Egypt Buys Mistrals; Kitting Out With KA-52 & KA-52K
September 21/16: France has delivered its second Mistral class helicopter carrier to Egypt. The Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) vessel was handed over during a change of flag ceremony attended by the chiefs of staff of the Egyptian and French Navies on Friday in France. Dubbed the Anwar El Sadat, the ship, with its Egyptian crew, will now take part in an exercise with the French Navy before sailing to its homeport of Alexandria.
In August 2009, Russian media reported that their country was planning to take a radical step, and buy a French BPC-210 Mistral Class amphibious assault ship (BPC/LHD) by the end of 2009. The outlet quoted the Chief of the Russian General Staff, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, who said that: “We are negotiating the purchase of one ship at present, and later planning to acquire 3-4 ships [of the same class] to be jointly built in Russia.” That plan eventually came true, with a contract for 2 ships, and a possible follow-on for 2 more.
France currently operates 3 Mistral Class LHDs, after buying a 3rd using economic stimulus funds. Unlike other LHD designs, the Mistral Class can’t operate fixed wing aircraft, and some observers in Russia and elsewhere classify at as an LHA. Regardless, it’s an important tool of power projection. Mistral Class ships can carry and deploy up to 16 helicopters, including attack helicopters like France’s Tiger or Russia’s Ka-50/52. Their main punch revolves around 4 landing barges or 2 medium hovercraft, however, which deliver armored vehicles, tanks, and soldiers to shore. Vessels of this class are equipped with a 69-bed hospital, and could be used as amphibious command ships.
Russia wants that kind of versatility – even as her neighbors fear it. After Russia’s annexation of Ukraine and the continued covert war in Eastern Ukraine, this contract became a major point of contention between Russia and NATO members.
Mistral’s Meaning: A Method to their Madness?
The Russian order represented an extension of some larger trends, but it was still a sea change on several fronts: strategic, tactical, and industrial.
Strategic: For one thing, it’s the first major arms import deal since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. That, in itself, is a huge shift. The second big change is that Russia’s current defense procurement program through 2015 didn’t even envision the construction or purchase of large combat ships.
Clearly, Russian thinking is changing. The Pacific is becoming a critical strategic theater, and Russia has placed extra strategic emphasis on its influence networks in the Eastern Mediterranean. Mistral Class LHDs, designed for both a large helicopter aviation role as well as amphibious landing and support of troops, would go a long way toward improving Russia’s capabilities in these areas.
February 2011 reports had suggested that the first 2 ships would be deployed to the Pacific Fleet near Vladivostok, but it’s certainly possible to shift the ships to other theaters given enough time, infrastructure, and planning.
By 2014, with Crimea annexed, a civil war in the Ukraine, and the Middle East facing a modern production of the 30 Years’ War, Moscow was talking about basing the ships in their namesake home ports: RFS Vladivostok on the Pacific at Uliss Bay, near Vladivostok; and RFS Sevastopol in newly-annexed Crimea’s port of Sevastopol.
Tactical: Control of littoral regions, which includes large stretches of Russia’s coasts, zones like the Baltic Sea and much of the Black Sea, and influence along Middle Eastern coasts, depends heavily on helicopters and UAVs. Russian naval capabilities are limited in these areas, and during the recent war with Georgia, Russia failed to control the Georgian coast.
Russia’s Mistral Class ships will carry Ka-29K utility helicopters, and navalized Ka-52K Alligator coaxial scout/attack helicopters. Other possibilities include anti-submarine helicopters, radar-carrying airborne early warning helicopters, and UAVs.
When this potent aviation punch is combined with the ships’ troop landing capabilities, the new class offers Russia a whole new dimension of offensive and influence operations.
Industrial: The other aspect of the government’s changing thinking may well be industrial. Russia’s shipbuilding industry is clearly experiencing difficulties. Major shipbuilders have defaulted on commercial contracts, and fiascos like the Admiral Gorshkov refit for India have blackened the global reputation of Russian defense products. Any Mistral Class ship built in Russia would represent a naval project whose scale Russia hadn’t seen in well over a decade – which is why initial construction will take place in France. The fact that Russia was even discussing a Mistral buy indicated a certain lack of confidence in Russian shipbuilding.
On the other hand, this Mistral order may be an opportunity for Russian shipbuilding. If construction in Russia is preceded by training in France, as the first ships are built. If engineering and project management expertise are brought back to those shipyards from France to supervise the Russian portion. If infrastructure investments are made within Russia. If all of those things are done, the Mistral order could represent a key step forward in revitalizing Russia’s naval defense sector, following its decimation in the wake of the Cold War.
France, Russia, and the “Competition”
The foundations for Franco-Russian cooperation on a program of this size have been laid on several fronts over the last few years. France’s Thales already provides components for Russia’s front line military equipment, from tank gunnery sights to avionics and targeting pods for Russian-built fighters. Recent memoranda of understanding for cooperation in naval R&D (Thales) and defense R&D more generally (EADS) build on the 2006 MoU between DCN and the Russian government to develop technical, industrial and commercial co-operations between the Mistral’s builder and Russia’s naval defense industry.
Persistent reports from Russia indicated that the Mistral was not the only option Russia was investigating. Reports consistently cited Spain, where Navantia makes the BPE and related Canberra Class LHDs. These ships have a “ski ramp” up front that the Mistral lacks, and have the ability to operate STOL/STOVL fighters in addition to helicopters. The other country cited was the Netherlands. Royal Schelde’s Rotterdam Class is a more conventional LPD design with good helicopter capacity, but without a flattop deck.
In the end, it appears that these reports of interest served mostly as bargaining chips, in order to get better terms from the French for the ships that Russia had always wanted.
The Vladivostok Class LHDs
Mistral Class ships are slightly smaller than contemporaries like Navantia’s BPE/ Canberra Class LHDs, or Italy’s Cavour Class aircraft carrier/LHDs, and lack the ski jump that gives their contemporaries fixed-wing aviation capability. Exercises off the American coast have demonstrated compatibility with heavy-lift helicopters in the front (#1) landing slot, however, and well deck compatibility with LCAC hovercraft as well as the conventional landing ships.
As such, the 21,300 ton Mistral Class “BPC” (Batiments de Projection et de Commandement) ships operate as helicopter carriers and amphibious assault transports, with secondary capabilities as command ships, and naval hospitals. Propulsion comes from 2 electric-powered maneuverable thruster pods, similar to those used on cruise ships, with 2 more bow thrusters for added maneuverability in tight situations. The Russian Vladivostok Class will include some unique features, but it will be strongly based on the Mistral Class.
Mistral Class vessels normally carry 450 equipped troops for up to 6 months, but can raise this figure to 700 troops or evacuees for short periods. Normal hospital capacity is 69 beds, with a fully-equipped operating room. That capacity can also be expanded in emergencies, by appropriating other ship spaces. The command post section is not expandable, but has workstations for up to 150 personnel.
Vehicle storage capacity is 2,650 square meters, accommodating an estimated 60 wheeled armored vehicles, or 46 vehicles plus 13 AMX-56 Leclerc medium tanks, or 40 tanks plus associated munitions. Russian T-90 tanks have roughly the same dimensions as a Leclerc.
To get those vehicles ashore, Mistral Class ships can carry a number of different landing vessels, including standard LCMs, American LCAC hovercraft, and France’s innovative L-CAT landing catamarans. A 2012 report suggests that Russia will become the 1st export customer for the 80t capacity L-CAT LCM, which can raise and lower its cargo floor to switch between high speed transport and on-shore unloading. Alternatives would involve the smaller Russian Project 11770 Serna LCU, or a modified Project 21280 Dyugon craft LCM with lowered masts.
Mistral Class helicopter capacity is about 1,800 square meters, accommodating up to 16 machines with size “footprints” similar to the NH90 medium helicopter or Eurocopter Tiger scout/attack helicopter. The #1 landing spot, over the bow, has been tested with American CH-53E heavy-lift helicopters. It could accommodate most Russian helicopters for “lilly pad” operations, but the huge Mi-26 might be a stretch. Testing would be required, in order to know for sure.
Under current plans, Russia’s Vladivostok Class will carry Ka-52K Alligator coaxial scout/attack helicopters. The Ka-52s will add considerable attack punch, and their short range air-to-air missiles could make them extremely unpleasant for enemy fighters to tangle with.
They’ll also carry Ka-29TB utility helicopters, a slightly enlarged variant of the Russian “Helix family” design that’s optimized for troop transport and assault roles, with the ability to carry rockets and anti-tank missiles.
