Defending the Mistral

Today, I want to highlight a new Russian-language resource for analysts of the Russian military. The Waran Project bills itself as an informational and analytical resource put together by independent (though anonymous) Russian specialists. It publishes both original articles about the Russian military and translations of Western articles about developments in the West that might be interesting to a Russian audience. It’s only been active since the beginning of March, so there isn’t a lot of material on the site yet, but what there is is of rather high quality.

The most recent article is a very cogent defense of the utility of the Mistral project for the Russian navy. Long time readers may remember that the Mistral was a frequent topic for me in the early days of the blog, so it seems worth returning to the topic. Especially since the Mistral again seems to  be under attack in Russia from opponents of imports of military technology. The Waran project article goes through the reasons why it makes sense for Russia to not only buy the two ships already under construction in France but to go ahead with plans to build two more ships at Russian shipyards.

The indirect benefits of the ships for Russian defense industry include the acquisition of the L-Cat landing catamaran, at least two of which will be on board each Mistral. These vessels do not have any Russian equivalents and would stimulate the development of a new naval infantry fighting vehicle. The Mistral project will also promote the construction of  80-100 new helicopters, since each Mistral will have 16 helicopters on board and some spares would have to be procured. There will also be direct benefits, of course. Not only will the project help to modernize ship design and construction, but it will also provide guidance on how to modernize project control and business processes, interactions with suppliers and subcontractors, and various logistics issues, all of which are weakly developed in Russian shipbuilding.

In terms of how the ships could be used, the author argues that the helicopter-carrying capacity of the Mistral will enable each ship to form the nucleus of an ASW task force. The Mistral would be very useful in local conflicts and low intensity warfare, as was shown by the French experience in Libya in 2011, where it served well as both a command ship and as a base for helicopter attack operations. Obviously, it would also be effective in amphibious warfare operations. It would also be useful in humanitarian assistance and evacuation operations, which is a gap for the Russian navy. It can also engage in show the flag and naval diplomacy operations, becoming a more effective soft power instrument for Russian foreign policy than nuclear submarines or missile cruisers — which are much more threatening to potential target nations.

The article also addresses potential alternatives to the Mistral. First, it makes clear that domestic alternatives are not a viable solution. The Ivan Gren amphibious ship has been under construction at Yantar for almost a decade because of inadequate financing and constant design modifications. Any domestic project would likely be little more than a modified version of the so-called Ivan Tarawa design of the 1980s and would take eight years at the very least, whereas the Mistrals are being built in three. When compared to other foreign options, the Juan Carlos is more or less comparable, while the Italian Cavour is much more expensive and the South Korean Dokdo is smaller and has faced design problems. Furthermore, the Dokdo depends on American LCAC landing craft, which would be unlikely to be a feasible acquisition for the Russian military. As it is, the Mistral allows for the further development of relations with French defense industry, which has become one of the leading foreign suppliers to the Russian military.

In conclusion, the author finds that while it makes sense to delay the decision to acquire the two additional ships until after the Russian navy has had some experience working with the first two ships, there is no reason to cancel the purchase. Since I’ve long believed that imports are necessary for both the successful rearmament of the Russian military and for the modernization of Russian defense industry, I am very much in agreement with this conclusion.

I’ll be curious to see what the future holds for the Waran project. Its initial analytical products are very good and there’s certainly a need for more unbiased and well-informed coverage of the Russian military, so I have high hopes for the future.

 

No more imports?

It seems that the new leadership team at the MOD has decided to stop using the threat of importing armaments from abroad to get Russian defense industry to improve the quality of its products. For a couple of years, this seemed to be a favorite tool for former Defense Minister Serdyukov, especially in his bid to improve the quality of Russian tanks and armored vehicles. I covered the topic on several occasions, in particular here and here. A recent report to the Military Industrial Commission’s Public Chamber also took up the question.

But just in the last week, there have been two indications that the MOD has turned away from imports and will return to the autarkic model of military procurement that has been more traditional for the country’s armed services. First, the commander of Russia’s Ground Forces announced that there will be no further orders of the Italian IVECO LMV65 armored vehicle, known in Russia as the Lynx. Under the previous regime at the MOD, an Oboronservis-owned plant in Voronezh was to produce these vehicles under license while undertaking an effort to use as many Russian components as possible. Just last July, the ministry had asked the government for permission to increase the order from 727 to 3000 vehicles. Now it appears that while existing contracts will be fulfilled, no more orders will be forthcoming and the ground forces will instead be equipped with the Russian-made Tigr vehicle, which is better armed but less well armored than the Lynx.

