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.
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.”