Why does Russia need the French Mistral?

Russia could build more than two helicopter carriers of Mistral type in its shipyards, which is more than originally planned, said director of the French state-owned naval shipbuilding Pierre Legros during the Naval Show in Le Bourget. The winner of the tender for the supply of Russian universal helicopter carriers will be announced after November 4, RBC reports.

Several purchasing and manufacturing schemes were discussed earlier: two plus two (two Mistrals are built at the French shipyards, the next two at the Russian ones), one plus three (one in France, three in Russia), that suit the Russian side the most (and which is likely to be final) and three plus one, which suited the French since they wanted to keep their shipyard busy.

But, as we see, they are rather soft in this matter, which is understandable. After all, the Russian order can save shipyard in Saint-Nazaire from bankruptcy, so France is eager to sign the contract, even despite the pressure from the United States and its NATO allies from Eastern Europe.

Russia Today: Russia announced helicopter carrier tender

Previously, some Russian and foreign media reported that the ships of the Mistral type will be sold to Russia without advanced control systems. "It will be a ship with the same systems that are installed on ships for the French Navy. There are no restrictions, "said Legros.

At the same time he stressed that the ships will be different from the French counterparts. In particular, the Russian side has already asked the French manufacturer to increase the thickness of the take-off deck for landing of heavy Russian helicopters and provide anti-ice security through the strengthening of the ship's hull, said the director of DCNS.

Purchasing helicopter carriers abroad can be the first such deal for the Russian army nearly in the past hundred years, which explains the attention to this subject. The cost is also impressive - 450 million Euros for the first French Mistral. Plus the same amount for the license to manufacture the vessel.

But does Russia need navy ships of this class? The General Staff is confident - most certainly, as Russia does not have this kind of technology.

Russia's large amphibious ships are three to four times smaller than Mistral, which has a total displacement of 21 thousand 300 tons, maximum length of 210 meters, the width of 30 meters, maximum speed of 19 knots, and a crew of 160 people. It is capable of carrying 450 people and amphibious vehicles - 16 heavy helicopters, hovercraft and motorboats.

Mistral is not only a landing craft carrier, but also a helicopter carrier, a staff vessel, an amphibious assault ship, a hospital, and just a transport vehicle, and any new feature can be added to it very easily in the shortest possible time. In addition, in the Navy, Mistral will deal with transportation of people and goods, anti-submarine struggle and rescue of people in emergencies. As previously noted by Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin, the decision to purchase Mistral was made based on the analysis of the military threats.

"You probably forgot that in the Far East we have an unresolved issue of the islands from the standpoint of Japan, while from our point of view it has been resolved. You probably forgot that we have a special area of Kaliningrad as an enclave, with which there is no direct connection. How will we make deliveries there?" he said.

Popovkin believes that without a vessel of this class Russia would have to "deploy groups on Sakhalin and the northern islands, keep thousands of soldiers and officers with weapons."

However, some military experts doubt the need to acquire helicopter carriers. An expert of the Center for Military Forecasting Anatoly Tsyganok told in an interview with Pravda.ru that Russia does not need such a ship because it is poorly armed. "To protect helicopter carriers we need escort of cruisers and destroyers, ships of this type are designed to solve problems that the Russian Navy does not have (like transferring landing troops long-distance), equipment of Mistral is incompatible with the Russian equipment (helicopters do not fit in elevators), and modifications will result in additional expenses. And the ships will be delivered without electronic "stuffing" because NATO will not allow it."

President of the Academy of Geopolitical Issues, Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov shares the skepticism of Anatoly Tsygankov. In his opinion, the goal of Mistral is unclear: "from a geopolitical point of view I do not see where we will land the troops." In addition, the expert pointed out that "this ship is weakly protected, and it is a good target for the enemy."

"And another question - why do we have to rush to buy overseas when we have our own shipyards? Yes, of course, having spent many years without a military order, we cannot produce a final design for a particular ship. But today the situation is not so tense to require the ship tomorrow. We could create a powerful unified design office or co-operatives, as we have always done, could attract experienced staff, and young people could gain experience. . . And we could get both preliminary and final funding, we could raise our defense industry, prepare personnel, form the new design ideas, and everything would be fine", Ivashov said in an interview with a reporter of Pravda.ru.

However, not all experts share the critical attitude toward the helicopter carrier and everything connected with it. According to the chief editor of "National Defense" Igor Korotchenko, it should be said that the French Mistral has clear advantages over its competitors. "Firstly, the Ministry of Defense is inclined to purchase this very ship. Second, the Mistral deal is a part of a broader political-economic agreement between Moscow and Paris. France is our natural partner and ally in the European Union, and this fact must also be taken into account. In any case, arms deals are not only commercial but also political. Therefore we must take into account all aspects," Igor Korotchenko told Pravda.ru.

The situation is reminiscent of the problems with drones - Russia does not have modern machines, but they are undoubtedly needed. Creating our own is long and expensive. They can be purchased abroad, but it may not be a good buy.

The question is whether Russia should buy the missing items abroad (and seek the localization of production in Russia) or to entrust Russian companies with the development (no guaranteed result, but getting experience at times can be no less valuable). Both options have their supporters and opposition, but there is also a problem of lack of time as the Russian army needs modern weaponry and equipment now, not in 15-20 years.

Ekaterina Evstigneeva

Read the original in Russian

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov