Tag Archives: DCNS

Mistrals Not Needed

It’s possible the endgame for the Russian Mistrals is approaching.

First Russian Mistral at DCNS (photo: RIA Novosti  / Daniil Nizamutdinov)

First Russian Mistral at DCNS (photo: RIA Novosti / Daniil Nizamutdinov)

But Moscow’s not sad.  Officials have already said it’s not a tragedy.

Mikhail Nenashev — not an official, but a former Duma member and well-informed commentator — has called into question the need for the Mistrals. He’s a former Captain First Rank who chairs the All-Russian Movement for Support of the Navy.

According to RIA Novosti, he said the Mistrals have no utility but political.  The news agency quotes Nenashev:

“These ships are no kind of necessity for the navy — we don’t intend to land troops in such a way.  As I recall, the French themselves earlier and now are searching for how to deploy these ships — for a decade of fulfilling these missions by the French Navy there were few places where these ‘Mistrals’ were deployed in reality.”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration.  The most cursory look shows that the French contributed the Mistrals to the NATO Response Force, and deployed them during unrest in Lebanon and Cote d’Ivoire, among other places.

Nenashev and others (including Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov) say Russia can build ships like to the Mistrals since it was already participating in their construction, and providing the internal command and control systems for the ships.  It would take longer (3-4 years) but cost less (€150-200 million vs. €1.2 billion).  The French, he says, can build it in a year because they have a smooth production process for these ships.

The former officer suggested that Sevmash or Baltic shipyard could construct such a ship if desired.  But he fails to note that these builders are already absolutely chockablock with orders today, and every new ship type is taking substantially more than 3-4 years to build.

But Nenashev willingly admits there are “acute questions” about the shipbuilding industry.  Specifically, issues of components, parts, technology, and skilled labor are a “little rough” and require coordination.

It’s exactly what Moscow will miss — a chance to see first-hand how fairly robust and modern French shipbuilders do their work.  No doubt there are things the Russians could have learned and taken home.

For their part, the French carefully note that the delivery of the first Russian Mistral has not legally and finally stopped. But President Hollande signaled Moscow that, if the situation in Ukraine does not improve, he will not approve the ship’s transfer in November.  That final decision will actually come at the end of October.

Improvement in Ukraine is defined by a relatively high bar of an effective ceasefire and agreement on a political resolution of the conflict.

The Elysee is quick to repeat that the Mistral sale remains unaffected by EU sanctions on Russia, and is a decision for Paris to make.  Hollande adopted his current stance in the last couple weeks as unavoidable evidence of direct Russian participation in the fighting (i.e. POWs and KIAs) in eastern Ukraine surfaced.

As of 9 September, RIA Novosti reported that planned at-sea training for the first Russian Mistral and its 400-man crew-in-waiting in Saint-Nazaire was put off for “technical reasons” having nothing to do with the French President’s current stance on the sale (or no sale).

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Done Deal

Mistral Contract Signing

The deal for the first two Mistrals, that is.  With President Medvedev looking on, Rosoboroneksport’s Anatoliy Isaykin and DCNS’ Patrick Bouasie signed the contract at the Petersburg International Economic Forum.  RIA Novosti quoted Isaykin on the €1.2 billion price.  Work can begin after the Russians pay an advance (Versii.com repeated a rumor that the French wanted 80 percent prepayment). 

RIA Novosti also noted Isaykin saying the Russian Mistrals will be identical to French units except they’ll have reinforced hulls and flight decks to handle Russia’s northern waters, and its heavier helicopters.  Isaykin said Russia has an option for two more Mistrals to be built in Russia.  But it’s up to the Defense Ministry to get money for them in the Gosoboronzakaz.

ITAR-TASS made the point that the Senit 9 tactical command and control system, and its documentation, are part of the just-inked deal.  OSK General Director Roman Trotsenko told Rossiya-24, “The French side has gone to an unprecedented level of technology transfer and is transferring technologies, including the programming source codes for battle information-management systems, communications systems.”

