February 27, 2008

Admiral Gorshkov : Arguments for completing modernization

16:32 27/ 02/ 2008

MOSCOW. (Military commentator Nikita Petrov for RIA Novosti) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in India Tuesday amid rumors that he is to offer the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk as a sweetener if New Delhi buys 65 Boeing Super Hornet fighters.

The fighters are Boeing's offering in a fierce competition with European and Russian rivals for a multi-billion deal to supply the Indian Air Force. Other bidders include the Russian MiG-35 Fulcrum F, the French Rafale, the European Eurofighter EF-2000 Typhoon, and the Swedish Grippen.

According to a report from the Texas-based private intelligence group Stratfor, the "gift" would be designed to ensure victory at the tender, because an aircraft carrier without deck aircraft is a harmless floating airfield. It could also woo India away from Russia, which is currently refitting the air-capable cruiser Admiral Gorshkov for the Indian Navy at the Sevmash shipyard in northern Russia. ( SEE BELOW the Stratfor article reproduced)

The U.S. probably needn't go to such lengths. New Delhi has its own reasons for terminating the contract with Sevmash, which is lagging behind the agreed schedule and has set back the completion date from 2008 to 2012. The deadline may well be postponed again, because the shipyard has spent the $750 million India had provided for the carrier's modernization and has no money for completing the job.

The problems did not appear yesterday. The deadlines and the allocations stipulated in the original 2004 contract were unrealistic from the beginning, and even prompted the resignation of David Pashayev, the shipyard's director.

Pashayev sharply criticized the Russian officials for what he saw as an inability and unwillingness to drive a harder bargain over price, and for putting unbearable responsibility on the shipyard, which had not received regular budgetary allocations for the projects it was already doing for the government (at the time it was working on a new nuclear submarine, the Yury Dolgoruky.)

Not unlike the rumored gift of the Kitty Hawk, the sale of the Admiral Gorshkov was above all a political decision, designed to tie New Delhi to the Russian defense sector. But it was also the only way of getting funds for its normal maintenance.

By 2004 the Admiral Gorshkov had been standing in Sevmash docks for nearly seven years, and nobody knew what to do with it. Built in the early 1980s, the Kiev class carrier no longer fitted the requirements of the Russian Navy.

Designed to host custom built but never mass produced, Yak-38 fighters, the Admiral Gorshkov's flight deck was too short for the Russian Navy's standard MiG-29K Fulcrum and the Su-33 Flanker, both designed to use a ski-jump for carrier takeoff. Russia lacked $2.5-$3 billion to add the modifications these aircraft needed for carrier takeoff.

When India showed an interest in the carrier, Russia was only too glad to be rid of it. The contract for modernization and the supply of MiG-29K fighters (India will pay for their ski-jump) and other equipment promised major profits and long-term cooperation with India.

The total contract was estimated at $1.5 billion, about half of which was to be spent on developing modernized MiG-29K deck fighters capable of day/night, all-weather, year-round operation in any climate, including tropics with ambient temperatures up to +35° C. The ship itself was sold to India at the price of scrap metal, $150-$200 per metric ton.

Just as David Pashayev had warned, however, the contract hugely underestimated the true costs of modernization. The plunge of the dollar and the subsequent surge in prices of equipment and skilled labor, as well as high requirements set by the Indian Navy, made the project unrealizable.

The Admiral Gorshkov will have French, Israeli and Indian equipment, which will have to be adjusted to the Russian-made systems. This entails a series of R&D projects and trials. More funds are to be spent on the improvement of the MiG-29K, which can engage not only air, but also surface and submarine, targets.

Indian pilots saw the MiG-29K at the Zhukovsky airfield near Moscow two years ago, and were impressed. Additional funds are needed for its mass production, however, and New Delhi has refused to pay a rupee more. Moreover, it has threatened to fine Russia for failure to deliver on time.

As usual, Russian officials found a scapegoat and fired Sevmash director Vladimir Pastukhov, but this has neither improved the situation nor added money for completing the ship's modernization. In an apparent effort to encourage the Indians to pay more, the Russian press cited an anonymous source from the Russian General Staff, who said that if India terminated the contract the carrier would be turned over to the Russian Navy.

However, nobody has calculated how much this would cost Russia - in fines for breach of contract, adjusting the carrier to Russian requirements, and damage to Russia's prestige.

Sadly, the debacle of the Admiral Gorshkov is not an isolated incident. Several years ago, the St Petersburg-based Baltic Shipyard and its subcontractors postponed the delivery of three multi-role frigates to the Indian Navy for more than a year because of failure to adjust a new air defense system to the ships' fire control systems. On that occasion the Indians demanded about $40 million in damages, and it took Russian officials much time and effort to convince them to withdraw their claims.