The Helix family is a larger set, however, with the slightly smaller Ka-27PL Helix operating as an anti-submarine helicopter, and the modified Ka-27PS available in a search and rescue role. The SAR role is necessary for any task force, and the Ka-27PL’s ASW role would be a useful capability. If Russia decided to add the Ka-31 Airborne Early Warning derivative on board, Vladivostok Class ships would be able to serve as true centerpieces of a naval task force.
Beyond those standard options, Russia’s UAV force is too nascent to factor in at this point, and indeed most of their operational UAVs are Israeli models. It would certainly be possible to operate Searcher II UAVs from a Mistral, but they aren’t armed, and could serve only in a reconnaissance role.
The key to any of these aviation capabilities is to add the necessary training and ancillary equipment investments.
Vladivostok Class: Weapons
As noted above, the ship’s most important weapons will be its helicopters.
Beyond that, the Mistral Class is built to commercial standards, rather than naval combat standards, and currently carries very light defensive systems: 4 machine gun stations, a pair of 30mm guns, and a pair of manual Simbad twin-launchers for MBDA’s very short-range Mistral anti-aircraft missiles. Deployment in zones that feature anti-ship missiles, such as the 2006 evacuation off of Lebanon, requires protective escort ships.
The Vladivostok Class be be similarly armed. With respect to the transfer of French military technology, and especially questions raised about the SENIT-9 combat system and SIC-21 fleet command system, DCNS had this to say:
“A Russian combat management system will be installed on board in France. The communication system will integrate Russian communication equipment with French equipment. Some of these equipment will be installed and integrated with the French equipment, some Russian equipment will be installed in Russia. The radar is French. ESM(Electronic Support Measures, detects & pinpoints incoming radar emissions) is not planned on board. Only the pre-installation of the self-defence (A360, Gibkha) will be done in France. The installation will be done in Russia, after the delivery of the ship.”
AK-630 systems are Russian 30mm radar-aimed gatling guns used for close-in defense. Drawings from DCNS suggest that the Vladivostoks will carry 2 of these, along with 2 SA-N-10/ Gibkha 3M-47 quad-launchers fitted with 4 very short range SA-24 Grinch/ 9K338 Igla-S missiles. Four DP-65 anti-saboteur grenade launchers will also be scattered around the ship.
Other Russian Modifications
The Russian ships may include a number of changes, to the point of making them a variant class.
The biggest change appears to be an air wing of 30 helicopters, instead of 16, but that could be a mirage. Russian Ka-27/29/31 naval helicopters have smaller footprints than the Mistral’s base NH90, owing to their design, while the Ka-52 attack helicopter is comparable. Some natural increase to about 18 on board is possible, therefore, but the Russian official who gave that figure spoke of combined ship and land-based elements, in order to ensure fast rotation of the helicopters for repairs, or replace combat losses. Russian equipment doesn’t have an outstanding reliability record, and training will require set-asides, so a wing of 30 to deploy 16-18 helicopters is plausible.
Other helicopter-related changes include raised hangars to accommodate taller Russian coaxial designs. Changing overall ship height would change the ship’s balance, but squeezing other decks would change capacity for other key items. It will be interesting to see how the Russian design decides to cope.
Structurally, weather is the first priority. Operations within Russia’s Pacific and Northern fleets will require some hull strengthening to guard against ice damage, which may squeeze internal space a bit more, and parts of the flight deck will need more power for de-icing. The well deck door will reportedly close completely, eliminating the Mistrals’ top opening. Finally, drawings show a modified bridge structure with less protected forward visibility, and more and larger radomes around the ship to accommodate Russian equipment.
For Russian sailors, however, some of the Vladivostok Class’ most important features may be more basic: hot water to shower in, comfortable bunking quarters, etc. Given the state, age, and design philosophy of most current Russian navy vessels, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Russian Vladivostoks soon earn an unofficial sailor’s nickname with the word “Dacha” in it.
Contracts and Key Events
September 21/16: France has delivered its second Mistral class helicopter carrier to Egypt. The Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) vessel was handed over during a change of flag ceremony attended by the chiefs of staff of the Egyptian and French Navies on Friday in France. Dubbed the Anwar El Sadat, the ship, with its Egyptian crew, will now take part in an exercise with the French Navy before sailing to its homeport of Alexandria.
June 3/16: Egypt has taken over the first of its new Mistral-class helicopter carriers in a ceremony in the French city of Toulouse. The country’s Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi was in attendance with his French counterpart with the vessel to be named after Egypt’s famous strong-man President Gamal Abdel-Nasser.
March 18/16: Negotiations between Russia and Egypt over communications equipment for the Egyptian Navy’s two new Mistral-class helicopter carriers is progressing well. The French made vessels initially intended for Russia had several armament, command-and-control, navigation systems, as well as radio and electronic equipment taken out in accordance with the terms of the cancellation of the sale. The Egyptians now seem to be turning to Russia to help provide these systems, after purchasing navalized Ka-52 helicopters from Moscow. It’s believed that Cairo is seeking radio and electronic equipment worth at least $1 billion USD to equip and operationalize the carriers, amounting to a nice chunk of money for Russia.
February 26/16: Delivery of Mistral warships to Egypt is expected for September this year as 180 Egyptian naval officers prepare to go to France at the end of March for training. It’s believed that tactical training is being provided by specialists from manufacturer DCNS, shipbuilders STX France, and DCI Navfco, as well as training and support consultants to an advance group already there. Each vessel can carry 16 helicopters, four amphibious landing craft, 70 armored vehicles, and 450 soldiers; with the helicopters on board to be navalized Ka-52K attack helicopters from Russia. The sale sees Egypt’s arms sales from France increasingly grow, with negotiations ongoing between them and DCNS for four Gowind corvettes.
February 8/16: Egyptian Navy crews have arrived in France to prepare for the delivery of two Mistral helicopter carriers due in June and September. Training will continue until the end of March. The French built vessels, which had been originally destined for Russia, have subsequently had their communications equipment replaced with Egyptian systems. In a separate deal, Egypt will purchase navalized versions of the Ka-52K attack helicopter designed for the Russian purchase. With the initial sale to Moscow billed at around $1.3 billion, Egypt has enjoyed a slight reduction, purchasing the vessels for $1 billion.
November 11/15: Egyptian plans to acquire Ka-52K naval attack helicopters – reported in October – will not go ahead until the Russians have finished dismantling the sensitive equipment on board the Mistral LHDs they will equip. Russian specialists began removing sensitive communications systems, combat information systems and other equipment in September [Russian], after the Egyptians announced the acquisition of the two Mistrals, signing a contract in October. Completion of the removals is expected in November, with Egypt yet to submit a formal request for the helicopters.
October 22/15: Jane’s is reporting that Egypt is planning to order Kamov Ka-52K Katran helicopters to equip it’s newly-acquired Mistral LHDs, in addition to the 50 Ka-52 Alligator helicopters it signed for in September. The navalized Ka-52K was supposed to equip the Mistrals had they been delivered to Russia, with Moscow reportedly planning to acquire 16 Ka-52K helicopters per vessel.
October 2/15: The Mistral LHD resale to Egypt has cost the French taxpayer between EUR200 and EUR250 million, according to a report [French] delivered by the country’s Senate. Industry has also seen a loss of approximately EUR90 to EUR146 million, including profit loss and uninsured expenses such as maintenance. The two Mistrals previously destined for Russia are expected to be delivered to Egypt next year, following a deal announced earlier this month.
September 24/15: Egyptian and French leaders have negotiated a deal for the two Mistral LHDs owned by the French state following a deal with Moscow in August. The Egyptians are also reported to be in talks over acquiring two more Gowind corvettes, to supplement the four ordered in 2014. However, reports [French] indicated that there was a brief sticking point over the price of the two Mistrals. Reports from August indicated that Saudi Arabia [French] may be financing the Egyptians, with Malaysia also previously indicating interest in the Mistrals.
As France celebrates offloading the two vessels, French personnel began on Wednesday to remove sensitive Russian equipment [Russian] installed on the LHDs, joined by Russian experts to assist in the removal/prevent any unwanted prying into the systems. The systems are thought to collectively value around EUR50 million and include combat information systems, missile fire controls, helicopter landing modules and artillery systems.
September 15/15: With Egypt appearing to lead the pack of prospective buyers for the two French state-owned Mistral LHDs, the Russian government has reportedly indicated that if the North African state were to acquire the two ships then the sensitive Russian equipment installed on them could remain in place, after stating earlier this month that this equipment would be removed. The same reportedly goes for India, with both countries established markets for Russian military hardware. With reports indicating that Saudi Arabia may finance the acquisition of the vessels for Egypt, in order to leverage the country’s navy as a regional proxy, the Egyptians have recently purchased a number of French naval vessels, including a FREMM frigate and Gowind corvettes.
September 09/15: The sensitive work of removing Russian equipment from the Mistrals that France is refusing to deliver will take place in a few weeks. Among the sensitive systems are combat information control systems, missile fire control, and the helicopter landing control module.
August 28/15: France has reportedly returned Russia’s $900 million for failing to deliver the two Mistral class helicopter carriers it had manufactured. Interestingly, the Sputnik News report indicates that Russia feels it has a right to grant or withhold permission to France to resell the craft to a third nation. This could conceivably be the case were Russia contributing significant design work or classified specifications.
August 26/15: France is reportedly in talks with Malaysia to take on the two helicopter carriers initially purchased by Russia. France found it impolitic to sell to the Russians after various instances of Russian ill behavior. Malaysia joins a lengthening list of countries reportedly interested in the craft, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
August 10/15: Saudi Arabia is reportedly [French] looking to purchase France’s pair of Mistral LHDs for Egypt, following an agreement between Russia and France last week which opened up the possibility of a foreign buyer for the two ships. China expressed interest in the two ships when negotiations between Paris and Moscow began in May. Egypt has been a major customer for French shipyard DCNS in recent years, including a FREMM frigate and Gowind corvettes.
August 7/15: Moscow and Paris have reached an agreement over the Mistral LHDs currently sitting idle in St. Nazaire, with France cancelling the two contracts and returning Russia its sunk investment. The two ships are now property of the French state, which suspended their delivery in November last year in response to Russia’s support for separatists in Ukraine. Negotiations began in May, with the total amount to be paid by France reported to be less than the €1.2 billion value of the original June 2011 contract. The French government is now looking for possible buyers for the two ships, with several potential customers reportedly interested.
May 21/15: One of the Mistral LHDs originally destined for Russia departed St. Nazaire on Wednesday for a third set of sea trials. The Sébastopol is one of two Mistrals at the heart of a diplomatic spat between Paris and Moscow, with negotiations having begun earlier this week.
May 8/15: French newspaper Le Figaro has reported [French] that the French government may opt to scuttle the two Mistral-class LHDs originally built for Russia, with the French Navy having little desire [French] to integrate the ships into their own fleet. The French have held off delivering the two vessels, originally ordered in 2011, owing to Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. Discussions between Russia’s Putin and France’s Hollande last month must have amounted to little, with the Russians previously pressing the French to make a decision on delivery by June.
April 14/15: Russian state defense export agency Rosoboronexport has stated that the French and Russian governments have two more contractually-stipulated months in the $1.5 billion Mistral contract to work out an agreement before Russia makes a decision based on the “terms and conditions set forth in the contract.”
March 4/15: 2nd ship to trials. France will soon have a second built-for-Russia Mistral class helicopter carrier on its hands. The first, the Vladivostok, is biding its time while France waits for a period during which Russia does not appear to be acting war-like against European allies. The second, the Sevastopol, should
start sea trials later this month.
Dec 11/14: negotiating tactics. Russia’s official TASS news agency relays a statement from “a high-rank source in the Russian defense sector” bearing the studied vagueness that is a trademark of Russian communications:
“The Navy has put construction of Russia’s own amphibious assault ships on a long-term program of shipbuilding for up to 2050 and these plans have been endorsed by the Defense Ministry. The document envisions (the emergence of) these ships, many such ships actually.”
Of course if Russia does want to do it alone they’re more than a decade away from having working ships, and if the Kremlin was confident in their own shipbuilding capabilities, they would not have gone to France in the first place. Russia obviously can’t come with an overnight homegrown substitute, but this is consistent with the overall messaging from Russia that they care, but not that much, and that they can operate with eyes set on a long term horizon. It sounds like the Russian are hedging to save face in case France does cancel the Mistral contract.
Dec 5-8/14: Politics. Jean-Yves Le Drian, in an interview discussing the French government’s ambiguous position, first repeated that ceasefire conditions needed to be fulfilled in Ukraine for the BPC delivery to proceed. Pressed by journalist Jean-Jacques Bourdin the defense minister finally said that the Russians had to realize that “one may never deliver [the ships].” A new ceasefire is supposed to start on December 9.
In past months French officials had stuck to postponing then at most freezing delivery until genuinely peaceful conditions could be observed in Ukraine. Given that fighting redoubled since the September ceasefire, France has little choice but to start making firmer declarations. Some, but not all, politicians from the UMP and FN right-wing parties have have criticized the (left-wing) government for its contractual wobbling.
All along, Russia’s official response had been to downplay any delivery delay as long as France would eventually fulfill its contractual obligations. But Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also used starker language in a press conference held on December 5:
“We have already had enough of this issue, it’s not our problem, it’s the problem of France’s reputation. And next, the contract must be strictly fulfilled.”
On December 6 President Hollande met with his Russian counterpart. Putin said that Mistrals had not even been discussed, an assertion that strains credulity. By Monday Presidential aid Yuri Ushakov said that it would suit Russia if France returned their money.
Nov. 28/14: Theft aboard Mistral #2. The public prosecutor in Saint Nazaire, the French port where the Sevastopol is under construction, told French media that computing hardware and communications software from Thales had been stolen aboard the ship. There was no confidential information on the equipment. The theft happened between November 18 and 25 and is under investigation. Source: Ouest France [in French].
Nov. 21/14: Sevastopol launch and DCNS liability. The 2nd Mistral ship was launched from its dry dock in Saint Nazaire, one month later than expected. Though Coface, France’s export insurance agency, is covering the contract, DCNS is reportedly exposed to a gap of about €200 million that the company is trying to get the government to pay if they end up blocking the sale. That’s about a whole year worth of profit for the state-owned shipbuilder. Source: L’Opinion [in French].
Nov. 14/14: Vladivostok MMSI. Activist website “No Mistral for Putin” – yes, there is a website for that – is outraged that the Maritime Mobile Service Identity showed the ship under Russian flag for about a day. DID was not witness to this and can’t corroborate.
Sept 3/14: Politics. French President Francois Hollande issued a statement that RIA Novosti quoted as follows:
“The [French] security council has studied the situation in Ukraine. It is difficult. Russia’s recent actions in eastern Ukraine violate the principles of European security. The president of the republic stated that despite prospects for ceasefire, which is yet to be achieved and put into practice, present circumstances do not allow the delivery of the first helicopter carrier by France.”
The Russian military actually started training on the ship in June 2014, but the statement leaves lots of room to deliver the warship on Nov 1/14, or slightly later. With that said, other reports cite unnamed sources who say that the French are trying to figure out how to avoid added contract cancellation penalties, on top of the state-insured cost of refunding the 2-ship contract if it’s terminated. Pressure has been building on France, and the potential loss of equal or greater missile defense and attack helicopter competitions in Poland may be introducing new complications. Sources: Bloomberg, “France Said to Weigh Cost of Ditching Russia Mistral Deal” | Deutsche Welle, “France changes tack on Mistral warship delivery to Russia” | RIA Novosti, “France Puts Off Delivery of First Mistral-Class Helicopter Carrier to Russia” | Russia Today, “France says it cannot deliver Mistral warship to Russia over Ukraine” | Washington Post, “France backs off sending Mistral warship to Russia in $1.7 billion deal”.
Aug 5/14: Ka-52Ks ordered. IHS Jane’s reports that Russia has ordered its 32 Ka-52K helicopters for use with its Vladivostok Class LHDs. The order isn’t a surprise, it was just a question of when the contract would be placed. See “Russia’s Ka-52 Alligator Scout-Attack Helicopters” for full coverage.
32 Ka-52K helicopters
July 30/14: First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitiry Rogozin tells ITAR-TASS that if the 2nd Mistral ship is held up, Russia will pursue full contract penalties, then build an aircraft carrier on its own. Not only did they delivery INS Vikramaditya to India, but “…now we have shipyards with dry docks in Crimea and they presuppose ability to build ships of this class.”
That may be true, but standing up a new project of this scale in a new shipyard isn’t trivial, and creates both extra costs and cost ovverruns. India ended up paying $2.9 billion for Vikramaditya, which was modified from the pre-existing Admiral Gorshkov. If one somehow assumed that Russia could build a new one for just $2 billion, which strikes us as unlikely, it would still be more than double the cost of a Vladivostok Class ship. ITAR-TASS, “Russia to build own aircraft carrier if France annuls Mistral supplies — deputy PM”.