Kommersant reported the first Russian unit is expected in 36 months, the second in 48, or 2014 and 2015 respectively.   It cited Trotsenko on Russia contributing up to 40 percent of the work on the two ships to be built at STX in Saint-Nazaire.

While the Mistrals will come with French electronics, the Russians will have the task of outfitting the ships with their own weapons, helicopters, amphibious assault craft, and other systems.

Radio Svoboda asked for some thoughts about the occasion.  NVO’s Viktor Litovkin opined that these expeditionary warfare ships don’t make much sense under Russia’s current military doctrine or in the context of defending the Kurils.  Pavel Felgengauer said the Mistrals may be appropriate for fighting enemies with weak air and naval forces, but Russia’s leadership hasn’t specified who they might be.  Viktor Alksnis complained that they are another stake in the heart of Russia’s dying OPK.  He calls for Russia to modernize its own arms production base instead of buying abroad.  He also fears the French could put an “off switch” in the ships’ C2 systems, effectively turning them into “target barges.”

Aleksandr Golts supports the deal because Russian shipbuilders will participate and get new technologies, but he also because he favors the emphasis on force projection rather than the Navy’s pro-SSBN mission.

Navy CINC, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy made some appropriately effusive comments about the capabilities and prospects for employing the Mistrals.

Mistral in Piter (photo: Izvestiya)

Defense Minister Serdyukov was less willing to elaborate saying:

“Let’s build them first, and then we’ll think about where to deploy them.  We have plans to employ them, when they’re closer to ready we’ll disclose them.”

In Moskovskiy komsomolets, Olga Bozhyeva writes that the Mistral deal does several things for Moscow.  An arms sale like this implies a level of acceptance by Europe, it divides old and new Europeans, and it serves as a wedge between the U.S. and its European allies.  She notes that Russian military leaders have kept pretty quiet about Mistral.  And Bozhyeva concludes, overall, it’s a bad deal for Russia.  It’s a high price tag for something that’s not a priority for the fleet.  Its missions are not well thought out.  A relatively old system like Senit 9 won’t help Russia catch up very much.  And Russia didn’t seriously consider Dutch, Spanish, or South Korean shipyards to drive the French price down, but:

“. . . we would have to exclude a certain corruption component, which, in the opinion of many experts, is included in the Russo-French contract (but it’s better to leave this subject to the procuracy).”

As is often the case, Nezavisimaya gazeta sums it all up best:

“The Glavkom [CINC] ought to specify the countries on which our Navy intend to ‘project the power’ of the LHD.  Judging by the fact that it’s intended to deploy the first two ships in the Pacific Fleet, for the defense of the Kuril Islands (can it really be that someone intends to attack them?), then Japan—ally of the U.S., China—our strategic partner or North and South Korea could be the object of this projection.  Again with Seoul it’s somehow uncomfortable.  It’s also an ally of Washington.  And don’t mention projecting power on Pyongyang, apparently, even the Americans aren’t risking doing this.”

“And not everything’s clear with our deck-based aviation for ‘Mistral.’  Our attack helicopters, Mi-24, Mi-28N, Ka-52, and naval Ka-27, Ka-28, Ka-31 are bigger (higher) in their dimensions than French ones, so it’s necessary to redesign the LHD’s hangar deck for them.  This means extra expenditures of financial resources, as well as a change of extremely weak armament for this ship.  Including even air defense.  There are also other problems.  Like the construction of a shore base for the deployment of ‘Mistrals’ on the country’s eastern shore, on the Pacific Ocean.  It still isn’t there.  But to keep such a huge hull tied up at anchor in Petr Velikiy Gulf or in other Far Eastern bays, like it was with domestic Proyekt 1123 class helicopter carriers ‘Moskva’ and ‘Leningrad,’ means to expend their service life in vain and kill it without reason.”

“In a word, the French LHDs, which should enter our Navy’s inventory in 2014 and 2015, could be not a reinforcement of our groupings of ships, which, by the way, also still need to be built up, but a headache for Russian admirals.”

