Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 3: defense industrial cooperation and future prospects)

Defense Industrial Cooperation (continued)

Italy: The Russian military has recently completed several deals with Italy. The most significant of these is the establishment of a joint venture to built IVECO’s M65 Lynx light multirole vehicles (LMVs). The deal, estimated to be worth around one billion euros, will allow Russia to assemble these Italian vehicles at the Kamaz plant in Tatarstan. The license will allow the manufacture of 1775 of these LMVs from 2011 to 2016. While initially the plant will simply do the final assembly, the goal is eventually use fifty percent Russian components in the manufacturing process. The Russian military has also expressed an interest in purchasing Freccia armored vehicles and Centauro wheeled tanks. Two of each type of vehicle are likely to be transferred to Russia sometime this year for testing purposes.

The deal to build Italian LMVs in Russia generated significant opposition among segments of the Russian military and also in its defense industry, which argued that it was taking business away from the Russian-designed GAZ Tigr. The military responded that the Tigr did not fully meet its requirements and would have to be significantly upgraded.

Israel: The Russian military has also concluded several deals to purchase Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel. An initial $53 million deal was signed in 2009. Through this deal, Russia received two Bird Eye 400 systems worth 4 million dollars, eight I View MK150 tactical UAVs worth 37 million dollars, and two Searcher Mk II multi-mission UAVs worth 12 million dollars. In July 2010, the two sides agreed to a deal for an additional 36 Israeli UAVs, worth $100 million. In October 2010, Russia’s Oboronprom and Israel Aerospace Industries agreed to a three-year, $400 million contract that will allow the Russian company to assemble UAVs from Israeli components. As part of the deals, Israel has begun training 50 Russian UAV pilots at an Israeli base. Russian and Israeli negotiators are currently discussing the possibility of forming a joint venture to build more UAVs for the Russian military, which estimates it will need 100 or more UAVs to ensure effective battlefield reconnaissance.

Reports published by Wikileaks indicate that Russia had initially sought to purchase more advanced Israeli UAVs, including the Heron 1, in a deal worth a total of $1 billion dollars. Israeli defense officials eventually rejected this deal because of concerns that the technology may end up in Chinese hands.

Russia has focused on acquiring Israeli UAV technology because of the demonstrated inability of its domestic defense industry to overcome problems with domestic UAVs. For example, the Tipchak system is reported to have a low maximum altitude and a distinct acoustic signature that is audible from long distances, which together combine to make it extremely vulnerable to attack from the ground. A new generation system will not be available for at least three years. Furthermore, Russian defense industry has had particular problems producing miniaturized and lightweight components, which are necessary in UAV payloads, and reliable electronics, which are needed for UAV navigation and targeting. After repeated failures of domestic UAVs, the Russian military has decided that foreign assistance was essential for further progress in developing domestic UAV production capabilities.

Sales and joint projects: Until recently, Russian military sales to NATO countries have been largely limited to the maintenance and modernization of armaments owned by former Warsaw Pact states that have become NATO members over the last decade. In addition, some of these countries have received Russian military hardware in exchange for the forgiveness of Soviet-era debt. In this context, Hungary received fighter airplanes and armored personnel carriers, while Slovakia and the Czech Republic received various aircraft and helicopters. Greece is the only NATO state that regularly buys Russian military equipment. In recent years, this has included various types of missiles, guided munitions, and small landing ships, as well as S-300 air defense systems originally intended for Cyprus. Other NATO states have made occasional deals in recent years, including the purchase of 800 Kornet anti-tank missiles by Turkey, Igla portable surface-to-air missiles by Slovakia, Slovenia and the UK, and Mi-17 helicopters by Poland and Latvia. In addition, NATO states have joined together since 2006 to lease up to 6 An-124 transport aircraft on a charter basis. Finally, the United States and the United Arab Emirates have in recent years bought a total of 35 Mi-17 transport helicopters for transfer to Afghanistan, including 21 bought by the U.S. in April 2011 for $370 million.

Russia has just begun some joint research and development projects with Western defense industrial companies, including plans for naval cooperation with Thales and general defense cooperation with EADS and DCN. One possibility for cooperation with NATO is the development of a heavy tactical transport helicopter, using the existing Russian Mi-26 helicopter as a base. For the moment, none of these potential cooperative ventures have advanced beyond the discussion stage.

Future Prospects

NATO-Russia cooperation is gradually returning to a trajectory of broadening and deepening, which it was on prior to the deep freeze brought on by the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Cooperation is accelerating in all three major areas: training, operations, and procurement. Ventures thought impossible just a year ago, such as a joint European missile defense system, joint operations in Afghanistan, and joint development of military hardware, are all on the horizon. As with past efforts at cooperation, the current rapprochement is still fragile and could be easily derailed by changes in the political atmosphere in Russia or the United States. But for now, the signs are more hopeful than they have been in almost a decade.


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.

Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 1: training and operations)

A few months ago, I started writing articles for the English-language version of the French publication DSI: Defense & Securite Internationale. Unfortunately, that publication has now been suspended. I’m going to put a couple of the pieces I did for them here, including some that were never published. They’re kind of long, so I’m going to break them up into parts. The first is on Russian cooperation with NATO and was written about six months ago. Today’s installment will cover joint training and operations, while subsequent parts will deal with defense industrial cooperation. I’ll be traveling over the next week, so it seems like a good time to put this up. I’ll complete the update on Russian naval construction in a week or so, after I return.


Moscow’s cooperation with NATO and its member states is accelerating, as the Russian government and military adjust their threat assessments to focus more on Russia’s unstable southern neighbors and on China. In recent years, Russia and NATO states have conducted joint anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. They have also reached agreements for extensive intelligence-sharing in the area of counter-terrorism. Russia has played a critical role in NATO operations in Afghanistan by allowing for the transit of both lethal and non-lethal cargoes to the region by both land and air routes. And Russian procurement of Western military equipment may gradually transition into joint research and development.

Joint Training

Through the mechanism of the NATO-Russia Council, the two sides have established several joint training initiatives and conducted a number of joint exercises. One of the earliest forms of cooperation has involved the establishment in 2002 of the Russia-NATO Center for Social Adaptation, with seven branch offices, which retrained more than 2000 former Russian military officers for civilian life. Currently active training projects include Russian participation in NATO exercises such as Combined Endeavor and Steadfast Joist. The Russian military also participates in multilateral and bilateral exercises with NATO member states, including naval exercises such as FRUKUS and BALTOPS. Russia and Italy are currently planning to hold naval and army exercises sometime in 2011.

Russia and NATO states have also conducted joint exercises on emergency civil response to terrorist acts and natural catastrophes. NATO forces participated in such exercises in Russia in 2002 and 2004, while Russian forces participated in NATO exercises in Italy in 2006 and Norway in 2009. Future joint emergency response exercises are planned.

Cooperation is gradually developing in the area of missile defense, where joint table-top theater missile defense exercises have taken place over the last decade in the United States, the Netherlands, and Russia. Although cooperation in this area was halted in 2008, it will be resumed in early 2012. The goal of these exercises is to develop an integrated approach to European missile defense, with both sides discussing the possibility of a Europe-wide missile defense system. This discussion reached the ministerial level at the April 2011 NATO summit in Berlin.

Finally, NATO and Russia have a long history of conducting joint maritime search and rescue exercises, including Sorbet Royal in 2005 and Bold Monarch in 2008. A Russian Black Sea Fleet submarine may participate in Bold Monarch 2011, which is being billed as the world’s largest submarine escape and rescue training event.

Operational Cooperation

Cooperation between Russia and NATO and its member states has increasingly moved beyond just training. In recent years, Russia has cooperated in a number of joint military and security operations with NATO and its member states. Most significantly, these include naval anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and Russian assistance to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. In addition, Russia routinely works with NATO states on counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics operations in Europe and Eurasia.

Since 2008, the Russian navy has had a nearly constant presence in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Ships from three of the four major Russian fleets have participated in anti-piracy operations in the region, though in recent years the operation has been assigned to the Pacific Fleet. While the NATO anti-piracy operation in the region was only launched in late 2010, the area has been the site of the most significant international naval cooperation in the world in the last decade. International efforts have been coordinated through Combined Task Force 151 and through the European Union’s Operation Atalanta. While Russian ships have not formally joined any of these operations, they have coordinated their efforts in the region with those of the other participating states. In fact, when NATO froze cooperation with Russia in the aftermath of the Georgia war, cooperation between Russian and NATO member state naval units in the Gulf of Aden remained virtually the only avenue for military communication between Russia and NATO member states. As cooperation through other channels gradually resumed over the next year, anti-piracy operations remained a principal area of joint concern for Russia and NATO member states.