Just yesterday, Military-Industrial Commission Deputy Head Ivan Kharchenko called the Mistral deal absurd and argued that it has caused significant damage to the state and the Russian shipbuilding industry. Last month, the MOD announced that it is deferring plans to build the third and fourth Mistral ships in Russia, while continuing on with construction of the first two hulls in France. It seems that the only reason Russia has not canceled the contract altogether is that it would then be required to pay huge financial penalties to the French contractor.

All of this indicates that domestic defense industry has won its battle with the MOD over procurement policy. The conflict all along was between the real needs of the military for new equipment and the desire of defense industry to keep the money coming in regardless of whether or not it was able to provide the military with the equipment it needed in a timely manner. Instead, we may be returning to the old ways where the military is given little choice but to buy the equipment that the defense industry is producing, regardless of whether it fits the military’s needs. In some sectors, defense industry is well-positioned to fulfill the military’s needs. In others, imports seem to be the only solution, at least in the short to medium term. In a recent conversation, my colleague Ilya Kramnik noted that the An-26 light transport aircraft is soon to be retired, with no domestic replacements yet available. Neither the An-140T or the Il-112V are currently available, nor are they likely to be ready for serial production by 2016-17. In that case, Kramnik argues that the only possible replacements would be foreign planes such as the Alenia C-27J Spartan or the EADS CASA C-295. So the Russian military will have to consider the question of imports soon enough.

In the meantime, however, the defense industry’s defeat of Serdyukov reduces the likelihood that the military will get the equipment it needs. It will take time for the MOD to amass the political capital to fight back against the industry and its allies. The result will be that the industry will get its money, while the military will be promised new equipment that in many cases will not arrive on schedule. In a few years, the military’s situation will get even worse, while the MOD will have rebuilt some of its lost political capital. At that point the fight over imports versus domestic manufacture will resume  – but that won’t come for 3-4 years.

 

How to save money on the military

In last Friday’s NVO, Ruslan Pukhov takes on the always controversial topic of how to reduce military expenditures. He notes that the plans set out by President Putin in his article on security issues require a high level of financing, which may not be available if the price for oil and natural gas declines or if Russian economic growth slows down. He mentions that the Ministry of Finance is discussing the option of reducing defense expenditures by as much as 0.5 percent of GDP. If that plan comes to fruition, how would the savings come about?

Pukhov proposes two primary areas for cost reductions. First, he points out that no one has ever explained why Russia needs a one million man army. That level of manpower is excessive for dealing with local and regional conflicts, while more serious conflicts with NATO or China can be deterred with nuclear weapons. Russia’s poor demographic situation means that even without the cost considerations, Russia will not be able to maintain a million man army in the next decade. I have previously noted that even now there are only 750,000-800,000 personnel serving in the military, while 20-25 percent of billets are vacant.

But Pukhov goes farther, arguing that military manpower could be cut to 700,000 or even 600,000 by way of eliminating 6-8 brigades in the ground forces. This would result in significant savings on staffing and training, with little negative effect on overall combat readiness.

The second area for savings is in procurement of equipment and weaponry. Here, Pukhov makes the argument that given Russia’s geography and the nature of the potential threats it faces, the navy provides the least value for the price. Ships and submarines are of course notoriously expensive items and it is true that the most likely source of conflict for Russia will come from across its southern border, where naval forces can play no more than an auxiliary role. At the same time, the Russian Navy is likely to play an important role in protecting sea lanes in the Arctic and in guarding offshore oil and gas extraction facilities in the Pacific. It would also play a crucial role in any potential future conflict in East Asia. So I was initially dubious about Pukhov’s call for downsizing the fleet.

