov. Since the U.S. is being asked to give it away for free, the operational costs other than salaries of U.S. soldiers on board would be borne by the rest of the Quad.
A lot of the $400 million cost is the cost of the fighter aircraft. Now if India plans to purchase 126 Super Hornets then some of these could be deployed to the carrier for certain time and then since Japan is going to buy the latest F-35s anyway, it can buy the naval version ones to put these on the Kitty. The sharing will require negotiation between the parties and while it is not too complex it will require a study to work this out.
Also, for India, you must remember that you are in a bad negotiating position with the Russians on the Gorshkov issue and the price has not been finalised. Having this operational carrier in place would put India in a much better bargaining position with the Russians as they wont need the Gorshkov that badly anymore. Hence, I believe that the final price could be cut another $300m. This is actual money saved by India and can be used to participate in the initiative, so it won’t cost India anything!
Luckily the price of the Gorshkov hasn’t been finalised yet and by the way, most people don’t know that the Russians have lost the blueprint of the ship. Shoot me if I suspect the Chinese have paid someone to burn it! So anyway, the carrier is more or less free especially for the Indians and extremely cheap for the rest of the Quad.
Regarding operational costs, the other main objection to the Kitty is the steam propulsion. Given the huge cost of nuclear even the British are moving back to steam generation. It is arguable that the powerplant in the Kitty will be more reliable than the Gorshkov because of its American design, robustness and reliability given that it was in full service in the field It was run for decades until last year with no major issues. Just like any other equipment it will take qualified training and maintenance. Some counties are going to AIP submarine propulsion instead of nuclear. There are 2 advantages nuclear propulsion provides; 1) is in not needing fuel oil, 2) is that the fuel onboard can be for the planes extending flight ops. There have been debates as to whether it all matters. The escort ships still need gas. We still need a fleet oiler for those. And without those the carrier is vulnerable anyway.
Specifically for India, it already has the budget to operate 2 aircraft carriers anyway and the Gorshkov would only be ready 2012 but given Russia’s delivery history it would be at least 2013 so operational cost is not an issue for the next 4 years and then for everyone the costs are shared between 3 countries.
8ak: What kind of support would it need?
JV: Air craft carriers require minimum 6 ships and 1 or 2 submarines and 12 aircrafts to move along with it. Again, quite expensive for a single nation to do this together but combined it could be much easier and cheaper. Despite initial problems Australia has a very capable submarine, India has a good stealth frigates programme and Japan may get the F-35’s sooner than other countries and can ask for the naval version.
8ak: Does it make sense for the U.S. to give away the carrier given that it has no history of doing so?
JV: Looking purely at its own interests, the U.S. cannot afford to go to war in this region. The Iraq and Afghanistan campaign has cost it about US$1 trillion to date. The best way of preventing a war is to ensure that aggression in the region is contained. This can be done by strengthening its allies who stand for peace. Keep in mind that all the quad countries are well functioning democracies where the will of the people is supreme unlike the region they are in. Think China, Pakistan, Myanmar, Iran etc.
Further, India can be nudged to more favourably consider buying Superhornets in its 126 fighter jet tender so the U.S. would get $12 billion and keep this production line open instead of the money going to Sweden, France or the Russians. This is the single biggest leverage and the U.S. has a great offer and great price, so if India were going to buy U.S. anyway, make the most of it.
Again for India specifically, is there any doubt that it has been a colossal mistake for the two countries to have ignored each other for so long? Politicians from Nehru to Clinton have failed us and for all the flak that George Bush got, he is loved in India for building strong relations with the U.S. For the U.S. this deal would seal the coffin of an already irritated Indian public with Russian (crap) arm supplies and put us both in a very strong geo-political relationship in a strategically important part of the world.
Also, the Quad would have to agree to buy U.S. components, labour and training for the re-commissioning of the Kitty including Helicopter, AEWS, missile defence systems etc
And finally, it costs the U.S. a lot of money to keep it in the U.S. in a condition that is OK with the strong environmental lobby.
8ak: Does India need this initiative?
JV: Right now your only carrier, INS Viraat is in dock and will be there for more than a year while India is naked. The Gorkshov is at least 4 years away (Russian PM promises 2012) and your new carrier being built in India will only be ready by 2015 which as history shows will be delayed a few years as well. So not only does India need a carrier now, they would also benefit from having experienced, full-trained crews ready when the other carriers come online.