July 27/14: Basing. Russia seems to be changing its mind, and now plans to deploy a Mistral ship with the 5th Squadron in the Black Sea, where its focus would project into the Eastern Mediterranean:
“The Russian navy said during Sunday’s Navy Day celebrations that a French-made Mistral-class carrier will become the flagship of its budding Mediterranean Fleet, while Western leaders continue to pressure Paris into withholding the delivery of the warships…. A navy spokesman told Interfax on Sunday that the second ship has “every opportunity” to become the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet by 2016…. The Black Sea Fleet’s admiral, Alexander Vitko, said Sunday that …. “We have begun the construction of new naval stations and airfields”… adding that new aircraft for the fleet have already been flown in…. Looking further ahead, the Black Sea Fleet will receive 20 new vessels by 2020, Vitko said…”
RFS Sevastopol’s delivery is expected in 2015, so the article’s assertion that meeting this basing schedule would force RFS Vladivostok to be deployed in Crimea is wrong. Sources: Moscow Times, “Second Mistral Warship to Head Russia’s Mediterranean Fleet”.
July 22/14: France will still deliver RFS Vladivostok on schedule, despite criticism from the USA, UK, and other NATO countries. Indeed, President Hollande hits back at Britain for allowing so many Russian oligarchs and their finances in London, while continuing to export military equipment themselves. With respect to the sale, Hollande says:
“For the time being, a level of sanctions [“level 3″] has not been decided on that would prevent this delivery…. Does that mean that the rest of the contract – the second Mistral – can be carried through? That depends on Russia’s attitude”
Since level 3 sanctions against the entire Russian economy are extremely unlikely no matter what, Hollande is essentially saying that the sale will go through. Sources: Bloomberg, “Hollande Threat to Cancel Russia Mistral Warship May Be Empty” | EurActiv, “Hollande: Delivery of second Mistral warship depends on Russia’s ‘attitude'” | Moscow Times, “Under Fire, France Stands by Mistral Warship Sale to Russia” | RIA Novosti, “France Must Adhere to Mistral Contract Instead of Blackmailing Moscow – Russian Lawmaker” | RIA Novosti, “UK Continues Exporting Arms to Russia Despite Call for New Sanctions” | Voice of America, “France Criticized for Warships Contract with Moscow” || UK Parliament, “MPs call for tightening over arms exports for external repression” | Moscow times, “Cameron: Selling Mistral to Russia Is Now Unthinkable; Hollande Disagrees” | The Telegraph, “French lash out at British ‘hypocrisy’ over Russian oligarchs” .
July 17/14: MH17. Russian-backed separatists, who fight alongside Russian special forces units in Ukraine’s civil war, use an SA-11 missile to destroy a Malaysian Airlines 777 flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. The plane it hit while flying at 33,000 feet, and all 298 people on board are killed.
MH17 shot down
June 5/14: Politics. Germany steps in and defends France’s willingness to honor their contract with Russia. Chancellor Angela Merkel:
“The question of exports to Russia falls under [EU sanctions] stage three. About when to trigger stage three, if there is more destabilisation we have agreed, also myself bilaterally with the US President, that if [Ukrainian] elections take place we won’t trigger stage three. We see elections have taken place successfully….”
Poland has added their voice to public opposition, which may well cost France a major air and missile defense contract there. Regardless, French President Hollande is holding to the same position Germany is articulating, promising that the Vladivostok would be delivered in October 2014. Meanwhile, the article quote an anonymous EU diplomat asking why France should pay a price, when UK oil firm BP has just signed a major deal with Rosneft. All very predictable. Sources: EU Observer, “Germany backs France on Russia warship contract” | Le Monde, “La Pologne opposée a la vente de Mistral a Moscou” | Vice Magazine, “Why Is France Building Warships For Russia?”.
May 29/14: Politics. Eliot Engel [D-NY], Ranking Member of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, writes to NATO’s Secretary General, urging the alliance to buy France’s 2 Vladivostok (Mistral) Class LHD ships as a pooled asset, instead of selling them to Russia. He’s joined by Rep. Michael Turner [R-OH, Chair of the US delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly], and Rep. William Keating [D-MA, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging threats].
The idea makes sense on paper, because it fills a critical military gap. But the lawmakers’ obliviousness to France’s position, and to the reality of European defense budgets, is stereotypically American – in a bad way. It doesn’t help that the USA is reportedly about to try fining France’s Bank Paribas $10 billion for violating sanctions against Sudan and Iran. They’re guilty, but rightly or wrongly, France is less likely to listen to American offers under these circumstances. More to the point, any offer of this nature needs to be serious, and come with serious financial backing. Hope is not a plan. Sources: House Committee on Foreign Affairs Democrats, “Engel: Stop Sale Of French Warships To Russia” | The Economist, “The fine on BNP Paribas: How much is too much?” | Les Echoes, “Quand l’Amérique perd la raison”.
Feb 26 – March 18/14: Crimea annexed. Massive street protests force Ukrainian President Yanukovych to flee, shortly after he signs treaties that abandon relationships with the EU and tie Ukraine to Russia. Yanukovych signed with a metaphorical economic gun to his head, but the guns quickly become real as Russian troops without identifying markings begin capturing Crimea’s Parliament building, key airports, etc. On March 18/14, Russian President Vladimir Putin formally annexes Crimea into Russia, including the key naval base of Sevastopol, after a hurried referendum takes place in that region.
Very limited American sanctions draw open and public disdain from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, and Europe’s response is equally weak despite its bluster. France provides Exhibit B in this farce, and validates Russia’s confidence that European governments can be had.
In the interview with France’s TF1 channel, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius warns Russia against further “escalations” in Ukraine, which at this point would involve invasion and annexation of eastern Ukraine. “If Putin carries on like this, we could consider canceling the sales [of the Mistral ships],” he says. By the next day, he’s backtracking, saying that “What is being envisaged is the suspension of these contracts [not cancellation – suspension until when?] but … that would only be in the event of us moving to a third level of sanctions and we are not there yet…” Getting to that level would, of course, involve a consensus within the EU that won’t happen, along with financial sanctions against Russian oligarch assets imposed by a British government that’s showing no inclination to do so. Putin’s speech proclaiming Crimean independence says that Russia has no further intentions in Ukraine, which seems to rule out escalation anyway. Meanwhile, Rogozin decides that it’s France’s turn as the target of his Twitter account:
“France is starting to undermine confidence it is a reliable provider in the very sensitive sector of military and technical cooperation…. All those political waves around the referendum in Crimea will soon subside, but our countries will have to continue working together…”
One presumes that traditional diplomatic cables and notes are reserved for countries one actually respects. Sources: Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti, “France May Scrap Russian Warship Deal Over Ukraine Crisis” | Canada’s CBC, “Vladimir Putin defends Crimea vote in Moscow speech” | CNN, “Ukraine cries ‘robbery’ as Russia annexes Crimea” | Der Spiegel, “Ticking Timebomb: Moscow Moves to Destabilize Eastern Ukraine”.
Crimea annexed by Russia
Feb 11/14: Infrasructure. Russia has begun expanding the naval facilities at Uliss Bay, near Vladivostok, to house their new ship. Things look a lot better than they did in 1908, but it’s still going to be a lot of work. A 1.6 km berth will be created by extending the naval base’s quay to 2,700 meters, access roads and railways will be upgraded, they’ll “drastically” modernize the ammunition loading site, and existing water, electricity and communications systems will all get replaced.
Pacific Fleet commander Rear Admiral Sergei Avakyants said that basic infrastructure will be finished by October 2015, while the base will be ready to host the ships by the beginning of 2018. If they’re lucky, the construction standard will be better than the Olympic facilities in Sochi. Sources: RIA Novosti, “Russia Begins Construction of Mistral Ship Base”.
Oct 4/13: A “high-ranking defense industry official” adds some precision to Vladivostok’s final delivery date, telling RIA Novosti that it’s Nov 1/14. Sources: RIA Novosti, “Russia to Receive First Mistral Warship in November 2014”.
June 26/13: Sub-contractors. RIA Novosti reports that Baltiisky shipyard has floated out the Valdivostok’s stern, for towing to France on July 8/13 and an expected arrival at the main shipyard in on July 25/13. Vladivostok is scheduled for structural completion and float-out at Saint-Nazaire, France on Oct 15/13.
June 18/13: More for France. Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov tells reporters that stern construction for the first-of-class Vladivostok was being moved from the Severnaya Verf shipyard in St. Petersburg to the shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France for completion. It became clear to the Russians that their own shipyard wasn’t going to meet the deadline, and “we won’t take risks so as not to delay the contract”.