However, if you look at the details of his recommendations, they primarily concern the ongoing shift from a blue water navy to a coastal protection force. While this has been the de facto strategy for Russian naval development for the better part of the last decade, recently the MOD has made statements indicating that it will seek to restore the RFN as a global force. Pukhov rejects this initiative, specifically by calling for the cancellation of the pointless project to restore the Soviet-era nuclear cruisers. This is a recommendation I fully support. I know that boosters of the RFN will respond with data about how powerful these ships can be. My response is that power is one thing, but usefulness is a different matter. There is simply no way that the project’s cost can be justified given the lack of missions for such ships in current Russian military strategy.

Pukhov’s second recommendation is to cancel the purchase of Mistral ships. Here I am a bit more skeptical. These are very expensive ships, no doubt. But they will provide value for the RFN in three ways. First, they can serve as a helo-carrying amphibious assault ship, a capability largely lacking in the current RFN. Second, they can serve as command ships for specific fleets. And third (and still the main reason for the deal), by building two ships in Russia, the deal will contribute to the ability of Russian shipbuilders to construct modern ships of various types in the future. So there may be value here. But if the budget axe does fall on the Russian Navy, then it would no doubt be more effective to cancel this project than the new frigates and corvettes that are to form the core of the Russian Navy for the next 20-30 years.

Whether or not one accepts Pukhov’s specific recommendations, his article serves a useful purpose in calling our attention to the kinds of hard choices that the Russian military will have to make should the rumors of impending budget cuts come true.

 

 

Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 2: Defense industrial cooperation with France)

Defense Industrial Cooperation

As Russian military leaders have grown frustrated with the failures of their country’s domestic defense industry, they have become increasingly willing to procure military equipment from NATO countries and to engage in joint military industrial projects with them.

France: In recent years, the Russian military has considered a number of purchases from NATO countries. The most extensive cooperation has been with France. The recent deal for the Mistral amphibious assault ship is the most notable Russian military purchase from abroad in recent history. While the final contract has not yet been signed, the rough outlines of the likely deal are well known. Russia is set to purchase two Mistral-class ships, to be built in France at a total cost of approximately 980 million euros. The two sides have not yet agreed on whether Russia would be charged an additional 170 million euros for logistics and crew training expenses, or if those items would be included in the construction price. In addition, Russia would pay 90 million Euros for construction licenses and technical documentation that would allow two more Mistral ships to be built in Russia.

In addition to the ships themselves, Russia is going to receive some of the advanced technology that is used on the French versions of these ships. This will include the SENIT-9 combat information system, but without license rights and without the Link 11 and Link 16 NATO communications systems. The transfer of NATO communications systems would require the unanimous consent of all NATO members. Therefore, even though the request is currently under consideration at NATO HQ, it will be rejected. It is certain to be opposed by the Baltic states, and likely to be opposed by a number of other NATO countries including the United States. It is interesting to note that Russia’s request to receive these systems was justified by its desire to participate in joint missions with NATO navies. The lack of license rights means that Russia will not be able to use the SENIT-9 technology on other ships, nor will it be able to use the knowledge acquired by building such systems to improve its own ability to manufacture advanced combat information systems.

The SENIT-9 systems used on the French Mistral-class ships are derived from the US Navy’s Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) and are based on the tri-dimensional MRR3D-NG multi-role radar, built by Thales, which operates on the C Band and incorporates IFF capabilities. The French version can be connected to Link 11, Link 16, and Link 22 NATO communications systems. The purpose of the system is to centralize all data from the ship’s sensors in the ship’s command center. Russian military officials argue that having these systems on board will allow them to turn their Mistrals into command ships that will be capable of providing fire control for various forces in the open seas, including dividing targets among surface ships, submarines and aviation.

Reports in French newspapers indicate that the Thales MRR-3D-NG radar, as well as a Racal-Decca helicopter control radar, will also be included as part of the deal. It seems very unlikely that the Russian Mistrals will be equipped to use French communications systems, based on French satellites SYRACUSE 3-A and SYRACUSE 3-B. These satellites provide 45% of the Super High Frequency secured communications of NATO. For Russia, it would make much more sense to equip the ships with communications systems that connect with their own satellites. Otherwise, the ships would not be able to communicate with other Russian ships.

