RFS Vladivostok,
DCNS concept
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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.

Mistral’s Meaning: A Method to their Madness?

Ka-31 AEW
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The Russian order represented an extension of some larger trends, but it was still a sea change on several fronts.

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 change. 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.

One aspect of that thinking is tactical. Control of littoral regions, which includes large stretches of Russia’s coasts, and zones like the Baltic Sea and much of the Black Sea, 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. 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. Russia’s Ka-52 Alligator coaxial scout/attack helicopter, for instance, would also add considerable attack punch to any Russian LHD amphibious aviation ship, or LPH helicopter carrier. The key is to add the necessary training and equipment investments.

Early reports confirm that prediction, affirming that Russia’s Mistral Class ships will carry Ka-27K Helix naval helicopters, Ka-29K utility helicopters, and navalized Ka-52K Alligator scout/attack helicopters. 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 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”

HNLMS Rotterdam
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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 LHD
(click to view – Français)

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 an on-board hospital. 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.

The 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.

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.

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.

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.

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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 isn’t impossible.

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.

Vladivostok Class: Weapons

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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.”

The reference to “A360s” is almost certainly a typo. 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.

The ship’s most important weapons will be its helicopters, and 2013 reports indicate that the Russian air wings will include 30 helicopters. The number on board is uncertain, but could rise to about 18 (8 Ka-52K, 10 Ka-29) without markedly affecting the ship’s design.

Oboronprom has confirmed that Russia will build the navalized Ka-52K Alligator scout/attack helicopter for use on the ship, and reports indicate that an AESA radar and Kh-31/ Kh-35 anti-ship missiles will be added to their usual weapons array.

They’ll be supplemented by Ka-29K Helix naval utility helicopters. This is a slightly enlarged variant of the Russian “Helix family” design optimized for troop transport and assault roles, with the ability to carry rockets and anti-tank missiles.

Vladivostok Class ships could also take on the slightly smaller Ka-27K “Helix” anti-submarine helicopter. If Russia decides to add the Ka-31 Airborne Early Warning derivative as well, these ships would be able to serve as true centerpieces of a naval task force.

Contracts and Key Events


STX St. Nazaire
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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.

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?

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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.

Keel-laying: Vladivostok

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.

Variant’s PDR


From framework to contract for 2 ships; Joint shipyard deal; Preliminary contract for ships #3 & 4.

FS Mistral
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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,”

See: RIA Novosti | UPI.

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.

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.

FS Tonnerre [BPC 2],
during sea trials
(click to view full)

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 participat

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