Washington, Feb 27 : US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who is currently on a two-day visit to India, is likely to offer the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk to New Delhi, the Texas-based private intelligence group Stratfor has said in a report.
Stratfor says that this rumour is persistent and widespread, though the Defence Department has strongly denied that it is likely to offer USS Kitty Hawk, to be delivered when it is retired from the fleet in 2012.
However, if the reports turn out to be true, such an offer would be an interesting and potentially effective US move, it added.
This would place the United States and Russia in competition with each other over India. In 2004, the Russia and India signed a deal under which New Delhi would acquire the Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov for 1.5 billion dollars.
If the rumours about the US 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.
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, Stratfor says.
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 US carrier technology and a Soviet-era system.
Stratfor says 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 US. If the US were to cut the flow of weapons, parts and support, the Indians could be systematically weakened, it added.
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 price.
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.
Stratfor says that Gates 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 US will permit some or all of the F/A-18s to be produced in India - something the Russians have permitted with other aircraft purchases.