While the reason for the Russian purchase of these ships has been the subject of extensive debate in Western and Russian sources, a consensus has recently emerged on this question. The main purpose of the ships will be to serve as command and control vessels. The first two ships will go to the Pacific Fleet as part of a significant upgrade that will turn that fleet into the most capable of Russia’s four fleets. The ships’ second task will be to serve as helicopter carriers. They will be capable of carrying either Ka-52 attack helicopters or Ka-27 anti-submarine helicopters. While the ships are obviously capable of carrying out amphibious landing operations, this will be a lesser task for them.

Finally, the Mistral ships are also being purchased with the goal of revitalizing Russia’s declining shipbuilding industry. The third and fourth ships will be built at shipyards in St. Petersburg, which will be reconstructed for the purpose, most likely with French assistance. The goal is to be able to use the experience of building ships to French standards to improve indigenous military shipbuilding capabilities.

While the Mistral deal has received the most attention, Russian-French military cooperation actually began several years ago. In 2007, Russia bought French aircraft targeting containers from Sagem and thermal imaging equipment from Thales. One hundred units of the latter were installed on Russian T-90M tanks. Subsequently, an agreement was signed in 2010 to manufacture thermal imagers under license at a Russian plant in Vologda. At the same time, Russia bought some French communications equipment to test the possibility of integrating this equipment into its tanks and armored personnel carriers. The total value of the 2010 deal was estimated at 300 million Euros. French companies had been installing this equipment for years on Russian tanks and aircraft sold abroad, including Su-30MKI aircraft sold to India, MiG-29s sold to Algeria, T-80U tanks sold to Cyprus, T-90S tanks sold to India, and BMP-3 armored personnel carriers sold to the United Arab Emirates.

The Russian military is negotiating with French companies for further items, including Sagem’s Sigma 30 artillery navigation equipment and its infantry integrated equipment and communications units (FELIN). The FELIN units include a set of navigation tools, secure radio communications equipment, computer equipment, GPS receivers, helmet sights for individual small arms and integrated electronic targeting devices. A limited number of these may be purchased for Military Intelligence Directorate special forces units. In February, First Deputy Defense Minister Popovkin announced that the Russian military would like to have a Russian analog of the FELIN equipment designed in the next decade. The Sigma 30 units would be used to modernize Russian Grad and Smerch multiple rocket launchers. They are already used for this purpose in other countries, such as Poland.

Recently, the Russian Center for the Analysis of the World Arms Trade announced that the Russian border troops were negotiating with the French company Panhard for the acquisition of 500 VBL light armored vehicles for $260 million.

More than you ever wanted to know about the Mistral

Last week, I posted some commentary by LCDR Patrick Baker about the Mistral sale. I mentioned at the time that he had written a thesis on the deal. For those who want to delve deeply into the deal, his thesis has now been posted online by Brookings. They also have links to a summary of the talk he gave there and his powerpoint presentation.

Happy reading! If all goes well, I’ll be back next week with something substantive.

How much of a threat to NATO is the Mistral sale?

I’ve written a lot of posts now trying to explain why Russia sought to purchase the Mistral from France and why I do not believe that the purchase presents a threat to a) Georgia, b) the Baltic states, c) European security, or d) NATO cohesion. Yet various folks keep writing the same old thing regardless of the evidence arrayed against their arguments. The newest entry is Vlad Socor’s latest piece, entitled “France’s Sale of the Mistral to Russia: The Challenge to NATO’s Transatlantic Partners,” which arrived by email today from the Jamestown Foundation. I haven’t found a version online as of yet, but if I find one in the next day or two, I’ll provide a link. (See the update at the bottom of the article for links to most of the content)

Socor argues that despite Russian leaders repeated statements that the ships will be based in the Pacific Fleet, they will actually be placed in the Black Sea and Baltic Fleets, where they will be used to threaten the Baltic states and Georgia as part of a potential simultaneous attack from land and sea.

Furthermore, he argues that these ships are primarily power projection platforms. He believes Admiral Vysotsky’s rhetorical statement that ““In the conflict in August [2008], a ship like that would have allowed the Black Sea Fleet to accomplish its mission in 40 minutes, not 26 hours which is how long it took us [to land the troops ashore].” He goes on to argue that Mistral ships would have allowed the Russian military to open a second front in Georgia in 2008, moving in from the west while the main army attacked from the east.