8ak: Do Australia and Japan need it?
JV: Australia is already having trouble crewing its existing naval fleet and while a super-carrier would help it to better protect its oversized coasts, it cannot afford to have one on its own. By law, Japan cannot own one by itself. Additionally, let us keep in mind that the Quad can be grown to include other like minded democracies like South Korea.
8ak: Does India want to anger the Russians?
JV: Have you read the news? Kayani has just come back from Russia! This after the shock that they have approved the Pakistani’s getting Russian engines for their JF-17 which allows them to be operational by year end, while India is at all time squadron low. Russia has long been the only country not to supply to Pakistan and been on India’s side, but now it is fast joining China’s axis of evil.
When India finalised the deal to buy the Russian Aircraft Carrier Gorkshov, a Russian journalist immediately wrote an article ‘Sold: the $1.5 billion lemon’. To add insult to injury the Russians raised the price by $1.5 billion in a move senior Indian defence officials secretly admitted was pure blackmail. The brinkmanship was possible only because the Russians downgraded the Indian relationship in the face of arms sales to countries like Iran, Pakistan with suspected Chinese intervention and also because the Russians believe that they have locked up the Indian fighter aircraft market for the next 25 years.
And strategically, India would send a strong message to Russia that you will not put up with blackmail. The claim of Russia as a reliable ally is seriously flawed because Russia has neither in the past nor, with its growing Chinese relation, in the future be relied to take India’s side in a war with China. India is alarmed by Russia’s growing Pakistan relation that will turn in to military supply eventually.
8ak: What if China attacks a single country on a single issue. Would the other nations be dragged in to war?
JV: This boils down to risk mitigation. Each individual country has to decide that joining this initiative is the best option in their own national interests and looking beyond that, in the interest of the planet. Does joining the Quad improve their chances of survival in the most common sense? I think it does and secondly any special considerations could be included in an inter-country agreement. If Australia chooses not to support the issue, then it will become an easier target. How long can Australia risk its future on a presumption that the U.S./U.K. will intervene to protect it?
It is my opinion that we urgently need to counter China. Their influence is on every continent. They are trying to corner the oil market and this will lead to conflicts as oil supplies dry up in the face of increasing consumption of 2.5 billion Indians and Chinese and resource-hungry Westernised nations. That will really ratchet things up when the price of oil goes up permanently. China will also try and leverage global control through the banks. If the U.S. can build up countries like the Quad then it will help reduce the danger that exists with China having so much trade and investment in the US. China is extremely vulnerable to a naval blockade. It would not only cut off imp oil supplies but kill its lifeline that it has built its aggression on, exports… How long a naval blockade is required to bankrupt it?
The other obvious benefit for India is that as your companies buy assets globally in far off places like South America and Africa, your carriers can be used to better back these areas up with military support if needed.
8ak: Sounds great but negotiations will be a complex process
JV: True. A further study of the costs needs to be done and talks between the various nations should be initiated. The purpose of this discussion was to kick start a thinking process that will precede a serious consideration.
Copyright: Creative Commons license. Permission given to reproduce with links and credits to the authors.
All they have done is brag, They havent even started construction work, nor do they have the technical expertise to do so. The carrier Varyag they have is just a floating airstrip.
They are too concerned about internal unrest and economic growth to fight wars now. Also, any war initiated by China would be a diplomatic catastrophe for them. Any sign of aggression from their side, be it Spratly Islands or Arunachal will be met by worldwide condemnation.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Until we are able to get a CBG good enough to protect such a ship, it is useless to put so many eggs (read money and fighter aircraft) in one basket.
Moreover, in its last years, Kitty Hawk had become a harbor queen.
I personally don't want India to but another second hand 40 year old carrier that will sit in the dry dock/harbor for more time than it spend in the ocean.
yup i agree, to counter china we just need to get Agni-5 going and couple of ATVs since any chance of conventional war with them is low, any war will quickly turn nuclear anyways. Its madness to for them and for us to go to war with them and they are not so stupid as to test us either.
The US isn't going to give it away for free... and, we currently don't have any experience operating CATOBAR carriers... the last CATOBAR we operated was the INS Vikrant with the Sea Hawks before it received the ski jump (for Harriers)...
