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.

8 thoughts on “Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 2: Defense industrial cooperation with France)

  1. Frustrated with what failures?
    The failure to have developed and put into service a Mistral type vessel while not being funded to do so for the last 20 years?

    The purchase of the Mistral class vessels is a knee jerk reaction to the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia.

    Quite frankly having a Mistral Class vessel would not have made much actual difference in that conflict, but that attack made it pretty clear to the navy and the Russian government that if another surprise attack takes place they have to be ready for it.

    The hint about what sort of surprise attack they had in mind is clearly shown by where the first two Mistrals will be deployed… the Pacific fleet… near the Kuril Islands…

    Very simply if it had been a Japanese invasion of the Kurils rather than a Georgian attack on South Ossetia, the Russian navy would likely have been hard pressed to do much about it very quickly.

    Not just a Mistral class carrier, but a port upgrade and support vessels and infrastructure to operate a Mistral carrier would have made a huge difference in the potential reaction Russia could have put up to Japanese aggression in the region.

    I would point out that while the Russian military is buying lots of foreign equipment the vast majority of it is for testing.

    The FELIN sets they bought were for testing and the Russian version of it, while over weight is much cheaper than the French equivalent, yet in some areas it is considered better.

    Also not mentioned is that France actually is buying Krasnopol-M 155mm laser guided artillery shells from Russia and is also considering buying Mi-26 Helicopters along with Germany.

    Another thing is very interesting… Germany has supplied Russia with an entire training simulator that allows a whole brigade to train against another brigade, or sub units right down to individual soldiers, with recording capability to assess performance and cooperation.

    I would think this is rather more relevant than a couple of helicopter carriers.

    The Russian Navy already has the Sigma system for C4IR and it is installing it on all its vessels right down to corvette size that shares info with other vessels… they don’t actually need a NATO system.

  2. I disagree with you Garry about your reasoning for the deployment of the Mistral in the Pacific against Japan. The idea of someone attacking a soverign part of Russia, different to S. Ossetia or Abchazia is pure madness. My personal opinion is, that this deployment is suppose to counter the naval ambitions of China.

    Thinking about the future rivarly between Russia and China, I should mention that Vladivostok is maybe 50km from the boarder with China and even basic artillery with a rocket booster will be able to hit the port. This mistake might leave the entire Pacific fleet destroyed in a suprise attack, even without the need for China to cross the border. As we all know, the Russians are really lax with laws and security measures. I can seriously imagine, the entire fleet, plus 2 Mistrals in port and with one strike the Chinese would wipe it out completely, leaving them with virually no protection…

    Buying the Mistral as a command ship is really bullshit, if we think of the news at present, that until 2023 Russia would like to have 2 new full-sized aircraft carriers built. But that is probably the reason to buy the Mistral, because when they finish this ship in St. Petersburg, they will be ready to take on the task of building a ship 3x the size, which they cannot do at the moment.

  3. Having Link 16 is pointless for Russia (other than for intelligence purposes), since it would make Mistral non-interoperable with the rest of the Russian Navy.

    Nor do I share everyone’s persistent (and materially unfounded) obsession with Western C3 systems. Once again, other than for intelligence purposes, I fail to see how SENIT-8 or SENIT-9 is superior to Sigma or Litiy or Trebovaniye-M. I get that stuff like Omnibus is outdated, but all new surface vessels are equipped with Sigma, which provides AEGIS level of command/control and interoperability.

  4. Jakub, Russia thinks the Kurile Islands are a soverign part of Russia… Japan does not agree, and the US supports them.

    Part of the shock of the Georgian invasion was how easily the west, especially the US painted the Russians as the bad guys, and pretty much stuck to that belief despite all evidence to the contrary.

    There would be no doubt in a Chinese bombardment of Russia, but Japan “taking back” what they believe is theirs might be seen differently.

    Chinas naval ambitions are to outmatch any foreign force locally. They don’t want carriers to sail around Africa or South America, they want to extend their air power to totally envelope Taiwan so when they get to fighting countries like the US cannot interfere.

    Conflict with China doesn’t need naval forces at all.

    I agree that buying Mistrals as command ships is a little silly for the reasons Artjomh points out in the post below yours.

    The Mistrals were available, custom designed for the role they want… the command capabilities and indeed the 100 bed hospital and state of the art medical component is gravy.

    It means that the next time there is a flood or tsunami or Earthquake in a place that is not western friendly like Myanmar or indeed Venezuela or Syria then the Russians have a ship they can send that can carry invaluable assets… helicopters and trucks to distribute aide and perform rescue ops.