In the final section, Socor discusses the challenge this deal poses to NATO cohesion. He argues that mercantilist considerations have driven France (as well as other European countries that have recently sold arms to Russia) to trample allied solidarity. In other words, France, Germany and Italy have put the security of their eastern allies at risk for the sake of the profits of their arms manufacturers.

Given that I have already addressed these issues here, and don’t have any new arguments to offer, I thought I would give the floor to someone who has spent the last year studying the Mistral deal and has written what may be the definitive work on the subject.

LCDR Patrick Baker recently completed a Master’s Thesis at the Naval Postgraduate School entitled, “A Study of the Russian Acquisition of the French Mistral Amphibious Assault Warships.” He graciously agreed to respond with his thoughts on Vlad Socor’s article. Please note that his views represent his own personal opinions and not those of the U.S. Navy or the Naval Postgraduate School.

On why Russia sought to buy the Mistral:

As I said in my thesis, I think that the real reason behind the Mistrals is the technologies that Russia can get from France.  Specifically the command and control systems, and also, I think as important, are the shipbuilding technologies.  As I argued in my thesis, no shipyard in Russia today can build modular warships.  And all their shipyards are full of orders now anyway (besides Baltiysky Zavod, which is bankrupt).  To modify a shipyard for the Mistral would mean fewer other ships for the Russian navy.  As STX Europe is going to build Russia a new shipyard on Kotlin Island, this gives the Admiralty Shipyards a brand new facility to build not only warships but also commercial ships.

A helicopter carrier also allows the Russian Navy to ask for new helicopters to equip its new ships with, providing business for Kamov.  Besides the attack helicopters, there has been little in the news about any significant upgrades to the Russian Naval infantry.  As of the 2011 Military Balance, Russia has maximum 16 landing craft that could even fit in a Mistral, and only 8 new ones.  Moreover, no modern hovercrafts are in development that I have seen.

The Mistral I think is the perfect example of getting a system first, then figuring out the missions for the ships.  I think the Russians see the Mistrals as a means to the end (naval modernization), not the end themselves.  True the Mistrals can fulfill many roles, including some of the ones Socor talks about, but that was not the driving force behind the sale.  If Russia really wanted just the capability, I do not think the contract negotiations would have taken so long (and continue to drag on), specifically on the issues of technology transfer.

On the potential threat posed by these ships to Georgia and the Baltic states:

I do not accept that the Russian failure to open a second front in Georgia was the driving force.  As you have pointed out, the Mistralis no faster than Russia’s existing Alligators and Ropuchas, so the ships would not have gotten to Georgia any faster.  A better argument would have been a Mistral would have allowed for better close air support from attack helicopters from the coast.  Still while a nice benefit from having the ship, but not the main reason for acquiring the ships.

The other part behind the Mistral is about image and prestige.  But not against Georgia and the Baltics.  People seem to forget that Russia today has 4 Ropuchas sitting in Kaliningrad, which could transport 760 troops and 40 MBT themselves.  In the Black Sea, Russia has 3 Alligators and 4 Ropuchas. The Mistral adds to the capability of the Russian Navy, but in terms of troop lift, it is not a game changer.  The only new capability, and it is a significant one, is the aviation aspect of the Mistral.  But Russia is not without airfields in both Georgia and around the Baltics.

Who I think Russia is worried about is China.  That is why the ships have been announced to go to the Pacific first.  Not against the Japanese – and yes Socor makes this point, but the Japanese are not the threat – it is just convenient and risk free to blame the Japanese, because Russia knows Japan is not going to invade the Kuril Islands.  Rather Russia, in my opinion does not want to appear weak, or abandoning the Pacific to the Chinese.  Russia cannot say that it is bulking up its Pacific Fleet against the Chinese publicly though.  Putting two large warships is a very visible statement of Russian interest in the Far East.  Granted there is little significant naval combat power, but that is not the point.  The Mistrals also work well as a forward command post in the Far East, where ground command stations are few and far between.  This Russian interest in the Far East is evident in other actions, such as the movement of the Marshal Ustinov from the Northern Fleet to Pacific Fleet after her refit, the Yuri Dolgorukiy to Petropavlosk and if the Admiral Nakimov ever is refurbished, the Russian have announced plans to put her in the Far East.