Since the spring of 2009, Russia has allowed the United States and NATO to transport goods across its territory in order to supply their operations in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Russia has allowed the transport of lethal cargo and military personnel via overflights of Russian territory. While this route was initially designed to serve as an alternative to the previously established route via Pakistan because of that country’s growing instability, it has since become critical to the NATO operation in Afghanistan. Fifty percent of all non-lethal goods destined for Afghanistan are now being transported via the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) and U.S. military planners hope to increase that ratio to 75 percent over the next year. While not all NDN shipments go through Russia, the majority do. Furthermore, NATO has negotiated an agreement with Russia to allow the shipment of lethal goods and personnel across Russian territory by land.

Russia has also worked with NATO member states’ forces to train Afghan forces, particularly in counter-narcotics operations, and is also helping to rebuild infrastructure in Afghanistan. Russia-NATO cooperation in counter-narcotics is much deeper, with Russian law enforcement officials having now conducted joint operations with personnel from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency not just in Afghanistan, but also in St. Petersburg.

Russia and NATO states cooperate closely in the area of counter-terrorism, mostly through intelligence-sharing agreements. In addition, Russian ships have repeatedly participated in NATO’s Active Endeavor counter-terrorism operation in the Mediterranean Sea. While Russian participation was suspended after the 2008 war in Georgia, it seems likely that Russian ships will return in the fall of 2011.


Debating NATO arms sales to Russia

Robert Farley responds to my post on NATO arms sales to Russia:

I can certainly understand the logic of the argument that arms sales should create dependence, which should lead to reluctance on the part of Russia to irritate the West. However, there are problems both logical and empirical. First, “France” and “the West” aren’t identical; it may be possible to engage in certain adventures that bother Washington, but not Paris. Second, I’m not sure about the empirical question. We can certainly identify cases in which an arms transfer relationship did not prevent war. Type 42 destroyers, for example, fought on both sides of the Falklands War.

Robert makes a fair point in noting that France is not the same as the West. However, I was making a larger point here, one that goes beyond just the Mistrals and just France. If Russia continues to conclude major arms deals with NATO states (with the Mistral being the largest so far, but not the only), then over time the Russian military would become more closely tied to NATO, which would do two things.

1) Increase interoperability, allowing for greater cooperation for common ends — such counter-terrorism or anti-piracy operations. This seems to be a relatively uncontroversial point.

2) Reduce the likelihood that “Russia would take unilateral military action contrary to Western interests.” This is obviously a judgement call and open to debate. I was thinking along the lines of the commonly made argument that European dependence on Russian energy sales makes European states (such as Germany) less willing to provoke Russia. One might argue that weapons are not the same as natural gas in terms of the effect they have on states’ foreign policies. And obviously there are other factors that would come into play.

The physical object represented by a particular platform or weapon system doesn’t matter at all. What matters is the policy line represented by military cooperation between two states. After the Iranian revolution, for example, Iran still used US-made weapons and equipment, such as the F-14, but further cooperation was out of the question. Over time, these planes have deteriorated and become less and less useful.

But absent a radical change in government or policy, it seems to me that Russian arms purchases from NATO states would over time create a situation where Russia becomes dependent on these states for both additional equipment and for maintenance of weapons already purchased. Russian leaders clearly hope that this is just a temporary phenomenon, during which they can absorb Western know-how and start building advanced weapons systems domestically against in the near future. I have my doubts that this will happen any time soon. Russian dependence on Western military technology is most likely here to stay for at least a decade, maybe longer. And that will make Russian leaders think twice before taking military action that will lead to an end to such exports.

Russia-NATO arms deals could bolster regional security

Another Oxford Analytica piece, this one from late September. Some of the details have been overtaken by events (i.e. Mistral sale), but the overall point is still valid, so it’s worth posting.

I’ll have one more of these next week. New posts will resume in mid-January. Happy holidays!


EVENT: Russia and France have finalised the details on the long-discussed sale of Mistral-class ships, according to comments yesterday from a senior Russian naval officer.

SIGNIFICANCE: Russian efforts to procure Western military equipment are gradually bearing fruit, as the taboo on NATO sharing sensitive military technologies with Russia is fading.

ANALYSIS: Moscow’s cooperation with NATO and its member states is accelerating, as the Russian government and military adjust their threat assessments to focus more on Russia’s unstable southern neighbours and on China. In recent years, Russia and NATO states have conducted joint anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. They have also reached agreements for extensive intelligence-sharing in the area of counter-terrorism. Russia has played a critical role in NATO operations in Afghanistan by allowing for the transit of both lethal and non-lethal cargoes to the region by both land and air routes.  One of the potentially most fruitful areas for further cooperation involves the rapidly accelerating trend toward Russian procurement of military equipment from NATO countries.