The Russians are hoping to move the completed ship to Russia as early as October 2013, in order to install Russian weapons, combat system, communication equipment, etc., and prepare the ship for delivery in 2014. The 2nd ship, Sevastopol, is scheduled for 2015 delivery, so Severnaya Verf will need to get it together fast. RIA Novosti.
June 17/13: Keel laying. The keel is officially laid for the future RFS Vladivostok. Source.
May 5/13: Industrial. South Korea’s STX group reportedly plans to sell its 66% stake in the St. Nazaire shipyard. The French state holds the other 34%. The South Koreans appear to have decided that the Vladivostok contract, and a December 2012 contract to build a large cruise ship for Royal Caribbean, aren’t enough for long-term success.
In order to sell, of course, they need a buyer. State nationalization is one option, but what does that really do for French politicians? Sources: Liberation, “Les chantiers de Saint-Nazaire entre deux eaux”.
March 17/13: Naval Recognition offers additional background concerning the new Vladivostok Class weapons and modifications from the initial Mistral design.
Jan 24-26/13: Taking fire. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin criticizes the Mistral Class while addressing a meeting of the Academy of Military Science:
“It’s very odd that ships for offloading a landing force, floating in our latitudes won’t work in temperatures below 7 degrees (Celsius)….”
That would be very odd if it were true, given that France often experiences temperatures below 7C. Rogozin didn’t explain the source of his remark, but the fact that he made it is instructive. It came hard on the heels of industrial criticisms from Military-Industrial Commission Deputy Head Ivan Kharchenko, who told a meeting of defense companies that:
“We have been discussing the absurdity of this earlier decision. It was the initiative of Serdyukov and it’s not the only damage he has inflicted to the government and the industry…”
Russia’s alternative domestic options for fielding a naval amphibious force aren’t exactly clear to outside observers, and Kharchenko did hedge by saying that it’s impossible to backtrack on the 2-ship Mistral deal now. Cancellation costs would be lethal, but ships #3 & 4 aren’t protected by a full contract, and a hostile trend appears to be gaining strength. Vladimir Putin campaigned hard in military-industrial cities during the last election, and these criticisms of the Vladivostok Class come on the heels of a turn away from an Iveco joint venture to produce wheeled armored vehicles in Russia. RIA Novosti | Rossiyskaya Gazeta’s RBH | UPI.
Preliminary design review passes; 1st keel laid; Ka-52K helicopter modifications; Russia ordering L-CATs?; Project cut from 4 to 2?
Dec 21/12: Just 2? Russia’s Vedemosti newspaper reports that Russia may cancel the 2nd pair of Mistral ships, quoting an unnamed “government source” and citing cost as an issue. It’s just an unconfirmed report at this point, but if it is true, cost is likely to be a secondary consideration. Much depends on the outcome of all the political reshufflings, now that defense minister Serdyukov has been fired and replaced by former emergencies minister Sergei Shoigu.
OSK United Shipbuilding Corp. says that they have not received any instructions from Russia’s defense ministry concerning the cancellation of ships #3 & 4. Both reports could be true, of course. The initial report said “may” cancel, and there’s no finalized contract in place to demand immediate notification. Lenta.RU via RusNavy | RIA Novosti.
Nov 23/12: L-CATs? Russia’s Ambassador to France, Alexandre Orlov, seems to announce that Russia will become the 1st export customer for France’s innovative landing catamarans:
“We signed a contract on the purchase of two Mistral Class ships. The first is already under construction in Saint-Nazaire, the second will follow. We also discussed the construction of two Mistral LHDs in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. Everything is on schedule. There are also additional contracts. We will buy small french boats that will be aboard the Mistral LHDs, they are landing catamarans…”
The only landing catamarans qualified for this class are France’s new EDA-R (L-CAT) vessels. They can carry up to 80t at up to 18 knots, if the central cargo platform is raised. Once the vessel reaches shore, that platform is lowered, and its cargo can walk or drive off. This performance approaches the capabilities of American options like LCAC/SSC hovercraft, at significantly lower cost. Navy Recognition.
Oct 23/12: STX France tells the Vzglyad newspaper that they’ll launch the Vladivostok’s hull in September 2013, before moving the ship to Toulon for outfitting. Commissioning dates are currently planned for 2014 and 2015, which could be a bit optimistic is there are delays integrating the ships’ Russian electronics and weapons, or delays in testing and crew preparation. RusNavy.
Oct 1/12: Keel-laying. Baltiysky Zavod shipyard places its 1st hull section of the Vladivostok on slipway “A”, where it’s formally accepted by STX France.
The shipyard is building hull sections for the 1st 2 ships, and metal cutting began on Aug 1/12. Metal cutting for ship #2, Sevastopol, is scheduled to begin in May 2013. RusNavy.
Sept 19/12: Air wings. Naval Recognition relays a report from Russia’s Izvestia newspaper, stating that each Vladivostok Class ship will have a combined air wing of 30 Ka-52K and Ka-29 helicopters. The unnamed Defense Ministry source is quoted as saying that:
“These will be air wings comprising carrier-based and land-based elements to ensure fast rotation of the helicopters for repairs or replacement due to combat losses.”
Aug 9/12: Ka-52K changes. Oboronprom confirms that Russia will build the navalized Ka-52K Alligator helicopter, which also prompts speculation about the changes involved. Past displays have shown folding rotor blades and folding wings, as well as the standard anti-corrosion treatments.
Navy Recognition says that the Ka-52K will also include a modified version of the MiG-35 fighter’s Zhuk-A AESA radar in the nose section, and will be able to carry Kh-31 Krypton or Kh-35 Kayak anti-ship missiles. Those missiles weigh in at over 600 kg/ 1,300 pounds each, however, which could make them challenging weapons for the helicopter to carry. Navy Recognition | Voice of Russia.
July 17/12: DCNS provides an update part-way through the project’s detail Design phase, which is expected to run into September 2012. While the design modifications are being finalized, STX shipyard in Saint Nazaire has begun building hull blocks for areas that aren’t likely to change. The first 100-tonne block will be delivered in September 2012 and laid down in early 2013, marking the formal beginning of block assembly in the shipbuilding dock.
Russia’s OSK shipyards will participate as a subcontractor, building 12 aft hull blocks for the ships. 2014 and 2015 are confirmed as the targets for delivery. DCNS.
April 2012: Successful completion of the Preliminary Design Review, which outlines DCNS’ revised design to take Russian concerns and needs into account. Detailed design studies were launched immediately afterwards. Source.
From framework to contract for 2 ships; Joint shipyard deal; Preliminary contract for ships #3 & 4.
Dec 2/11: RIA Novosti reports that Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation and the Baltiisky Zavod shipyard signed a RUB 2.5 billion ($80 million) contract to build hulls for the Navy’s 3rd and 4th Mistral LHDs, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in attendance.
Subsequent news leads one to question if RIA Novosti made an error in reporting on a sub-contract related to ships #1 & 2. The shipyard will be doing hull work for those 2 ships, and the amount tracks better with the expected level of Russian content.
Most people think of the ship’s hull as being a majority of a ship’s cost, but that’s not so. Russian defense officials had previously said Russia would account for 80% of labor inputs in building the 3rd and 4th warships, but that doesn’t mean anything close to 80% of the cost, most of which involves on-board equipment and ancillaries. Different relative levels of manufacturing automation can also produce a figure of 80% labor input, without producing 80% of cost or value in basic construction. Time will tell.
Contract re: ships 3 & 4?
Nov 30/11: Russia’s ITAR/TASS quotes an unnamed DCNS official:
“Russia made an advance payment several weeks ago, and the construction works are about to start… The first Mistral ship will be supplied to the Russian Navy in 2014 and the second in 2015,”
Sept 3/11: Navalized Alligators. While discussing a $4+ billion Russian contract with state-controlled Oboronprom for 140 military helicopters by 2020 (no type breakdown), General Director Andrey Reus confirms that the 1st navalized Ka-52K Alligator attack/scout helicopter shipment for use on Russia’s new Mistral LHDs will finish by the end of 2012. RIA Novosti | Voice of Russia.
July 1/11: RIA Novosti quotes Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, and Navy commander Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky, as they discuss the buy’s training & industrial angles. Serdukov:
“We will send to France 70 people, who will be charged with servicing those ships… At the same time, we will train two Mistral crews in Russia.”
“The purchase of Mistral shipbuilding technology will help Russia to grasp large-capacity shipbuilding. It is important for construction of ships like the future ocean-going class destroyer and later an aircraft carrier…”
June 22/11: Latvia asks for help. Latvia’s Defense Minister Artis Pabriks reportedly says that:
“If these helicopter carriers appear in the Baltic Sea, Latvia will ask France and NATO in general for military and political support… The size of this support should be adequate to restore the balance of forces in the region.”