Later Russia had problems with a diesel submarine modernized for India because of a malfunctioning missile system.

Next India refused to take delivery of a modernized version of the Il-38, a naval patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, because its technical and tactical characteristics did not fit Indian requirements.

Even if America did offer the Kitty Hawk, New Delhi might well refuse the gift. It was built in 1961 and has been declared too old for the U.S. Navy. The Admiral Gorshkov is not only younger (she was laid down in 1978 and launched in 1982), but fully equipped. The U.S. carrier will need to be supplied with new power plants and support, navigation and other systems. Nobody can say now how much this would cost.

In other words, by rejecting the Admiral Gorshkov, India could fall into a new trap with the USS Kitty Hawk. But that would not be Russia's problem.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Geopolitical Diary: A Military Choice and Challenge for India?

February 27, 2008 0300 GMT

Source: Stratfor

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is visiting India. The most public issue between the two countries is the U.S. offer of civilian nuclear technology for India, despite the fact that New Delhi has declined to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. While this is not trivial, the most significant geopolitical dimension of the visit is the rumor that Gates plans to offer India the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, to be delivered when it is retired from the U.S. fleet in 2012. This rumor is persistent and widespread, though the Defense Department has strongly denied it. However, if the reports turn out to be true, such an offer would be an interesting and potentially effective U.S. move.

Related Link
India: Aircraft Carrier Dynamics
This would place the United States and Russia in competition with each other over India. In 2004, the Russians and Indians signed a deal under which New Delhi would acquire the Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov for $1.5 billion. But in 2007, the Russians surprised the Indians by raising their asking price. After intense negotiations, the Indians agreed to pay approximately $800 million extra. In return, the Russians agreed to improve the modernization package they had offered the Indians to include a new ski jump facility that would allow for the use of the Russian MiG-29. Given the potential aircraft sale, the Russians are ahead on the deal. However, as of Gates visit, the new agreement had not been signed.

If the rumors about a U.S. decision to offer the Kitty Hawk to India are true, the move clearly is designed to block the sale of the Gorshkov. An American and a Russian carrier in one fleet would create substantial problems for the Indians. Operating an aircraft carrier is one of the most complex military and engineering functions in the world. Having two different carriers made by two different countries housing two different sets of equipment separated not only by age but also by fundamentally different engineering cultures would create a hurdle that probably would be beyond anyone’s capability to manage — and certainly beyond India’s. If India wanted both carriers, it would have to sequence the acquisitions and have the second one rest on the lessons learned from the first.

So, Gates could be offering the Indians a choice and a challenge. The choice would be between U.S. carrier technology — which, even when obsolete by American standards, is the result of several generations of battle-tested systems — and a Soviet-era system that challenged the Soviet ship and aircraft designers. On that level, the choice would be easy.

But the potential U.S. offer also poses a challenge. India once was a historic ally of the Soviet Union and hostile toward the United States. After 9/11, U.S. and Indian interests converged. The United States offered India military technology, and the Indians bought a great deal of it. But as good as U.S. military technology is, each purchase increases Indian dependence on the United States for spare parts and support. It has not been easy shifting away from the Soviet weapons culture; years of training and a substantial Indian knowledge base rest on those weapons. If the Indians continue adopting American weapon systems, not only will they have to retrain and restructure their knowledge base, they also will get locked into American systems. And that locks them into dependence on the United States. If the United States were to cut the flow of weapons, parts and support, the Indians could be systematically weakened.

Buying the Gorshkov rather than the Kitty Hawk would give the Indians second-rank technology with fewer potential political strings. Since the Indians are not going to be challenging the American fleet, the Gorshkov might well suit their purposes and keep their non-American options open. This is where the Russian decision to renegotiate the Gorshkov’s price could hurt Moscow. The only reason to buy the Gorshkov instead of the Kitty Hawk is the perception of Russian reliability. But the Russians badly damaged this perception by renegotiating.

The Russians assumed that the Indians had no choice but to rework the deal. But the purpose of Gates’ visit could be to let India know that it does have a choice and that the Kitty Hawk is the safer option. If so, he will tell New Delhi that the Russians can’t be trusted. They have shown India how they will behave if they think it has no options. The United States isn’t going to be less trustworthy than that. And India doesn’t have to go with Russian carrier technology and aircraft; it can have U.S. carrier technology, an upgrade of the Kitty Hawk and F/A-18 battle-tested aircraft, trainers and advisers, rather than MiG-29s.

If Gates does make this case, the issue then will be whether the United States will permit some or all of the F/A-18s to be produced in India — something the Russians have permitted with other aircraft purchases. We suspect something could be worked out and U.S.-Indian relations will continue to develop if the Indian fear of being completely dependent on the United States can be overcome.

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