I think the Russians are more interested in having a LHD style ship that can cruise the globe (without tugs following her) implying that they are still a great power.  I also think they want the PR benefit of being able to have a ship to participate in humanitarian operations.  I know they have sent rescue teams and assistance in the past, but the image of a Russian ship helping is a powerful one, as the US has seen.  Or for evacuation of Russian citizens – being able to evacuated civilians quickly on one ship is important.  Look at Libya, the French used the Mistral herself, while the Russia had to hire a ferry and flew jets in to evacuate citizens.  What if the airport had been closed?

On how the Mistral’s capabilities might be used:

I think that Socor does make some valid points about how the capabilities of the Mistral could be used.  And he is correct, it is something that the US and NATO will have to account for.  I just don’t think it was the Russians primary reason, more of a side benefit.  If they were so eager for an amphibious capability, why did they not honestly evaluate the other LHDs on the market, ensuring they would get the best package, vice choosing the Mistral from day one?  Again, it was because they get the shipbuilding and command and control technologies.  In addition, there still remain some serious obstacles.  Now that they get the command and control technologies, how do they integrate NATO style systems with Russian ones?  How easy will it be to integrate Russian weapon systems with French radar systems?  Besides the significant modifications for arctic operations, there are still some sizeable design changes, such as the raising of the hanger deck.  It will be interesting to see what the final design is.

My final take is that there was a myriad of reasons the Russians wanted the Mistral.  There is no one smoking gun. Technology, command and control and image I think were the top ones, not a desire to kick in the door somewhere.  Can they do that…maybe.  Nevertheless, a LHD also gives them a ship that is multi-mission, something they will actually use.   If they built an anti-carrier destroyer again, it may be a great platform, but realistically, it is not as likely to be employed as much as a LHD is these days.  Therefore, there may not be a sinister reason behind the purchase, just a realization of with limited resources, what will actually have the most benefit.  In addition, with the Admiral Kuznetsov going into an announced refit until 2017 (if it happens on time) the Russians have really only one capital ship (Peter the Great) to signify nation interest.  The Mistrals could give them something to build a task force around.  Again this is where image comes into play.

On the impact of the sale on NATO cohesion:

Therefore, will NATO and the US have to pay attention to these ships – yes…can Russia use these ships to intimidate weak smaller nations – yes….was that the Russian primary intention – no.  I think the valid point that Socor makes is the issues this type of sale causes within NATO.  The lack of trust between countries is something that has to be improved.  Perhaps more significant behind the scenes consultations would help (basically so countries aren’t finding out about these things via the newspapers).  But the Baltics have to be realistic as well, but the image of France not respecting other allies’ inputs is what has to be overcome.

I’m very much in agreement with LCDR Baker’s analysis. I would just expand briefly on the final point. It seems to me that the key task for countries such as France, Germany and Italy is to work to convince NATO’s eastern members that Russia does not present a military threat to them. Russian leaders could do a great deal to help this effort by changing some of their policies toward the region, and especially their rhetoric — which is frequently much more belligerent than their policies. The best way to improve European security is to increase integration with Russia, not to maintain old dividing lines that do nothing but promote insecurity on both sides.

UPDATE: Still no sight of an electronic version of Vlad Socor’s article, but LCDR Baker pointed out that most of the content was posted in three recent shorter articles that cover the sale, power projection against Georgia, and NATO reactions.

FURTHER UPDATE (July 12): Thanks to the folks at the Jamestown Foundation for providing the link.

Is the Mistral deal in danger of collapse?

In today’s Moscow Times, Ruslan Pukhov (the director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow and the publisher of the Moscow Defense Brief journal) has an excellent analysis of the problems that may stymie the Russian purchase of the Mistral ships from France. He argues that the disagreement is primarily about the transfer of sensitive technologies, especially the SIC-21 command and control system, and the total price of the ships. I have written about the price disagreement already, and it seems that little has changed on that front since early March.

I imagine that if price were the only problem, it could be resolved through negotiations. French backtracking on the extent of tech transfer is potentially a much bigger problem for the deal. Pukhov argues, and I wholeheartedly agree, that the reason Russia wants these ships is to get the advanced control systems. It doesn’t really need the ships’ “modest force projection potential.” So if France refuses to transfer the systems, Russia may well call off the deal.

Pukhov’s analysis of the root causes of the crisis is particularly interesting, so I’m going to quote it in full:

As usual, both sides have contributed to the problem. Russia has not yet built up experience in purchasing big-ticket foreign military equipment for import. Despite the popular notion that Russia is planning to re-equip its military with foreign weapons systems, the reality is that such imports total less than $100 million per year. By contrast, Russia exported $10 billion in arms in 2010, with another $16 billion in equipment purchased for domestic use. What’s more, the lion’s share of those so-called “imports” are actually systems and components that foreign clients wanted installed in Russian equipment for export, meaning that they were never intended for domestic use.

Without experience in foreign procurement deals, Russia also lacks the necessary legislation and history of cooperation between the relevant institutions. This has resulted in a less than perfect level of cooperation between the Russian military; Rosoboronexport, the country’s weapons export and import monopoly; and the defense industry.

In addition, there are powerful opponents to the deal on the Russian side, especially the domestic shipbuilding industry and its patron, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin. In summer 2008, Sechin halted the ill-advised purchase of the dilapidated and unfinished Ukrainian cruiser Ukraine for 20 billion rubles (more than $670 million). The influence of the gray eminence has declined since then, but it remains strong enough to stop the Mistral purchase in one way or another. Political opponents to Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his reforms have also used the disagreements over the Mistral to boost their cause.

Pukhov goes on to note that the French Saint-Nazaire shipyard’s economic position has improved significantly since discussions about the deal began, so that France does not need the work as badly and can stand firm in the negotiations.

Pukhov also considers the role of Russian opposition to the European intervention in Libya and France’s leading role in it as a potential factor in the hardening of Moscow’s stand in the negotiation. I don’t think this is particularly relevant, especially as the timing is all wrong. Negotiations began to bog down in late February, some weeks before the start of the intervention in Libya. And the other factors Pukhov lists are more than sufficient to explain the problems.

Pukhov argues that the chances of signing a contract are becoming increasingly remote. I’m not sure I would go that far yet. Both sides have invested a lot in the deal and I think they have very strong incentives to find a way to work it out. But it certainly won’t be smooth sailing.

Popovkin provides more details on armaments program

Last week, Vladimir Popovkin gave a lengthy interview to VPK, in which he went into greater detail on a number of issues raised in his press conference the previous week (which was thoroughly covered here). Here are some highlights from the interview:

2010 procurement. The Russian military received the following equipment in 2010: 8 satellites, 23 airplanes, 37 helicopters, 19 air defense systems, 16 anti-aircraft radars, 6 missile launchers, 61 tanks, almost 400 armored vehicles, and 6500 automobiles. Specific types were not mentioned.

Missile and air defense systems. The military will procure 100 S-500 air defense systems and 56 battalions of S-400s (the standard deployment model is 8 launchers per battalion and 4 missiles per launcher) and equip 10 brigades with Iskander missiles by 2020.  Development of the S-500 will be completed by 2013, with deliveries to the armed forces scheduled to begin in 2015. (Note that he is quite explicit that this will be 56 battalions of S-400s (i.e. 448 units), not 56 units.

Nuclear missiles. A new liquid fueled ICBM will be developed to replace the SS-18 Satan. It will be MIRVed with 10 warheads and will be ready by 2018. Bulava testing is planned to be completed this year with the goal of commissioning the missile and the first and second Borei SSBNs by the end of the year.

Strategic Bombers. The technical parameters of the new strategic bomber (PAK DA) will be determined in the next 2-3 years. At that point, the military will make a decision about procurement. The requirements for the aircraft include  supersonic speeds, long range, stealth, and ability to use precision-guided munitions against both air and land targets.

Naval forces. A new 5th generation multi-purpose nuclear attack submarine is currently in design, as is a new destroyer. Both will be armed with versions of the  Klub missile. There are also plans to design a new ship-based supersonic missile system labeled “Tsirkon-S.”

