Tag Archives: Mistral

Mistrals Not Needed

It’s possible the endgame for the Russian Mistrals is approaching.

First Russian Mistral at DCNS (photo: RIA Novosti  / Daniil Nizamutdinov)

First Russian Mistral at DCNS (photo: RIA Novosti / Daniil Nizamutdinov)

But Moscow’s not sad.  Officials have already said it’s not a tragedy.

Mikhail Nenashev — not an official, but a former Duma member and well-informed commentator — has called into question the need for the Mistrals. He’s a former Captain First Rank who chairs the All-Russian Movement for Support of the Navy.

According to RIA Novosti, he said the Mistrals have no utility but political.  The news agency quotes Nenashev:

“These ships are no kind of necessity for the navy — we don’t intend to land troops in such a way.  As I recall, the French themselves earlier and now are searching for how to deploy these ships — for a decade of fulfilling these missions by the French Navy there were few places where these ‘Mistrals’ were deployed in reality.”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration.  The most cursory look shows that the French contributed the Mistrals to the NATO Response Force, and deployed them during unrest in Lebanon and Cote d’Ivoire, among other places.

Nenashev and others (including Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov) say Russia can build ships like to the Mistrals since it was already participating in their construction, and providing the internal command and control systems for the ships.  It would take longer (3-4 years) but cost less (€150-200 million vs. €1.2 billion).  The French, he says, can build it in a year because they have a smooth production process for these ships.

The former officer suggested that Sevmash or Baltic shipyard could construct such a ship if desired.  But he fails to note that these builders are already absolutely chockablock with orders today, and every new ship type is taking substantially more than 3-4 years to build.

But Nenashev willingly admits there are “acute questions” about the shipbuilding industry.  Specifically, issues of components, parts, technology, and skilled labor are a “little rough” and require coordination.

It’s exactly what Moscow will miss — a chance to see first-hand how fairly robust and modern French shipbuilders do their work.  No doubt there are things the Russians could have learned and taken home.

For their part, the French carefully note that the delivery of the first Russian Mistral has not legally and finally stopped. But President Hollande signaled Moscow that, if the situation in Ukraine does not improve, he will not approve the ship’s transfer in November.  That final decision will actually come at the end of October.

Improvement in Ukraine is defined by a relatively high bar of an effective ceasefire and agreement on a political resolution of the conflict.

The Elysee is quick to repeat that the Mistral sale remains unaffected by EU sanctions on Russia, and is a decision for Paris to make.  Hollande adopted his current stance in the last couple weeks as unavoidable evidence of direct Russian participation in the fighting (i.e. POWs and KIAs) in eastern Ukraine surfaced.

As of 9 September, RIA Novosti reported that planned at-sea training for the first Russian Mistral and its 400-man crew-in-waiting in Saint-Nazaire was put off for “technical reasons” having nothing to do with the French President’s current stance on the sale (or no sale).

Not Enough Resources (Addendum)

Ruslan Pukhov

In Friday’s NVO, CAST Director Ruslan Pukhov expounded on Konstantin Makiyenko’s thoughts about whether Russia’s current military modernization plan is doable.  And he offered ideas on how to make it more doable.

Pukhov points out that, in addition to 19 trillion rubles for military modernization, the Kremlin is footing bills for higher military pay, better living conditions, and housing as well as intensified combat training.  Liberal critics question whether the government can afford a greater defense burden at a time when it also needs to modernize infrastructure, health care, and education.

The planned military expenditures seem, Pukhov continues, balanced and acceptable, following 15 years of army underfinancing.  They shouldn’t threaten the country’s development.

Still, he says, skeptics have a point.  Vladimir Putin’s plan presupposes a decade of growth in the economy, perhaps not dynamic, but growth.  However, it’s also highly possible we’ll see stagnation or even recession in an economy which, with oil prices over $100, shows meager (for a developing market) growth of four percent.

Then Pukhov really gets to it.

With the slightest decline in hydrocarbon prices, “Putin’s preelection promises, including also in the military sphere, will become unfulfillable.”  And the Finance Ministry is developing plans to trim defense spending by 0.5 percent of GDP.

Pukhov asserts the Defense Ministry can continue transforming the armed forces if it sacrifices quantity for quality and foregoes more “metal” for human capital investments.

First, he says abandon the official but never explained million-man army manning level in favor of 700,000 or 600,000 personnel.