Somehow I think the costs are being shown here to be much lower than they actually will turn out to be...
And, what about upgradation of vital systems ??? His answer seems vague at best...
They will build the aircraft carriers, and the planes, and in a decade they will have enough experience to build and operate them (closing the gap with other nations will be a tough one), they have the money. I thing you are wrong when you say the bigger they aer the harder they fall, even with a super carrier you need 2-4 of them available at any time (which could mean 3-6 total carriers) just to get enough sorties from to be a effective sea based land attack force.
It doesnot matter if we have 3 small/medium carriers instead of a single super carrier, if the CBG is not good enough to protect a small/medium carrier its not good enough for anything, and if it is good enough to protect a small/medium carrier, it should be good enough to protect a super carrier (the reason is that the threat is the same in both cases). The question is what capability does the super carrier gives us and at what cost? The silliest part is that we will have to send it to a foriegn dry dock for repairs.
Just not possible for India, its nothing like what the Indian Navy requires at this point of time, may be Brazil could go for her.
For once, India on its own can think of it even at the high costs of operating one. But i dont see a multilateral operation happening that too with countries like Australia and Japan, who at the one end talk about an alliance, and create hurdles in various multi nation organizations esp in relations to the nuclear deal and signing of NPT etc. There has to be a proper convergence of mind on all this. I dont think we can even think about operating a carrier with other countries.
Agnis and ATVs with nukes are deterrents for a nuclear war. But carriers are war fighting and domination weapons. India and Pakistan fought in Kargil inspite of being armed with nukes. How many Phrithvis were fired then? None. Those are strategic weapons not for everyday use.
We require carriers badly that there is no doubt about. Buying the kitty hawk is another issue of discussion.
I didn't understand this^^^ portion, how IAF jet can function from a naval carrier and Why Japan will deploy its aircrafts in that carrier?
A PRC specific quadrilateral initiative is a no no for Australia as it is enjoying strategic partnership with PRC.
Plus an Asian NATO type organization itself is a far dream, leave aside the case of jointly operating an aircraft carrier, which even NATO don't have their own A/Cs, and if India bought one why Japan will deploy its multi billion dollar fighters in it, prior to securing its own airspace not to mention its constitutional bindings.
Things would grow too complex and by the time this dream plan gets approved we will have a couple or more of A/Cs of our own
The author did a good job of building castles in the sky, IMO its nothing but just a good dream:wink:
yeah but do u really think that any war between India and China wont turn nuclear, chances are they start the war, to hit our targets deep inside they will have to use their long range subsonic cruise missiles or ballistic missiles and the moment we see ballistic missile heading our way, for sure we fire a few of ours as well, coz the moment they fire any ballistic weapons we have no clue as to whether it carries a nuke or conventional payload. Even a conventional strike using Brahmos on the chinese will make them believe it is missile tipped with nuke warhead coz brahmos is nuke capable. sure they are not for everyday use but China is not Pakistan.
During Kargil Pak had very few warheads, max number at around 5, they knew they didnt have enough numbers to effectively counter India, secondly US spotted Pakistani warheads being moved towards the border and put a lot of pressure on sharif to calm down threatening the Pakistan with dire consequences if they launched a nuke strike on India, besides warheads the Pakistan didn't have a good delivery system , Mr. Mush says it in his auto biography that he moved warheads to the border but no effective delivery mechanism.
For the money were paying for the Gorshkov ,i had started expecting something on the lines of Kuznetsov class.Still we should concentrate on building our own.Deals in re-commissioning old carriers has ample room for blackmail as we found out.
India and China war will not go nuclear because of MAD. Use of nuclear weapons in a war is very very remote even in the case of India and Pakistan. But war is not ruled out in the conventional form. For that we need dominant war machines and an aircraft carrier is one of the most dominating war machines ever invented. And the US is able to project its power all over the world and including in Chinas backyard, because it has so many carriers. As they say, the most powerful country in the Indian Ocean is the US!! Just because of its powerful navy with all its carriers and subs.
i agree we simply should build our own N-carriers, at 3 billion so far the Russian retooled ----- is not a very impressive hitter, it can hold off threats but we do need carrier groups, which will require advances in sea borne aerial defense, we'll need long range AEGIS, MR-SAM/LR-SAM, we'll need good sub hunter killers, induction of a large carrier will require a minimum of all these additions.