June 20/11: South Korea’s STX, who builds Mistral ships at its St. Nazaire facility, announces a $1 billion deal with Russia’s state-owned United Shipbuilding to build a shipyard in St. Petersburg, Russia. STX Group will undertake engineering, procurement and construction on a lump-sum, turnkey basis. Agence France Presse | KOMEC | NASDAQ | Reuters.
Joint shipyard deal
June 17/11: France & Russia have reportedly agreed on a full contract for the Mistrals, to be signed by June 21/11, but key questions remain unanswered in public reports. Accounts conflict, but the bulk of reports place the contract at EUR 1.12 billion billion for 2 Mistral-class assault ships from STX in France, to receive final outfitting by naval shipbuilders in Russia. DCNS will be the prime contractor, and will also integrate the operations and communication systems. Shipbuilding will be subcontracted to the STX shipyard at Saint-Nazaire in western France, who has further sub-contracted Russian shipbuilder OSK for part of the hull. Deliver is slated for 2014 and then 2015.
The total project cost appears to be EUR 1.7 million for these 2 ships, with an option for another 2 ships that would be assembled in Russia. The sale of these 2 ships to Russia represents more than 1,000 full-time jobs in France over a period of 4 years.
The unanswered questions revolve around the transfer of French military technology, esp. the SENIT-9 combat system and SIC-21 fleet command system. State-controlled United Shipbuilding Corp. spokesman Roman Trotsenko told Rossia 24 television that Russian industries will produce about 40% of the first 2 ships, which could suggest significant insertions of Russian technology. On the other hand, he also said that the command and control system would come from France.
The US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R-FL-18], blasted the sale, arguing that it threatened regional security even as Russia was becoming more threatening toward its neighbors. DCNS | STX Europe | Moscow Times | RIA Novosti op-ed | Voice of Russia | Expatica France | Radio France International | MarineLog | US House Foreign Affairs Committee statement.
Contract for first 2 ships
June 14/11: RIA Novosti reports that the governments of Russia and France signed a protocol of intent for the Mistrals, but not a final contract, on June 10/11.
It adds that electronics continue to be an issue. France is reportedly not comfortable delivering the Mistral’s NATO-standard SENIT-9 naval tactical data system with a production license, and doesn’t want to include its SIC-21 fleet command system at all.
May 27/11: At a G8 press conference, French President Sarkozy discusses the Mistral sale. He portrays the Russian situation as stable with the end of the Cold War, and the sale of a ship like the Mistrals as normal within the current relationship. Key excerpts:
“…la Russie est un grand pays avec des matières premières. L’Europe a beaucoup de technologies, nous avons tout à construire ensemble… Voilà, donc, soit on est ami, soit on ne l’est pas. Mais si on est ami, si on est partenaire et si on est allié, je ne vois vraiment pas pourquoi on ne devrait pas avoir des projets ensemble… Vous savez il y a une chose dont je suis sûr, si ce n’est pas nous qui les avions construit, d’autres, y compris en Europe, auraient été heureux de les construire. Je pense notamment à nos amis espagnols.”
May 3/11: RIA Novosti notes that former senior Navy official Nikolai Borisov (“internal reasons”) and first deputy defense minister, Vladimir Popovkin (to head Roskosmos) eere relieved of their duties in late April 2011, and quotes an unnamed Russian defense ministry source as saying that:
“New representatives will take part in the next round of Russian-French Mistral talks… At the moment, they are receiving the necessary documentation on the contract… The replacement of the negotiation team is just a technicality… The negotiation process has made great progress, and the sides are well aware of each other’s stance. The question now is whether France will sell Russia ships with all systems and equipment.”
March 15/11: France’s Le Figaro reports that Mistral negotiations are starting to produce friction within the French government, who see allied pressure continuing and issues with Russia over price and technology transfer. An excerpt:
“Aujourd’hui, la France serait prêt à vendre à la Russie presque toute la technologie qui équipe le Mistral, l’un des fleurons de la marine nationale… Mais le Mistral possède des technologies sensibles sur lesquelles seule la France a autorité. Selon les informations obtenues par Le Figaro, Paris aurait ainsi accepté de céder les systèmes de communication et de commandement. Avec leurs codes. Or l’un des systèmes de communication ultrasophistiqués du Mistral, Sinik 9, est un dérivé direct de Sinik 8, celui qui équipe le Charles de Gaulle ! Même le directeur des chantiers navals de Saint-Nazaire a reconnu qu’il existait «un risque» lié aux transferts de technologie… Paris et Moscou ont encore quelques semaines pour trouver un compromis. Mais à Paris, cette histoire finit par mettre mal à l’aise les plus fidèles partisans de l’accord, qui commencent à trouver le prix à payer bien cher.”
To summarize: according to Le Figaro’s sources, Russia has pushed through an important change in the intergovernmental agreement, replacing French “assistance” in technology transfer to Russia with a “guarantee” of technology transfer, involving almost every one of the Mistral’s systems. For instance, France has reportedly agreed to transfer the Sinik 9 control & communications system to Russia, which builds on the Sinik 8 system installed on the nuclear aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle. This is seen as a risk, and when coupled with price and diplomatic issues, even the sale’s supporters are beginning to question the price. Le Figaro [in French] | RIA Novosti.
March 3/11: Russia’s Kommersant business daily reports that Russia and France have deadlocked on price negotiations, but official Russian sources deny it. Which they would anyway. France is expected to put forward the final commercial proposal on March 15, and the 2 sides are reportedly over $250 million apart.
Time may reveal the truth. According to reports, the deputy chief of the Russian Navy, Vice Adm. Nikolai Borisov, signed a EUR 1.15 billion protocol with France in December 2010: EUR 980 million for the 2 ships built by STX in France, plus EUR 131 million in logistics expenses and EUR 39 million in crew training expenses. Construction licenses and technical documentation to build the next 2 ships at Admiralty Shipyards in Russia would add EUR 90 million, bringing the total to EUR 1.24 billion.
Russia reportedly says that Borisov had no authority to sign the document, and did it without consulting with Rosoboronexport and the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation. They want the entire deal for EUR 980 million. In response to the Kommersant reports, however, the spokesman for the Russian prime minister downplayed the seriousness of the situation, while acknowledging differences. Dmitry Peskov told Ekho Moskvy radio that “Mistral contract working problems really exist, which is quite natural for such a large scale project.”
To add to the uncertainty, First Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin tells the Military-Industrial Courier that the Mistral contract involves: “two ships built by France’s DCSN and the licenses for construction of two additional ships in Russia for at least 1.5 bln euros,” adding that the ships would include all the original navigational and other technical equipment, including the SENIT 9 naval tactical data system. ITAR-TASS | RIA Novosti || defpro | South Africa’s TNA | UPI.
Feb 9/11: Basing & helicopters. Itar-Tass reports that Russia will use 2 of the Mistral ships in the Pacific Fleet, including protecting the South Kurile Islands, which are disputed territory with Japan. An “informed source at the Defence Ministry” is quoted as saying that:
“Considerable appropriations will be made for improving the infrastructure of military compounds and garrisons of the 18th Artillery Division in the Eastern Military District, which are deployed on the islands of the Kurile Ridge. The division stationed in the South Kurile Islands has not undergone any organisational changes during military reform in Russia… We plan to replace the division’s weapons and hardware that have expended their service life with one ones.”
As for the ships’ complement and design, Helicopters of Russia Holding Company Deputy Director-General Andrei Shibitov says that:
“Ship versions of the Ka-27K, Ka-29K and Ka-52K helicopters will be used. Their number on each ship will be determined by the Defence Ministry.”
Another Russian official states that using those coaxial rotor helicopters will require a slight elevation of the ship’s deck, to ensure enough clearance height in the hangars. Use in northern latitudes will also require some reinforcement within the ship, in order to make it more survivable against threats like ice. This is not expected to require a major redesign.
Basing plans: Pacific Fleet
Feb 8/11: RIA Novosti relays reports from Kommersant that state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport will represent Russia in direct talks with France’s DCNS from now on.
“Kommersant speculates that the removal of the USC from the talks could be the result of the company’s aspirations to acquire a status of an “independent dealer” on the lucrative arms exports market. Rosoboronexport, backed by the Russian Defense Ministry, has almost monopolized Russia’s arms exports and apparently does not want new players to bite into its share in enormous profit…”
USC removed from talks
Jan 25/11: Agreement signed. Neither Russia nor France are transparent about sale details, but published estimates of the sale price revolve around RIA Novosti’s report of around EUR 1.37 billion euros ($1.9 billion) for the first 2 ships. One of the reasons for that vagueness may involve the nature of the deal. Rosoboronexport head Anatoly Saikin says the agreement is only a framework, without firm deadlines or costs: “A contract is still a long way off. Only an intergovernmental general agreement has been signed.”