Second, the state should meet all its social obligations to servicemen and continue training by skipping some procurement.  The only “holy cow” would be strategic nuclear deterrence forces.

Third, Pukhov suggests sacrificing some planned naval development.  He offers that, as the world’s fifth or sixth largest economy, Russia simply can’t afford to recreate a global navy.  First on the chopping block, Mistral and renovated Kirov-class CGNs.

But Pukhov doesn’t sound fully convinced himself.  Some points not made need to be noted.

Pukhov should know Moscow has already gone well below one million men, if only semi-officially.  There isn’t much savings in reduced conscript numbers.  Pukhov doesn’t mention the huge “human capital” expense of trying (once again) to recruit professional contract soldiers.  The word corruption — the proverbial elephant in this room — isn’t uttered either.  The state already accepts 20, perhaps 40, percent less military than it pays for.  That’s where real savings are.  Foregoing some “metal” is a good idea, but Pukhov has scarcely begun to sort out what Russia’s acquisition priorities should be.

Mr. Pukhov should be commended for addressing this topic, but his critique is pretty mild.  He may still be attacked for it by some.  A much more radical restructuring of Russia’s military development program than Pukhov’s may eventually be needed to save it.

Ivashov on the Army and Putin

Leonid Ivashov

Leonid Ivashov recently talked to Narodnyy politolog on a variety of army topics including reforms, the possibility of a big war, rearmament, president-elect Vladimir Putin, and his military program.  Segodnia.ru also printed the interview.

Once Russia’s top military diplomat, now avowed geopolitician, the former three-star thinks Putin fears externally-driven regime change and is improving the army to forestall such an eventuality.  Ivashov sees a U.S.-led West depriving Russia of allies before focusing on Russia itself.

Asked about army reforms, Ivashov says they have succeeded in cutting forces, but not in rearming them or improving their social conditions.  Reforms have degraded and weakened the army.  Military men mock the New Profile reforms saying, “There’s a profile, but not armed forces.”  Ivashov calls reforms craziness, and says it’s like servicemen have lived in a house under continuous repair for 25 years.

Following up his comment on mobilization reserves cut to the bare minimum, NP asked the retired general-colonel if a big war is possible today.

Ivashov says yes.  Citing how “they” are beating up Russia’s strategic allies (Syria and Iran), he says “What is this if not war?”

Ivashov foresees a large conflict between the U.S. and China and possible spinoff regional and local wars.  He cites a Chinese specialist who calls for a Russian-Chinese alliance to deter a big war and curb the appetite of the West and international oligarchs.

Is Russia ready for such an eventuality?  Ivashov answers:

“I think Putin understands perfectly how military weakness and the absence of strategic allies can be the end for Russia.  Clearly, the Libyan situation ‘helped’ him understand this, just like what is happening now in Syria, and what they are preparing for Iran.  If you can’t defend the country, you are subjecting yourself to a great risk personally.”

“Now Putin is making a sharp turn to the side of strengthening defense capability.  One can only welcome this.  Because today they don’t simply beat the weak, they destroy them.”

Ivashov calls Putin’s military program ambitious, if not systematic.  The regime’s been in a “light panic” since Libya.

He intimates that more than 20 percent of the state armaments program will be stolen since the amount of theft cited by the military prosecutor covers only cases under investigation, not all corruption.

Ivashov suggests lobbying has replaced forecasts of future military actions as the driver of arms procurement.

The case of Mistral, which one wonders where it will be built and how it will be used, Ivashov says well-connected lobbyist structures ensure what gets produced is exactly what their enterprises make.  He was somewhat encouraged that Putin, at Sarov, entertained turning to specialists and experts to examine the army’s requirements.

On GPV 2020, Ivashov concludes it’ll be a serious step forward if only half of what’s planned gets produced, but it can’t be equipment designed in the 1970s and 1980s.  He sees OPK production capacity problems too.  He questions whether Votkinsk can produce 400 solid-fueled ballistic missiles by 2020.

Returning to the big war, he questions a focus on defensive operations for Russian conventional forces, saying offensive capabilities are needed to deter potential enemies.  He claims reduced force structure and mobilization capability have become a joke in the General Staff:

“The main problem for the Chinese in a conflict with us is not defeating our brigade, but finding it.”

Ivashov’s just a little up in arms over the armor situation.  He all but accuses the General Staff Chief of being a paid (or bribed) lobbyist for foreign tank and armored vehicle makers.  He suggests that Army General Makarov should be placed in cuffs if he says the Leopard-2 is better than the T-90 [what about Postnikov then?], and the Main Military Prosecutor should investigate him.

So what is to be done first and foremost to strengthen the country’s defense capability today?

Ivashov replies get rid of Serdyukov and Makarov who have done great damage, and strengthen cadres in the OPK and military by replacing “managers” with those who can apply military science (as Ivashov was taught) to the problem of developing new weapons.

The always provocative Ivashov doesn’t venture whether he thinks  the current emphasis on defense capability will continue or have the intended results.  He seems sincerely to believe in a possible Western intervention in Russia’s internal affairs.  But it’d be more interesting to hear him talk about whether the army would fight for Putin’s regime in something less than that maximal contingency.  Ivashov, unlike some critics of Russia’s defense policy, shies away from blaming the once-and-future Supreme CINC for at least some of the current military state of affairs.

Serdyukov Year-Ender (Part III)

A good day to finish old business . . . this covers the second half of Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov’s Rossiyskaya gazeta interview.  Serdyukov, while remaining on message, seems tired or uninspired in giving this interview.  He reviews old ground rather than breaking any new.

Serdyukov talks about coming to grips with large existing stockpiles of tanks, BMPs, BTRs, guns, and automatic rifles, and indicates he’s waiting for the defense sector to propose some fundamentally new systems.  In regard to Kalashnikovs, the Defense Ministry is open to new developments from private firms but isn’t eschewing future AK purchases from its traditional supplier either.

On Mistral, Serdyukov tells RG the French will decide where it’s best to produce units 3 and 4, and Sevmash is the likely place.  But he wants them to come in cheaper than number 1 and 2 being built in France.  He expects Russia to acquire leading edge shipbuilding techniques in the process.

Serdyukov shows a flash of interest when asked about conclusions from Russia’s recent space launch failures:

“One conclusion — we have to change our approach to military acceptance.  And we’re occupied with this.  Next year we want to reformat it.  There’s already understanding about what has to be done in training units for military acceptance specialists, their incentives, and technical equipping.”

“Generally, this is a serious question.  We haven’t devoted the due attention to military acceptance because of various obstacles.  Now we are smoothing out the situation.  Not so long ago the prime minister had a conference, and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin gave a whole series of instructions on price formation and tracking contracts.  Acceptance and production quality was one issue.  Today this task is being worked, and we are preparing proposals by the end of the year [2011].”

Serdyukov says voyenpredy can be civilians, but they should be former military men with lots of practical experience.

The last significant point in the second half of Serdyukov’s interview is his call for differentiated training for new professional sergeants — 3 or 4 months for those in motorized rifle units and 2 years or more for EW or communications specialists, for example.  The comparison he gives is training equivalent to technical secondary school or old school for warrant officers.  He indicates he’s not afraid future NCOs will become “eternal students.”

Nyet Means “Not Yet”

Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov (photo: Denis Abramov)

Russian aircraft carrier lobbyists — admirals and shipbuilders — define persistence.  To them, nyet means “not yet” or “keep trying.”

Izvestiya’s Denis Telmanov reported this week on future plans to build two new nuclear-powered aircraft carriers by 2027 — one for the Pacific Fleet and one for the Northern Fleet — along with 15-ship battle groups to surround them.

After years of arguing, the admirals reportedly decided they need carriers (not just nuclear subs and cruisers) to “broaden the Russian Navy’s zone of influence in the Pacific Ocean and North Atlantic.”

The Navy is reportedly completing the “technical tasks” for a new carrier, with a first design due next year, and the final one by 2017.  The first hull is supposed to be launched in 2023.  According to Izvestiya, sections and components will be built in several shipyards, but final assembly will be at Sevmash to save resources instead of building a new yard large enough to put a carrier together.

The article might be as much about where carriers would be built as if they will be.  There has been talk that the nascent New-Admiralty Wharves could get this work.

Izvestiya says land-based carrier trainers at Yeysk and Saki (NITKA) in Crimea will be used.  The paper also notes the new carriers will need new support bases because the lack of them “killed” or complicated the service lives of Soviet “heavy aircraft-carrying cruisers,” including the Kuznetsov.

One surmises that Russia’s coming experience with building, basing, and operating Mistrals will affect all this too.

