Russia, France sign Mistral helicopter ship deal
ST. PETERSBURG, June 17 (Itar-Tass) —— A contract on the Russian acquisition of two Mistral helicopter ships was signed in the presence of President Dmitry Medvedev at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday. Rosoboronexport and DCNS are the signatories.
The contract has a value of 1.2 billion euros, Rosoboronexport head Anatoly Isaikin told Itar-Tass.
Asked why Russia bought two ships instead of four, he said, “Further cooperation will be discussed when the ships are built. When the intergovernmental agreement was signed, the sides agreed that two ships would be built in France and two in Russia. This agreement is honored.”
“The construction will take long, and the Defense Ministry will say when the ships will be ready,” he said.
In the opinion of Russian Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, the Mistral ships will considerably enhance the efficiency of naval forces.
He explained the Russian interest in the helicopter ships with their unique tactical and technical characteristics and multi-role character. “At present, helicopter ships are one of the most rapidly developing types of warships. More than ten countries already have or plan to have such ships in their naval forces in 2011. The number will grow to 20 in the future,” he said.
Helicopter ships “can transport military hardware and landing teams, as well as land servicemen on the coastline with the use of helicopters and high-speed landing cutters,” he said. “As for Mistral, the Russian Navy has taken an interest in this ship because of its multi-functionality.”
“Technologies used in the construction of such ships allow the integration of Russian armament systems, landing vehicles and ship-based aircraft,” he said. “It could be used as a command ship coordinating the operation of a naval group deployed in various places of the World Ocean for peacekeeping or humanitarian missions. The ship’s ability in humanitarian operations exceeds that of Russian vessels by several times.”
The SENIT-9 combat data system of the helicopter ships had been a stumbling stone of the negotiations for a long time. France confirmed the basic agreement to sell one Mistral ship to Russia in February 2010 and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said a month later that France was holding negotiations on four ships with Moscow.
The negotiations were not easy but, in the end, Moscow reached consent with the partners on the delivery of Mistral ships together with the SENIT-9 system and related licensed documentation.
A breakthrough was achieved on May 26, 2011, at the G-8 Deauville summit where Presidents Medvedev and Sarkozy agreed on signing the Mistral contract within two weeks. “We have just coordinated our positions on the acquisition of two Mistral ships and the future construction of another two. We have really reached accord and this contract will be signed in the near future. The negotiations are over. That will help the development of our relations,” Medvedev said.
France and Russia signed the agreement on the construction of two Mistral helicopter ships on January 25 in the presence of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The Russian-French intergovernmental agreement will open way to the transfer of shipbuilding technologies to Moscow, Sechin said on that day.
“The intergovernmental agreement ensures the transfer of French shipbuilding technologies, which fully meets the interests of Russia. Hopefully, the contract based on this agreement will be signed within the next few months,” he said.
Sechin also hopes that the construction of Mistral helicopter ships for the Russian Navy will start in Saint Nazaire within the next two years.
In all, four Mistral helicopter ships will be built, including two in France and two in Russia, Sechin said. “Russian specialists will be watching the initial phase of the construction of the two ships in France,” he said.
Twenty percent of the staff building the first ship will be Russian, and the number will go to 40% later on, Sechin said.
The project will involve DCNS and STX of France and the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) of Russia.
It will provide jobs for 1,000 people at French shipyards for four years.
The Elysee Palace called the deal unprecedented. This interaction mirrors the wish and ability of France and Russia to develop broad cooperation in all spheres, including defense and security, the Elysee Palace said.
French military experts called this deal concluded between Moscow and the NATO member country a premiere. Meanwhile, a number of countries, including Norway, Lithuania and Georgia, expressed fears in connection with the Russian-French deal.
Benefits of military cooperation with Russia outweigh possible negative factors, French Defense Minister Alain Juppe said in an interview with Le Monde on January 18.
“NATO allies decided at the Lisbon summit to start cooperation with Russia in the development of a missile defense network. Benefits of strategic cooperation with Russia in the military sphere are much more important than negative factors. This is a common position of France and Germany, which is also shared by the UK with certain reservations,” he said.
“That is why, one cannot criticize France for delivering warships [Mistral helicopter carriers] to a friendly country,” he said.
“While developing relations with Moscow we should be guided with the goal of genuine partnership between Europe and Russia,” Juppe said. “I realize that this is not easy, but the West will have to make a choice between creating a climate of trust in the relations with Russia or stepping back,” he said.
Russia’s acquisition of Mistral helicopter ships does not endanger third countries, Sechin said.
“We take critique calmly but we want this critique to be objective. Most probably, [biased criticism] results from the lack of information,” he noted.
“The sole purpose of this project is to make supplies to our Navy. We are ready to tell everyone how these ships will be used,” he said.
DCNS is the key builder of warships in France and a leader of the world military shipbuilding industry.
Universal landing ships of the Mistral type will significantly increase the combat ability and maneuverability of the Russian Navy. The Mistral has the displacement of over 21,000 tonnes, the maximum length of 199 meters, the full speed of 19 knots, the voyage range of 11,000 nautical miles (20,000 kilometers) and the crew of 160 people.
It can carry up to 450 people or 900 on brief voyages, as well as 16 heavy helicopters, including six simultaneously positioned on the flight deck, and up to 60 armored vehicles (in case the ship carries eight helicopters).
France started to manufacture Mistral ships in 1997 as a part of the landing ship renovation project.
The main mission of the Mistral helicopter ships attached to the Russian navy will be control of naval forces and landing operations, a source at the Russian Defense Ministry told Itar-Tass.
He said the ships would operate in various places of the World Ocean, including the Pacific. “That would be a sort of command posts operating warships, submarines and ship-based aircraft,” he said.
“The second mission of the Mistral ships is the delivery of Russian assault or anti-sub helicopters, Kamov Ka-52 ‘Alligator’ and Kamov Ka-27, to designated sea or coastal areas. The third mission is the delivery of marines to places of prospective operations,” the source said.
Russia will attach the Mistral ships to the Pacific and North Fleets, its largest naval groups by the scale of responsibility and the number of warships and auxiliary vessels.
Then First Deputy Defense Minister (currently Federal Space Agency head) Vladimir Popovkin told Itar-Tass that the Mistral ships would have French-made innards but would carry Russian-made armaments and helicopters. Bearing in mind the wish of the Russian Defense Ministry, the ships would be slightly altered and their decks would be raised a bit for deploying Russian helicopters, he said. “As the helicopter ships will be used in northern latitudes and icebound waters, their hulls will be reinforced. However, there will be no serious changes in the structure and technical equipment of the Mistral ships,” he said.