Despite Saikin’s cautions, reports place the 1st Russian Mistral’s delivery in December 2013, and there is general agreement that it would be 80% built in France and 20% in Russia. The 2nd ship will reportedly use 40% Russian components. The 3rd and 4th ships will be built in Russia, with 80% Russian workshare. Noted cruise ship builder STX Europe estimates its Saint-Nazaire yard’s work share at 2.5 million man-hours.
In America, meanwhile, Sen. John McCain [R-AZ] said:
“I strongly oppose France’s sale of the Mistral to Russia… This ship is a threat to some of America’s friends and NATO allies, and I worry that this decision could set a troubling precedent within NATO of advanced weapons sales to the Russian government.”
See: French President | Agence France Presse | Le Figaro | ITAR-TASS | Moscow News | Moscow Times | Pravda | RIA Novosti | La Tribune | UPI || Outside reactions: Bloomberg | AFP | Civil Georgia | Expatica France re: Lithuania | Trend in Azerbailjan | China’s Xinhua.
Framework, but not a contract
Jan 12/11: Basing, New Shipyard. Russian media reiterate reports that their 1st Mistral Class ship will be based in Vladivostok with the Pacific fleet, while the 2nd will be based at Severomork on Russia’s northern Peninsula. The Severomorsk ship will reportedly require special piers and additional anti-submarine and air defence systems on site. These basing choices lessen the communication of direct threat to Baltic countries like Latvia, or Black Sea countries like Georgia, while the ships are being built n France. There is no word on where the final 2 ships would be based, though the Baltic and Black Sea fleets would be logical possibilities.
What’s new, is a quote from a Russian navy spokesman that “a decision has been adopted to build Mistral Class vessels at a new shipyard to be constructed on the Kotlin Island near St. Petersburg, but still under the structure of the large Admirality Naval yards.” That’s a shift away from Sergei Pugachyov’s United Industrial Corporation Baltiisky Zavod shipyard, marking the latest in a string of setbacks for the financier. Barents Observer | Moscow Times.
International controversy; Tech transfer issues; Planned helicopters; French-Russian JV.
Dec 24/10: Russia’s ITAR-TASS reports that Russian President Dmitry Medvand French President Nicolas Sarkozy:
“…made a joint statement, which reads, “Russian President Dmitry Medvedev informed French President Nicolas Sarkozy that a consortium of the French company DCNS and the Russian United Shipbuilding Corporation won an international tender for the delivery of two helicopter ships to the Russian Defense Ministry announced on October 5.” Two helicopter ships will be built jointly at first, and another two will be built in the future, the statement said.”
Key industrial players will be France’s DCNS and STX of France, and of course Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC). See also: Voice of America.
Dec 9/10: During a visit to Moscow, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon says of the Mistral deal that:
“There is no question about the technology transfer, no problem regarding technology transfers… We are discussing the price and Vladimir Putin is not the easiest person to talk to about this question.”
Nov 1/10: USC-DCNS consortium Agreement.
Russia’s state-controlled United Shipbuilding Corporation and France’s state-controlled DCNS sign an agreement, setting up a consortium to build “military and civilian ships.” Noises are being made about building Arctic supply ships and icebreakers, and Russian firms are also becoming a bigger presence at events like Euronaval 2010, but the initial focus is likely to be Russia’s order for Mistral Class helicopter carriers.
DCNS Chairman Patrick Boissier added that it is also ready to compete in all military tenders. Beyond the Mistral, Russia will need to build corvettes and frigates very quickly, in order to avoid having key regional fleets in the Black Sea and beyond rust out to almost nothing. RIA Novosti | RIA Novosti op-ed | AP | China’s Xinhua.
Sept 21/10: Competition? Russia’s Interfax news agency quotes an unidentified senior Russian Navy official as saying the ship tender would be a mere formality “formed in such a way as to practically predetermine the victory of the French ship” while getting the best price, adding that Russia and France had already agreed on the parameters of the rumored deal.
Construction terms appear to have followed the French proposals, with 2 ships built in France and 2 in Russia, rather than the 1 and 3 pattern Russia had been asking for. If true, that would leave the issue of technology transfers and cost as the biggest unanswered questions. The figure of EUR 600 million (about $765 million) is mentioned in reports, but that’s much too low for 4 Mistral Class ships. It’s about right for DCNS’ share of a deal for 4 ships, however, if the French are building 2, and key electronics and weapons are being provided by Russia. Voice of Russia | Agence France Presse via Defense News | Reuters via Malaysia Star.
Sept 13/10: Competition? UPI reports that despite an apparently open tender, Russia and France are still conducting exclusive talks regarding DCNS’ Mistral Class LHDs. It also quotes an ITAR-TASS report where Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told them that the Kremlin was “expecting the detailed financial conditions” from France to push the deal to its final stages. UPI.
Aug 20/10: Competition. Russia’s amphibious ship purchase becomes an open tender competition, assuming that other governments allows their shipbuilders to participate. Ouest France reports that the key sticking point was France’s refusal to include the Mistral’s combat system and NATO C4I systems.
Navantia makes the Spanish BPE, and its counterpart the Canberra Class LHD for Australia. It’s larger than the Mistral, and features a “ski jump” on deck that can help it launch fixed wing UAVs and short or vertical takeoff fighters. Russia’s neighbors would likely consider it even more destabilizing than the Mistral Class, but Spain’s commitment to NATO has never been strong, and the country currently faces depression-level unemployment. Political interference will probably be low, but the combat and C4I systems could easily become the subject of pressure from other NATO states, and Navantia’s dependence on exports within NATO would give that pressure weight.
Damen Schelde makes a slightly different kind of ship with a much more conventional profile, but its Rotterdam/ Johann de Witt Class LPDs are considered to be excellent examples of their type, and very good value for money. The firm also worked with BAE on the UK Royal Navy’s new Bay Class LSDs. These “Enforcer Series” ships are all smaller than Mistral, but the firm is also designing a 28,000t Zuiderkruis Class Joint Support Ship. Political approval may be an issue with the Dutch, however; their Parliament is divided, weapons exports are challenged, and Russia’s invasion of Georgia did not sit well there.
Other contenders may include Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems and their MHD 200 LPH (Landing Platform, Helicopter) concept. Time will tell. See Defense News | Information Dissemination | Ouest France [in French] | Reuters.
July 26/10: Tech Transfer. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio, Russian Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said the Mistral purchase hinged on the “transfer of key, fundamental technologies,” or it would be pointless. Russia’s political leaders may or may not share that view. More to the point, NATO countries are likely to have limits on what they will or will not transfer. UPI.
July 23/10: French President Nicolas Sarkozy tells shipyard workers at STX that:
“Avec nos amis russes, vous allez fabriquer les deux BPC. Le contrat, on est en train de le négocier, mais la decision de le faire, elle est certaine.”
In other words, the French yards will build 2 ships, and though the contract is still under negotiation, the decision to go ahead is a done deal.
The same MdlD release also places the cost of FS Dixmude [BPC 3] at about EUR 300 million, but any Russian ships will have additional costs from 2 sources. One is any Russian electronics and weapons, which will have to be integrated with the rest of the ship. That will take time, and costs money, unless Russia opts for some export variant of the ship’s native French electronics and weapons. The other source of added costs is tied to reports that Russia wants to strengthen the ships’ hulls at Russian shipyards after construction, so they’ll be able to cope with the ice around its northern ports. French Ministère de la Défense.
July 5/10: Helicopters. A RIA Novosti report may provide some insights into the new ships’ helicopter complements [DID: links added]:
“Vyacheslav Kovalyov, the first deputy director of the Kumertau Aviation Production Enterprise… added that the Russian Air Force was planning to buy the Ka-52 Alligator, Ka-226 Hoodlum helicopters and a new modification of the Ka-27 helix helicopter, the Ka-27M, the development of which is now in its final stage. A high-ranking source in Russia’s United Industrial Corporation (OPK) confirmed that the country’s Air Force was going to buy up to 100 Ka-class helicopters, including some 70 Ka-27M choppers, to equip Mistral ships.”
June 21/10: Software. RIA Novosti reports that Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), headquartered in Massachussets, USA, intends to participate in software development if Russia orders the Mistral Class, creating links that bridge exportable French ship systems with Russian counterparts. PTC VP Paul Grenet cites 20 years of firm experience working with DCNS, and similar work done for past French warship sales to Brazil and Morocco:
“The same warship for a national navy or for export has certain differences due to secrecy and national security… PTC specializes in the development of export options that are compatible with the standards of a customer.”