The Mistral deal. Popovkin confirmed some aspects of the Mistral deal that I have previously reported in this blog, including that it will include SENIT-9 combat information system for each ship, though without a license. He also makes the most explicit statement I’ve seen about the reason why Russia is acquiring these ships: “It must be underlined that having the combat information system on board the Mistral turns it into a flagship/command ship.” He goes on to say that the Mistral will provide fire control for various forces in the open seas, including dividing targets among surface ships, submarines and aviation, all working on the same frequency. In other words, as I have written before, the Mistral is not being acquired for its amphibious assault capabilities, but to serve as a naval command ship for Russian forces.

Furthermore, Popovkin confirms that a secondary but significant aspect of the deal is the opportunity it provides to reconstruct domestic shipyards, which will improve their capabilities for both military and civilian shipbuilding.

Foreign imports. The production of Iveco LMV light armored vehicles in Russia under license will begin this year, with the first vehicles being completed in 2012. Eventually, the production will use 50 percent Russian domestic components.

Russia may purchase two samples each of  the French (??) Freccia infantry fighting vehicles and the Italian Centauro heavy armored vehicles for testing purposes. Other foreign purchases that are being made, including UAVs, large combat ships, sniper rifles, etc, are being made with the goal of transferring modern technologies to domestic defense industry in order to then develop these types of equipment at home in the future.

Electronic components remain the greatest problem for domestic defense industry. This will require a special subprogram of the State Armaments Program to rectify.

Financing. In the past, 70 percent of the financing for the 10 year program was left for the last five years. This time, the financing will be spread out evenly over the entire cycle.

There’s a lot of food for thought here. No real surprises, but a lot of detail to flesh out previously made statements on various procurement related topics. As with all such pronouncements, I expect many deadlines will slip, but it’s worthwhile for the moment to focus on the intentions of the MOD in its procurement decision-making.

UPDATE: As noted by a commenter, the Freccia is actually Italian. Popovkin is mistaken either about the type of IFV or the country of origin.

Mistral negotiations claim an admiral

Despite my best efforts, I can’t seem to get away from the Russian Navy these last couple of weeks. Just when I was about to move on to the air force, I got an email from a colleague doing a study of the Mistral sale who points out that negotiations have hit a snag over price disagreements. More specifically, the issue is that the Russian side expected to get the two ships for 980 million euros, while the signed agreement is actually for 1.15 billion euros. The difference consists of 131 million for logistics and 39 million for crew training.

The hangup is that Vice Admiral Borisov, the deputy commander in chief of the navy for armaments and one of the lead negotiators for the Mistral contract, signed a protocol back in December that included these two extra items, without clearing the price increase with Rosoboronexport back home. Doing so very much exceeded his authority. As a result, Borisov is now facing an early retirement (4 years ahead of schedule).

Gazeta.ru cites Ruslan Pukhov’s argument that Borisov’s removal will allow both sides to return to the negotiating table to settle the price difference issue.  My guess is that this is just a minor roadblock that will be resolved in fairly short order, as both sides have too much invested in the deal to get hung up on a 15 percent price difference. There may be a delay of a month or two in the signing of the final contract, but in the end some compromise will be made and things will get back on track.

More on Mistral missions

There’s more evidence today that Russia’s primary purpose in acquiring the Mistral ships is to use them as command and control vessels, rather than for amphibious assault. The following is from an ITAR-TASS report:

“After joining Russian Navy, basic task for Mistrals will be control over various naval assets in different operational zones worldwide, including Pacific Ocean, of course. That is going to be a sort of command centers developed at sea and controlling surface ships, submarines, and naval aviation”, said the source.

“The second high-end task for Mistrals will be delivery of Russian attack and antisubmarine helicopters (Ka-52 Alligator and Ka-27 respectively) to assigned sea- or coastal area. And only the third-priority task will be projection of marine units for landing operations”, added the source.

He also said that Mistral class helicopter carriers are supposed to be stationed at Pacific and Northern fleets. “These two fleets have the largest responsibility areas and biggest number of assets available. So far, it is planned that Northern Fleet would have one Mistral class ship, and Pacific Fleet – one or two of them. If needed, interfleet reassignments of Mistrals are possible as well”, said the source.

He confirmed that Mistral class helicopter carriers which are to join Pacific Fleet would particularly maintain security of Kuril Islands. “This is one of the high-priority tasks forMistrals to be completed along with other branches of Russian Armed Forces”, emphasized the source.