But let’s rewind a bit . . . Navy CINC, Admiral Vysotskiy said in early 2010 that Russia plans to launch a carrier by 2020.  Defense Minister Serdyukov, however, has said twice in the last year that Russia has no plans to build carriers in the near future [by 2020].  On July 1, he emphasized that the Genshtab and Navy will decide on the need for an aircraft carrier after a “preliminary design” is complete.

No matter how much some say “Russia must have aircraft carriers,” it ain’t necessarily so. 

It ain’t so because (1) Russia may have more important requirements to fill with its limited resources, and (2) the people talking about carriers ain’t the same people who ultimately decide which requirements get met. 

Telmanov’s article is full of this:

“Strategists insist . . . .  The Navy has decided . . . .  The admirals have selected . . . .  In the military’s opinion . . . .  A Navy Main Staff representative explained . . . .  The military is deciding . . . .”

Not this:

“The president has decided . . . .  The government has selected . . . .  The VPK insists . . . .  The defense minister explained . . . .  In the General Staff’s opinion . . . .”

When we read that these types of people have decided to build carriers, it might really happen.

Keep Close to Shore

“In essence, after many years of interruption, we are beginning a large shipbuilding program:  by 2020, 4.7 trillion rubles will be directed at reequipping Russia’s Navy.  The aim is clear — it is creating a modern fleet, capable of carrying out all missions — from nuclear deterrence to presence on the world’s oceans, to the security of our economic interests and Russia’s bioresources.”

That’s how Prime Minister Putin put it at Monday’s party conference in Cherepovets.  But Nezavisimaya gazeta and Vedomosti had sharp and pithy criticism for him and for the naval construction program.

NG concluded military voters might be cheered up, but the paper wants to know what the naval construction program is exactly.  Is it the one that’s buying Mistrals that may not be needed from France?  With what and how will the Navy be equipped?

Apparently not aircraft carriers.  And not other large warships either.  They’re built in Russia, but for sale to India and China.  NG continues:

“Our own fleet is being populated piecemeal.  And, as a rule, we’re talking about a mosquito fleet.  Which, of course, is not capable of completing missions ‘from nuclear deterrence to presence on the world’s oceans.'”

The editorial cites former Black Sea Fleet Commander Vladimir Komoyedov who complains about the retirement of the Kara-class CG Ochakov, and claims nothing new is being developed.  It quotes Aleksandr Pokrovskiy who says the Baltic Fleet’s new Steregushchiy and Soobrazitelnyy corvettes are not participating in exercises because they’re only 50 percent combat ready.

So, asks NG, what kind of modern fleet are we talking about?  About past shipbuilding programs, it says:

“They were concrete and understandable — how many and what types of ships must be built.  Today politicians prefer to talk not about this, but about large-scale financial investment in the future fleet.  And in the very distant future at that.  From the point of view of the 2011 and 2012 election campaigns, it could be, that this is correct.  But from the point of view of the country’s security — hardly.”

Vedomosti takes its turn:

“. . . the idea of turning Russia into a great naval power has agitated the minds of the leaders of the Russian state for more than 300 years already.  The question is how acute this mission is in the 21st century and how Putin’s new slogans correspond to programs already adopted.”
 
“But the thing is not just the quality of the state program [of armaments], but also its strategic aims, which the government’s leader lays out.  We’d like the prime minister to formulate precisely what level of Navy presence in the world’s oceans and what he has in mind for its participation in the defense of bioresources.  Security of mineral and biological resources is an affair for civilian services and maritime border guards . . . .”
The business daily goes on to say corvettes, frigates, and landing ships are capable of completing “understandable and necessary missions.”  Still, it
says:
 
“Many experts consider extravagant the purchase of the Mistrals (four ships cost 2.35 billion euros), intended to support amphibious operations at a great distance from native shores.  Some admirals and VPK directors called for development of aircraft carrier groups.  Similar projects, the cost of which stretches to tens of billions of euros, will cause curtailment of construction of ships needed for the fleet, overloading and technological breakdowns in Russian shipyards.  In any case, Russia’s main problems have to be resolved on land.”
Sound advice given that the procurement problems of the Ground Troops and Air Forces, not to mention the RVSN, are just as serious and urgent as the Navy’s (if not more so).
 

The GOZ Last Week (Part II)

We looked at last week’s news.  What’s it mean?  There wasn’t a lot of commentary about it, but there were two very good pieces.