PTC is headquartered in the USA, but its global offices include Moscow and St. Petersburg.
May 26/10: A RIA Novosti report outlines the shape of the Mistral deal, while repeating past reports that Russia is also in discussions with Spain and the Netherlands. According to the Barents Observer translation, however, negotiations with the French are in their final stages.
As reported, the deal would see the first ship built entirely abroad. Russian shipbuilders would participate in manufacturing ships 2 & 3, and the 4th ship would be built entirely in Russia. Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov appears to be trying to allay concerns over Georgia by saying that the first 2 ships will be deployed in the Northern and the Pacific Fleets. This will not make NATO members like the Baltic states feel any better.
April 20/10: Rosoboronexport’s Russia is quoted as saying that Russia has made the political decision to purchase the Mistral-class warships, and expects that the agreement with France will be signed by the end of 2010. Time will tell. Defense News.
Feb 10/10: NATO waffles. NATO spokesman James Appathurai offers an official alliance view:
“The Secretary General has said he does not consider Russia a threat and he hopes Russians don’t think of NATO as a threat. He takes it for granted, of course, that any arms sale would fully respect international rules and conventions, but the anxieties of some allies are, of course, real and they are understandable for historical reasons, geographic reasons and so this is the context which has to be taken into account.”
When closely parsed, it offers no firm position.
Feb 9/10: Lithuania cites EU. NATO and European Union member Lithuania weighs in publicly on the Mistral sale, as the Minister of National Defence pledges to raise the issue at the next EU Defence Ministers meeting. Mr. Dainius Zalimas, Law Adviser to the Minster, adds this statement:
“We think that the said sale is inconsistent with criteria II, III, IV, V and VI of Article 2 of EU Council Common Position 2008/944/BUSP that describe common rules of export control of military technology and equipment. Therefore, the execution of the sale may violate the principle of solidarity of member states which has been embedded in the Treaty of the EU and the responsibility of member states to ensure that the national policy must be in line with the position of the Union as it has been stipulated in Article 29 ( former 15) of the Treaty.”
Feb 8/10: Approval? Widespread media reports say that France has approved in principle the Russian request for 1 ship, and expects to decide in the “next few weeks” whether to approve the sale of 3 additional Mistral Class LHDs to Russia. The DGA’s head of international development, Jacques Lajugie, reportedly added that if Russia were to buy the Mistral, France would expect at least the first 2 units to be built in French yards. Russia has sated a preference for 1 ship from France, and 3 built in Russia’s less-than-reliable shipyards under the state-run United Shipbuilding Corporation.
The deal is somewhat controversial in Russia, where industrial groups see the move as a declaration of non-confidence in Russia’s own shipbuilding industry, and a diversion of money to foreign industries. The issue has also become a topic of concern in Washington over the ships’ potential uses against allies like Georgia, with Senators writing letters, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates expressing his “deep concern” directly to French officials. Since the ships do not use American military technologies, there is currently no legal mechanism that would allow the USA to hold up the sale. Diplomatic concerns are being expressed nonetheless. A U.S. diplomatic official reportedly said that:
“We have a lot of questions for the French. Mr Gates made it clear that a lot of people are very worried about this – not just in Washington, but among other NATO allies like Britain and in the east too.”
See: Radio France International | RIA Novosti | Russia Today [video, English] | CNBC | Defense News | Daily Mail, UK | NY Times | Georgian Daily: Part 1 | Part 2 | Reuters | Scotland on Sunday | Washington Post.
Jan 31/10: On Georgia’s mind. Information Dissemination reports that Eutelsat’s cancellation of Georgia’s First Caucasian Channel stems directly from this proposed sale:
“Gia Chanturia, general director of the Georgian Public Broadcasts was in Paris this weekend seeking answers from Eutelsat and French government officials. He is unlikely to like what the French tell him, because my sources both in Washington, DC and Paris have confirmed that Moscow has made cancellation of the First Caucasian Channel by Eutelsat a condition of the Mistral sale… As we watch Russia leverage their unequal national power to influence France, keep an eye on eastern European countries like Poland. This will get bigger than Russia, Georgia, and France before it is all over, and the potential for long term consequences in Eastern Europe is not trivial.”
Negotiations; FS Mistral visits; New foreign options?
Dec 23/09: Wider talks? UPI reports that Russia is also considering amphibious ships from Navantia in Spain, and Damen Schelde in the Netherlands. Russian navy chief Vladimir Vysotsky was quoted as saying:
“Yes, we are holding talks, and not just with the French, but with the Netherlands and Spain, about the acquisition of a ship of this class.” …But observers say the 650-foot Mistral is still favored to win the contract.”
See also Foreign Policy Magazine: “Russia’s New Arms Dealers.”
Nov 27/09: FS Mistral visit. During the FS Mistral’s visit to St. Petersburg, Russia, the amphibious assault ship holds a “cross deck” exercise with Russian Navy helicopters. They include landings by a Ka-29 utility helicopter with a French officer on board, as well as landings using a Ka-27 Helix anti submarine warfare helicopter and the first deck landing for the Ka-52 scout/attack helicopter, which also simulates a refueling on the flight deck. French Navy [in French].
Oct 3/09: Russia Today provides an update on the Mistral controversy in Russia. Negotiations are underway, but buying ships from abroad does not sit well with many in Russia. On the other hand, senior officials openly acknowledge that Russian shipbuilding is in crisis, and it could not build an LHD itself.
Sept 19/09: Russia’s RIA Novosti confirms that talks are underway, quoting Defense Ministry official Vladimir Popovkin. Popovkin is not making any commitments, however, telling Ekho Moskvy radio that “We are holding talks, but no purchases have yet been made.” RIA Novosti adds that: “A Russian source close to the negotiations hinted on Tuesday that technical bilateral discussions should be completed soon.”
Sept 15/09: A RIA Novosti report lays out the expected process for any Mistral ship buy:
“We are holding technical consultations, which are expected to be completed by the end of September. The results will be reported to Russia’s military-industrial commission in order to determine the viability of the purchase… The officers [who recently inspected a French ship of class in Toulon] were shown the interior of the ship and provided with technical data.”
A decision is expected some time in October 2009, if all goes as planned.
Aug 26/09: Intent. RIA Novosti reports that Russia is planning on a EUR 300-400 million contract by the end of 2009 to buy a French Mistral Class amphibious assault ship (LHD). The outlet quotes Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov, who said that: “We are negotiating the purchase of one ship at present, and later planning to acquire 3-4 ships [of the same class] to be jointly built in Russia.”
The Ships and Equipment
- DCNS – Mistral Family LHD. Its inability to operate fixed-wing aircraft has caused some to classify it as an LHA instead, alongside offerings like South Korea’s Dokdo Class, but distinct from US Wasp Class or Spanish Juan Carlos/ Canberra Class LHDs.
- Naval Technology – Mistral Class – Amphibious Assault
- Russia – United Shipbuilding Corp. In Russian.
- Naval Technology – CNIM – Landing Craft and Multipurpose Patrol Craft. Makers of the L-CAT.
- YouTube – EDA-R / L-CAT (Landing Catamaran). Enthusiast video, very good at showing the key features.
- DID – Russia’s Ka-52 Alligator Scout-Attack Helicopters
- RIA Novosti (Infographic) – The Kamov Ka-52 Alligator/ Hokum-B
- Aviastar – Ka-27. Includes variants.
- Air Force Technology – Ka-27/28 and Ka-29 Helix Multirole Naval Helicopter, Russian Federation
- DID – Russia’s Military Spending is Jumping – But Can Its Industry? The Mistral buy is closely related to many of the issues explored here.
- Vice Magazine (June 7/14) – Why Is France Building Warships For Russia? Article mirrors the points made here, with additional data re: the overall French shipbuilding industry.
- Foreign Policy Magazine (Jan 6/10) – Russia’s New Arms Dealers
- Information Dissemination (Nov 25/09) – Wanted: Big Amphibious Ships
- Le Figaro, via WayBack (Sept 7/09) – Vente de Mistral à la Russie : les dessous d’un marchandage
- Information Dissemination (Aug 27/09) – Thoughts on the Russian Mistral
- = DCNS itself refers to the Mistral Class in its marketing materials as an LHD. A Navantia-sponsored IDS study referred to the Mistrals as LHAs, and so have several Russian media reports. DID will generally use the manufacturer’s designation unless there is a compelling reason not to, hence the references to Mistral-derivative ships as LHDs.