    We saw how the events in Libya and Kosovo unfolded… with a fixed wing carrier group Russia would have had more options than just verbal objections.

    Fixed wing aircraft carriers for a navy make sense for Russia. Look at how long the air campaign in Libya and Kosovo took. Look how long the air campaign took over Iraq. How long was the land campaign in Georgia?

    Very simply you can use air power alone… and it might never achieve its objectives, or you can use it with land or sea power to make the latter safer and more effective… you simply can’t just rely on satellites… they are a tool, but not reliable enough and too easy to evade or fool by a capable enemy.

    Artjomh, thank you for saying what I was thinking. I didn’t have enough knowledge of either to make that statement but I suspected as much.

    Not just new stuff is getting Sigma, Sigma is part of the upgrade of the Kirovs and the Kuznetsov and the Slavas.

  5. Garry, I seriously doubt any confrontation between Japan and Russia is possible. There are very few things that the Kurils and S. Ossetia have incommon. If we look with a little sarcasm at it, Japan already has some problems with radioactivity, I doubt they would have the power at the moment or the motive to attack Russia, with or without US support.

    Concerning Chinese naval ambitions. Please Garry, few years back the high command said that they have no intentions of bulding any carriers, now they have 1 finished and 2 under construction. 3 carriers to protect one small Sea? Ok… maybe, why not, but you really think they will stop at this point? THey have to keep using money first of all, and the more powerful the country the more it has to protect its interests abroad, we know from the US example that the Navy is power projection #1.

    The minimum the navy would be needed from one side or the other is LACM launching, then of course naval blockade. 2 carriers is over a 100 fighters…

    I will hold on to my opinion that the main reason for buying the mistral is to get the personal in shape to modern ships and the second and most important is to bring the docks in shape for building a Aircraft Carrier.

  6. In 2007 I would have said the chance of a Georgian invasion of South Ossetia and murder of Russian peacekeepers would not be possible… Georgia is not currently a radioactive desert.

    Saakashvili gambled that the Russians would react too slow and by the time they mobilised their forces he would already control South Ossetia.

    He was obviously very wrong.

    Japan has a very strong armed force and while it is one of the few “defence” forces in the world that actually are only for defence… I am not being flippant to suggest that they could easily argue that taking back the Kuriles IS defending Japanese territory from foreign occupation.

    Their economy is not great, earthquakes, Nuke power plant problems… politically unpopular government… sounds like perfect conditions for something silly like taking back the Kuriles.

    Whether the government does it to stay in power or a radical party makes it a promise to get into power.

    The Japanese over reaction to Russian politicians visiting the region shows they are not rational in this regard.

    Why shouldn’t Medvedev visit Russian territory?

    I am sure that Japan noted that the US offers its full support to Japan and considers the Islands Japanese… the hipocrasy is hilarious.

    Just three carriers to take on the US fleet?

    They already had a carrier made into a casino, why did you think they bought the other carrier from the Ukraine?

    How many casinos do they need?

    And what aircraft will operate from these new carriers? …they will almost certainly be Su-33s from Russia… and you can bet they will be simple model Su-33s and not the Su-33KUB.

    Buying Mistral to learn how to operate modern ships and build shore based infrastructure?

    Are you Joking?

    For the couple of billion these four carriers are going to cost them they could have spend that money directly on their shore based facilities and on their destroyers currently being put together.

    Mistral helicopter carriers are not the sort of thing you buy for fun… they are for very specific roles and uses.

    If they didn’t need them then it would make rather more sense to spend money on Destroyers and more Frigates which they also desperately need.

    • I will keep it short this time…

      In the beginning, when the contract over the Mistrals was being signed, Russia insisted on 1 + 3, but France wouldn’t allow that. I am not saying it is the only reason for the ship being bought, but I think it is the main one. Russia has had e.g. the Moskva class, and they said it in the press as well, that the country has capability to design such a ship themselves, but it would take to long, so they just buy the entire shipx2, learn the blueprints and learn how to build a modern carrier x2. And when they finish around 2018, they start building an aircraft carrier, ready to float in 5 years 2023, it ads up…

      I doubt that the problem in Russia is money, especially when Putin is becoming president (not sure of course :D:D:D but he has a really big chance of winning). The problem is infrastructure (not as you probably thought I meant, but ship-building infrastructure mainly, but also pears and docks for big ships), decline of labor force (quality, quantity). Just think of it, in 15 years, they plan to have 4 helicopter carriers and 3 aircraft carriers, at least 10-20 new destroyers, all highly complicated, with stealth features etc. but with the current conditions in the bases, catastrophe… The frigates are being built at a reasonable pace, destroyers should be on the way in max. 2 years in my opinion.

