The Mistral’s C2 systems

Last week’s discussion of the Mistral basing question raised the question of what kind of technology is going to be passed along to Russia by France as part of the deal. Although there has been no official word on this question as of yet, and probably won’t be until the contract is actually signed, there have been some French reports that address this question.

According to Intelligence Online (gated), the deal 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.

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.

What does this all mean? It seems to me that purchasing the SENIT-9 systems will allow the Russian Mistrals to function more effectively as command and control ships, though it is unlikely that these systems will be integrated with indigenous Russian communications systems. In other words, sensor data will have to be manually transfered to the communications systems and then transmitted to other ships or to headquarters. This will reduce, though not eliminate, the ships’ effectiveness as C2 ships.

As I have argued previously, the Mistrals have three main purposes for the Russian navy: 1) as helo platforms, 2) as C2 ships, and 3) as a path to rebuilding the Russian shipbuilding industry. That post from almost exactly a year ago still stands up very well. And the focus on acquiring the SENIT-9 system reinforces the likelihood that command and control will be one of the main uses of the Mistral ships once they are in the Russian fleet.

One additional side note from these reports: The Russian Mistrals will be modified slightly to reinforce the bow of the BPC with metal ice-breakers and adapt the decks for Ka-29 helicopters, which take up more space than the French NH-90s because of their double rotors.