Bulgaria Cancels Gowind-200 Corvettes from DCNS, Again
DCNS’ 103m, 1,950t (338 ft., 2,150 ton) Gowind corvettes are directly derived from the design and technological lead advances of the new Franco-Italian FREMM multi-mission frigates.
Following his October 2006 meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev initially gave the go-ahead for negotiations to buy 4 Gowind corvettes. A French-Bulgarian working group was then set up to finalize the estimated EUR 900 million (then about $1.25 billion) contract before the end of 2007, but Bulgaria subsequently backed out, saying that it could not afford the contract. Instead, in December 2007 the Bulgarian navy spent EUR 54 million on a pair of used frigates and a minesweeping vessel from Belgium.
Still, one should never underestimate the power of diplomacy. A July 2008 trip by President Sarkozy appeared to have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. On the other hand, one should never underestimate the power of economics.
The Gowind Class Corvette
Gowind is designed to deploy Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) and Underwater Unmanned Vehicles (UUVs), though it lacks the full mission module system in Denmark’s Standard Flex 300 corvettes or the USA’s littoral combat ships. An aft deck has been provided allowing for up to 10-ton class helicopters, or even Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) launch. The weapon system builds around a Setis combat system with a multi-functional radar, and 16 vertical-launch cells that can hold Aster 15, Mica-VL, or Crotale-VT1 anti-air missiles. It can also be armed with 8 MM40 Exocet or Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and carries a naval gun.
The Gowind corvette is shaped for stealth. Its single central mast replaces several sensor masts in other ships and provides both improved signature and a 360-degree view for radars and other sensors. The ship’s propulsion system is based on Combined Diesel and Diesel (CODAD) but has no gas exhaust chimney, channeling exhaust into the water-jets in order to create maneuverability in shallow waters, high-speed performance, improved infrared signature, and improved visibility for its top-mounted sensors.
The ships come in several sizes. Gowind-200 ships are distinguished from the Gowind-120 and -170 ships by their larger size, which allows them to carry a suite of anti-submarine warfare equipment in addition to their other armament.
The Gowind corvette deal may have wider ramifications for Bulgaria than the role it will play in that country’s military modernization. There are reports that only the first ship will be built in Lorienne, with the other 3 built in Varna by Bulyard Shipbuilding Industry, and equipment installed by the Bulgarian ship repairing yard Terem-KRZ Flotski Arsena. Dozens of Bulgarian engineers and technicians would need be trained in France as part of these arrangements, and French unions have already expressed concerns that outsourcing to Bulgaria’s cheaper shipyards may become permanent build locations as DCNS works to sell these ships abroad.
DCNS group Executive Vice President & COO Bernard Planchais alluded to these possibilities as he said in the Oct 5/07 corporate release that:
“In addition, achieving this major milestone opens up new business opportunities for this type of vessel on the expanding global market as navies around the world seek to modernise their fleets. Cooperation with Bulgaria is a key factor as we pursue development with new client countries, particularly in Eastern Europe.”
Contracts & Key Events
Oct 12/09: Bulgaria’s Sofia News Agency reports that Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had to cancel the Gowind deal during a meeting with French PM Francois Fillon. Worse, the 3-ship, EUR 54 million Belgian naval deal hasn’t quite gone according to Hoyle:
“Borisov said the commitment made by the three-party coalition government for the purchase of the French corvettes is not feasible at the moment because the country’s previous rulers not only did not slate any money in the budget for such splurge, but Bulgaria now faces the need of BGN 150-160 M [DID: up to EUR 82 million/ $120 million] to repair the Belgium frigates bought by the “Stanishev” cabinet.
The Bulgarian PM pointed out his predecessors forecast an unimaginable, unfounded 4,7% budget surplus in times when the world is rocked by a recession… Borisov said he expected a stronger reaction on the part of the French PM and was pleased with Fillon’s understanding. The French PM is quoted as saying that both countries are part of a larger European family and he understood and accepted Bulgaria’s hardships.”
Meanwhile the AFP reported [in French] that French officials said the purchase was only “suspended.” And according to Reuters [in French] the two countries are also discussing the possible privatization of a thermal power plant in Sofia that might involve partly state-owned French utility firms.
Nov 27/08: Jane’s reports that Thales Air Systems is negotiating with the Bulgarian Army to sell its vertically-launched Crotale Naval VT1 defense missile system for the Gowind Class corvettes. The Sofia News Agency adds that Bulgaria’s deal for the purchase of two French Gowind corvettes is still under negotiations.
The original Crotale Naval system fielded in the 1980s used the Matra R.550 missile. The hypervelocity VT1 missile was introduced in the 1990s as an upgrade, creating a Mach 3.5 missile with a range of 15 km/ 9 miles and a 13 kg blast-fragmentation warhead. In late October 2008, Thales carried out the first vertical firing of the Crotale VT1.
The VT1s main customer is currently the South Korean Army, who bought them for use on land. New French and Italian ships are shifting toward MBDA’s Aster-15 and Aster-30 air defense missiles in their vertical launchers, the multinational RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow has become NATO’s short-medium range standard, and Raytheon’s RIM-116 RAM missile has gained strong traction as a competing short range solution – leaving few naval market openings for the Crotale VT1. This could make the Gowind sale an important opportunity. Jane’s | Sofia News Agency.
July 18/08: Belgium has concluded the sale of 3 navy vessels to Bulgaria. Some administrative paperwork still has to be finalized.
July 14/08: French ambassador to Bulgaria Etienne de Poncins reveals that DCNS/Armaris has applied for the privatization of the Bulgarian Defence Ministry’s Terem – KRZ Naval Arsenal shipyard in Varna. The Varna factory is one of 4 factories considered strategic for the state so only 66% of it will be sold.
Rumors place the level of investment in the shipyard at EUR 500 million if DCNS succeeds. The French shipbuilder plans to build one of Bulgaria’s Gowind Class frigates at Varna, and would like to make the shipyard a future repair center. Sofia Echo | Sofia News Agency | Focus News, Bulgaria.
July 4/08: Never underestimate the power of diplomacy. Despite previous refusals to re-open the issue, Bulgaria has provisionally agreed to buy 2 Gowind corvettes instead of 4, in an order estimated at EUR 400 – 450 million. The decision comes during a visit by French President Sarkozy that includes the signing of a wider strategic partnership between the 2 nations. Alex Bivol of the Sofia Echo draws a second connection, however: the impending EC report re: Bulgarian progress in tackling organized crime, and over EUR 500 million in frozen EC funding to Bulgaria. Sofia Echo report | Focus News, Bulgaria | Reuters.
Dec 7/07: Bulgaria decides that it cannot afford the Gowind Class, despite promises of 100% industrial offsets to the Varna shipyard and reports that the price had been lowered to EUR 780 million. Bulgaria’s defence minister Vesselin Bliznakov announces that instead, Bulgaria will buy 3 upgraded ships from Belgium for only EUR 54 million, payable over 8 years. The ships are 2 frigates (almost certainly the Wielingen and the Westdiep, both commissioned in January 1978), and the M992 Myosotis minesweeper of the Tripartite Class. Bulgaria already operates an upgraded second-hand Wielingen Class frigate from Belgium, after buying it for EUR 23 million and renaming it from Wandelaar to Drazki (Intrepid).
Oct 5/07: DCNS issues a corporate release, touting Bulgaria’s agreement in principle. Contract negotiations will now begin.