To backtrack a little, if it looks like Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov might be (just might be)  getting an upper hand on forcing defense producers to his prices instead of vice versa, then the commentaries give insight into what is happening (or may happen) if Serdyukov succeeds in driving hard bargains with the OPK.

Moskovskiy komsomolets’ Olga Bozhyeva asked a general who worked on the GOZ to comment on this year’s situation:

“The Defense Ministry now lacks an organ with responsibility for contracting work, beginning with formation of initial prices and ending with accepting the results.  In the past, the chief of armament’s apparatus performed these functions, currently it’s been transformed into a department with unintelligible functions.  Tax organ officials who’ve come into the Defense Ministry’s key financial posts can’t connect the price of a product with the characteristics of the model being produced and its contribution to the country’s security.  In the Defense Ministry in recent years, three basic methods of calculating the cost of a product have been introduced, but not one of them factors in the substantive part of the work.  They are all built on the principle:  I have a certain amount of money, I want to give you this much of it.  But putting it to concrete use no longer interests anyone.  And it turns out that the methods of calculating prices in the Defense Ministry and in VPK enterprises are different.  The people speak different languages . . . .”

Bozhyeva concludes:

“In a market economy, you have to survive somehow.  Here is not America, where work for the Pentagon brings a good profit.  With us, it only allows you to survive.  And that is if they allow it.  But they don’t let everyone.”

“Here not long ago the Defense Minister got indignant, for example, that shipbuilders [Sevmash] had become so brazen that they also put the cost of kindergartens and other “social benefits” into the price of a missile-carrier [SSBN].”

“I’m not a taxman, evidently, since I don’t understand:  but where can they put it?  Let’s take Severodvinsk here.  It is completely dependent on “Sevmashpredpriyatiye.”  Like it or not, the kindergartens, schools, hospitals, clinics, housing – the factory has to maintain all of it.  And, naturally, they put the upkeep into their production cost.  How can it be otherwise?  If there aren’t kindergartens – there aren’t missile-carriers.”

Editorializing in Nezavisimaya gazeta, Viktor Litovkin writes:

“What are the causes of such an ‘inability to agree?’  In the fact, in my view, that it’s impossible to marry purely administrative approaches to the imposition of concrete military department prices on defense enterprises with largely market relationships which exist for the defense sector today.  With achieving that degree of Gosoboronzakaz profitability in which enterprises have the chance not just to survive, but also develop.  Several defense NII and factory directors, undoubtedly following the example of MIT General Designer Yuriy Solomonov, have already even stopped ‘fearing’ to publicize their disagreements with the Defense Ministry in front of journalists.  General Director of NII Instrument-building named for Tikhomirov, Yuriy Belyy told me ‘in the ordering structures of the military department people have come, who, to put it mildly, don’t understand anything about production and price formation’ (this, by the way, also means Anatoliy Serdyukov. – ‘NVO’ No. 25).  ‘Still they always demand the reduction of invoiced expenditures, reduction of profits, of labor input.  And often arbitrarily disregard prices on final goods.’  This, in his words, is happening all over the defense sector.”

“’If we had the GOZ alone, the enterprise would have died long ago,’ Yuriy Belyy told me.  ‘There are practically no resources remaining for development after GOZ fulfillment.  It isn’t understood that wages take according to some kind of averaging principle.  Invoicing expenses also.  So goes the practical strangulation of the defense sector.  In the country’s leadership they say that the OPK’s profitability is the locomotive of industry, should be not less than 15%, but in fact it’s not more than 5-7%.  And, the main thing, not understood, is with whom to talk in the Defense Ministry.  Completely incompetent people have arrived.  Their mission is not the development of industry, not increasing the country’s defense capability, their mission is to save money by any means.’”

“An enterprise producing a final product, like ‘Dolgorukiy,’ which buys metals, nuclear reactors, various components at market prices from the monopoly producers of these products, can’t give away the good created by its workers lower or a little, one-two percent, higher than its own cost, or lower than its profitability level.  It can’t buy new machine tools, technology, reequip its production line, train and select new highly-qualified personnel, provide them housing . . . .  It can’t not think about tomorrow.”

“And from the other side, if it’s possible to pay the French one and a half billion Euros for ‘Mistrals’ we need or don’t need, then why does ‘Sevmash’ have to give away a strategic submarine extremely essential to the Navy and Russia for free?!”