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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russia closes sensational deal at Euronaval-2010

RIA Novosti

14:16 29/10/2010 RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik - The 22nd Euronaval International Naval Defence & Maritime Exhibition is drawing to a close today.

Countries attending this prestigious event, traditionally held at the Paris Le-Bourget exhibition center, view it as a prize opportunity to show off their latest achievements, to announce major contracts and tenders during the show.

Russia is no exception, this year displaying virtually everything its shipbuilding industry currently produces and announcing a tender for the construction of four Mistral-class amphibious assault ships on order from its Navy. Media across Europe have long been discussing that sensational story, and were expecting Euronaval to shed further light on this issue.

What is Russia selling?

Russia is a major naval technology and equipment supplier, primarily known for its corvettes and frigates. Although Germany now sells more submarines on the global market, Russia still has the edge in advanced corvette and frigate deliveries.

Soviet-era warships have now been replaced with post-Soviet designs featuring the global shipbuilding sector's very latest achievements. New engineering solutions include a modular design, making it possible to assemble multi-purpose warships on the basis of one and the same platform. Moreover, versatile missile launchers are used as a single weapons system, dramatically expanding the combat potential of guided-missile ships.

Reduced radar visibility and many other innovations also help deliver heightened combat efficiency. Russia has even made headway in radio-electronics, traditionally something of a weak spot.

Russian companies are now marketing some truly competitive navigation systems. For instance, the St. Petersburg-based company Tranzas actively sells navigation equipment in Western Europe. New-generation Russian warships are equipped with up-to-date combat information-and-control systems, allowing the establishment of a collective defense system by receiving remote control targets and transmitting real-time information.

However, state-of-the-art equipment and technology alone do not always guarantee successful sales. Customers need to be convinced that this more expensive post-Soviet equipment is an improvement on its predecessors. The ideal way of convincing international players would be for Russia's Navy to put in an order, as military equipment that has not been adopted by the manufacturing country is impossible to export.

Guided-missile boats, gunboats, frigates and amphibious warfare ships are all currently under construction on orders from the Russian Navy: Moscow as a result finds them easier to export.

What is Russia buying?

The epic story of the Russia-France deal for four Mistral-class amphibious assault ships has been running for years and finally seems to be nearing completion. The key event was to take place this autumn, with the announcement of the tender that was expected in September or early October. Nothing happened.

When Euronaval-2010 opened, it emerged that the tender had already been announced, that bidders' proposals would be made public on November 4, and that the winner would be selected by the end of fall.

The Russian Defense Ministry will have their choice of Spanish, Dutch, French and even Russian bidders. Given previous developments, and the particular nature of Russian-French relations, it is likely that the Mistral will defeat its rivals.

The terms of the contract and the extent of Russia's involvement are the main issues remaining. Moscow initially wanted Paris to build one ship and hand over key technology enabling Russia to build three more. The French propose a 2:2 deal under which each side builds two ships.

Leaving aside, for a moment, the oft discussed issue of the Mistral's designation and potential, let us now consider whether Russia's shipbuilding industry is in a fit state to deliver on this project.

Today there are no shipyards anywhere in Russia that are in a position to build this class of vessel from scratch. Before attempting it they would not only need to be overhauled but also to receive foreign components and technical assistance.

A modernized shipyard is needed even simply to build the hull of a Mistral-class ship: it would need the equipment required first to assemble modules weighing 2,500 metric tons and over, and then to join them together inside a special dock.

This makes it possible to build cheaper ships in no time at all and also shortens the outfitting period. Consequently, the modernization of the entire ship-building process would be the Russian industry's main prize, were it to build a Mistral-class ship under a French license. The Russian side also wants access to advanced Western radio-electronic equipment, another coveted prize.

Despite notable progress in this field, Russia still lacks the full range of systems required to facilitate a modern naval task force's well-coordinated operations. This is an opportunity for Russian specialists to study French technology - enabling them to reproduce it at home.

Most importantly, from the practical perspective, officers have to be trained in how to run ships using these systems. The situation is compounded by the fact that neither the Soviet Navy nor its Russian counterpart ever operated ships that were anything like this. Russia will have to train officers all by itself because France can provide only limited assistance in this sphere.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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