      About the Kurils, I unfortunately do not see a point in the discussion anymore. Both countries are just to important for themselves, financially, industrial, they might use it in times of depression as a tool of populism (from both sides) but taking it back by force 😀 that is a joke. Georgia is COMPLETELY different, and if not, you see how NATO reacted…

      But you can are trying to say that China wants carriers to play in its backgarden and frontlawn? In 5 years, they will have to start protecting their property in Africa and protect the ambitions in S. America, that is why the NAVY is getting so much cash, Taiwan is over, they might take it in 10 years, but just for fun, and tactic practice, target practice maybe to showcase some new weapons.

  7. By the time they had gotten around to signing anything the deal was agreed at 2 + 2, but that is not important.
    They didn’t choose the Mistral for production rights, they chose the Mistral because it is a mature design that is proven and ready for production right now. They had to have the decks raised to allow for the taller Kamov coaxial rotor design and they are strengthening the hulls to allow operations in ice, but they have basically bypassed the whole design and testing process and bought what they needed off the shelf.

    And that is the biggest point… they bought what they needed. They are already paying South Korea to build them a new shipyard tooled and equipped with the latest technology and ready to build using modern modular techniques that the South Koreans are already successfully doing themselves.

    With time they can design their own full aircraft carriers… western designs would be useless because they have quite specific needs, and besides they dont plan to have a carrier of that sort in service till at least 2023 and probably more realistically 2028 and in that time scale there is plenty of time to design their own. The Mistrals on the other hand were needed as soon as possible and the current plans mean they will get their first carriers about 2014, and there is no way they could have developed and tested a helicopter carrier design and then built it by that time.

    You can’t learn how to build fixed wing aircraft carriers from a helicopter carrier design, they are different animals.

    Throwing money at the problem just wastes money. Designing a vessel from scratch takes large teams of people years and there is still no guarantee they will get it right first time. Examining an existing design that has sailed around a bit and modifying it slightly to meet your requirements is much faster and ultimately cheaper.

    BTW the Russian ship designers have already started on carrier designs even though the Russian Navy and Government have said it has not been decided to even build any yet. Most shipbuilders recognise that ships at war and in peace need air cover just like an army at war and in peace need an air force too. The government just sees how much they cost.

    The only way to solve shipbuilding infrastructure… and the port infrastructure to support such ships, and the logistics and support vessels needed to support their operations is to build them. If you don’t plan on building carriers you will never spend money on such things. Once you have carriers on the way you have to spend the money and things get done.

    Your forecast for production is wrong… they will not start production of 3 carriers in the next 15 years. If everything goes to plan they might start production of 1 if they decide they need carriers. Two of those Mistrals will be built in France and the other twos production will be supported by the French… ie produced with their expertise. Regarding their destroyer production, the design will be fully standardised and once they get started they should have no problem churning them out in significant numbers. They will be building all sorts of ships at the shipyard being developed by the South Koreans and production there will include aircraft carrier sized ships including oil tankers and LNG carriers, so come 2022 when it is time to lay down their first fixed wing carrier of the post cold war period they will have a shipyard able to handle the job… and it will likely take 7-8 years to complete and another 2-3 years at sea fitting out, so it wont be fully ready for service till 2033. The talk of a 6 carrier fleet was for 2050.

    In Georgia NATO was largely divided but actually did little except make demands for the so called Russian aggression to stop. There is actually rather little cooperation between Japan and Russia… they buy Russian gas… and that is about it. Mainly because of the Kurile Island dispute.

    Yes. China wants carriers because its current interests are Taiwan. In the future when they have more carriers and more experience in operating them it will allow them to expand their influence… and you are quite right, they will see the carriers ability to move through water as an opportunity to do more than just talk when it comes to Africa… where they have been investing a lot of time and money.

    China doesn’t do things for fun. They are prepared to wait. China will only act if Taiwan does something stupid. Currently Taiwan has too many ties to China and too much money is involved for them to separate now.

    Unfortunately for Taiwan communism is profitable in China… the west loves that China is communist and has few labour laws and low wages… it is an ideal sweat shop for western products to be made cheaply. Any dissent and you can threaten to move the factory to Mexico and the local party boss will make sure all dissenters disappear. There are plenty of workers to take their place. Even if someone dies it is much cheaper than western labour… pay the family $2 grand and it goes away.

    If China had democratic elections there would be no reason for Taiwan to exist as a “democratic china” and the lost province could return, but there is more money to be made as a communist country.

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