Signed contracts The Russian military has considered a number of purchases from NATO countries. Contracts have been signed to purchase:

  • UK sniper rifles and Austrian pistols for special forces units;
  • thermal imaging equipment for T-90 tanks, to be manufactured at a Russian plant in Vologda under license from the French firm Thales;
  • avionics for Russian military aircraft, manufactured in France by Thales; and
  • communications units for armoured vehicles, also purchased from France.

Procurement possibilities Negotiations are underway to purchase the following equipment:

  • The French Safran Corporation manufactures 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.
  • The Defence Ministry is also interested in Italian armour for installation on Russian-designed armoured vehicles.  This scales back previously discussed plans to license production of Italian LMV armoured vehicles to be built in Russia.
  • The most visible of Russia’s negotiations has been the ongoing effort to procure French Mistral amphibious assault ships.

In addition, the Russian military has received 12 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel, with another 36 (worth 100 million dollars) to be delivered later this year. Those received so far include:

  • two Bird Eye 400 systems (worth 4 million dollars);
  • eight I View MK150 tactical UAVs (37 million dollars); and
  • two Searcher Mk II multi-mission UAVs (12 million dollars).

Russian and Israeli negotiators are currently discussing the possibility of forming a joint venture to build more UAVs for the Russian military, which estimates it will need 100 or more UAVs to ensure effective battlefield reconnaissance.

Mistral negotiations The purchase of up to four of these ships has been under discussion for over a year. Recently, the Russian military announced that it would conduct an open tender for an amphibious assault ship, rather than negotiating exclusively with the French. Other potential participants include amphibious assault ships such as:

  • the Spanish Juan Carlos class;
  • South Korean Dokdos; and
  • the Dutch Johan de Witt class.

The Russian United Shipbuilding Corporation is also expected to make an offer, though its spokesman announced that it would participate in cooperation with foreign partners. In other words, Russian shipbuilders have admitted that they are not capable of building such a ship without foreign assistance.

It is likely that the tender is purely a formal exercise, designed to satisfy Russian laws and mollify domestic critics who oppose such a major platform being purchased abroad. There have been no discussions with the other potential foreign sellers, so the French Mistral will most likely win the tender, with two ships being built in France and two more in Russia under license.  Furthermore, top Russian military officials have recently announced that if Russia purchases the Mistral, it will have the same equipment as the French version, excluding only the codes for communicating with NATO battle control systems. This means that the Russian military would be allowed to purchase French communication, navigation and weapons control systems for these ships.

NATO worries Some Central-East European governments, as well as some Western analysts, oppose NATO arms sales to Russia on the grounds that Russia continues to pose a military threat to parts of Europe. The argument is that the Russian Navy could use these ships to launch an amphibious assault on Georgia or the Baltic states.

Setting aside Russia’s lack of desire to invade these countries except to defend against another attack — as was the case in the August 2008 Russo-Georgian war — such a scenario is highly unlikely for several practical reasons. Russian naval commanders have stated that these ships are intended primarily for the Northern and Pacific Fleets. Furthermore, even if some of the ships were assigned to the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets, possession thereof  would not significantly increase Russian amphibious capabilities in those areas. The Russian Navy’s current amphibious landing ships are as fast and can carry as many troops as the Mistral-class ships.

Instead, the Mistrals would be used by the Russian Navy primarily as command and control vessels for overseas operations.  However, the main purpose of the purchase is to revitalise domestic shipbuilding capabilities through the introduction of Western technologies and methods for construction of the two ships to be built domestically.  The ships would be able to carry 450 troops and as many as 40 tanks, capabilities similar to existing Alligator-class landing ships, as well as the Ivan Gren-class ships currently under construction.

Revitalising cooperation? On the other hand, arms sales have the potential to bring Russia and NATO member states closer together on military and security issues. Using NATO equipment would lead to greater ‘interoperability’ between Russian and NATO military forces, making their efforts at military cooperation more effective. Since the two sides are much more likely to work together on potential issues such as piracy, smuggling and counter-terrorism than they are to actually fight each other, selling NATO equipment to Russia is likely to lead to improvements in security for NATO states.

Greater ties between states generally reduce the likelihood of conflict between them. If France or other NATO states sell military equipment to Russia, they will not only establish closer ties between their militaries, but also make the Russian military more dependent on NATO. This would further lessen any perceived threat arising from Russia.

CONCLUSION: Major arms sales by NATO states to Russia would increase Russian dependence on the West, decreasing the likelihood that Russia would take unilateral military action contrary to Western interests. Such sales would also enhance regional security by improving the ability of Russian forces to cooperate with NATO against threats to their mutual interests.