Mistral Endgame?

Mistral (photo: ITAR-TASS)

Maybe.  Maybe not. 

The Mistral contract endgame may in fact be upon us.  But some major players have warned (more than once) of a protracted negotiating process.

Kommersant reports Rosoboroneksport and DCNS signed a “contract” on June 10 for the first two Mistral units, according to a source familiar with the course of negotiations. 

After meeting President Medvedev at the G8 summit on May 26, French President Sarkozy said a “contract” would be signed in 15 days [that would have been June 10].  Now Sarkozy also said in late May that a Mistral “contract” would be signed on June 21 when Prime Minister Putin visits France.  Kommersant suggests this could be an official unveiling of whatever was signed on June 10.  But an RF government source said this isn’t planned, according to ITAR-TASS

As for the terms and price . . . the Russians were insisting that the Mistral come equipped with the SENIT 9 tactical combat information system and licensed rights for €980 million, but the French were saying no such tech transfer for €1.15 billion.  Also according to this story, the French don’t intend to provide SIC-21 in the Mistral package.

In contrast to Kommersant, RIA Novosti says what was signed last week was no more than a “protocol of intent” to sign a “contract.”  The news agency said the date and place for the “contract” signing remains up in the air, but it could be the international naval exhibition in St. Petersburg from June 29 to July 3.

It also says the price will be between €1 and €1.2 billion, and the French military still opposes giving SENIT 9 to Russia.

Rosoboroneksport’s press-service denied that a “contract” has been signed, and told media outlets the negotiations are in their concluding phase, and a Mistral contract is in the process of “technical formation.”

Utro.ru sums up what many may think about acquiring four units of Mistral:

“Military experts still don’t know precisely why Russian sailors need them, since all of two [sic] ships will scarcely substantially change the situation in the fleet.  It’s not excluded that Russia, first and foremost, wants the technologies the French use in constructing ‘Mistrals.’”

It’s also not excluded that perhaps some involved want the deal itself, commissions, bribes, and kickbacks, more than they want the ships.

More on Mistral

Vedomosti’s Aleksey Nikolskiy published an informative piece on Monday.

He says the announced deal for the first two Mistral helicopter carriers, built in France, includes spare parts and training for a grand total of €1.3 billion (52 billion rubles).  The deal reportedly includes the option to build two more units in a Russian shipyard.  While the deal’s sealed, the final contract is still being worked between France’s DCNS and Russia’s OSK.

Nikolskiy said the Elysee website said the Mistral package would provide 4 years of work for 1,000 French shipbuilders (5 million man-hours) at STX in Saint-Nazaire.

Paris is selling Moscow the SENIT 9 combat information system aboard Mistral, but apparently without license rights.

The contract for unit one is worth €700 million, and €600 million for unit two.

OSK maintains Russia will get a 20 percent share of the work on unit one, fabricating some sections for the ship in Russia.  Its share of the work on the second unit could be more, according to analyst Mikhail Barabanov.

An OSK representative told Nikolskiy the main goal of this deal is to get modern technology, and a possible Russian builder for the optional units hasn’t been determined.

Nikolskiy juxtaposes two views on Russia’s need for Mistral.  He quotes Barabanov:

“Why does the Russian Navy need this ship which was designed for the French Navy’s overseas expeditions?”

And he repeats General Staff Chief Makarov’s statement from June that the first Mistral will go to the Pacific Fleet to transport forces where they might be needed, particularly the Kuril Islands.

As post-script, Nikolskiy gives a snapshot of what 52 billion rubles for two Mistrals could buy:

  • 2 Borey-class (proyekt 955) SSBNs, or
  • 3 proyekt 11356 frigates (Talwar– / Krivak IV-class), or
  • 50 Su-30 fighters, or
  • 800 T-90 tanks, or
  • 50,000 apartments for servicemen.

Of course, you can generally double these alternative purchases if Russia builds a third and fourth Mistral.