Last Friday, Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye’s Viktor Litovkin covered a round table discussing Russia’s likely purchase of the Mistral helicopter carrier. He was also one of the main speakers. CAST sponsored the meeting, and Konstantin Makiyenko set the table with a general talk about amphibious assault ships and the world market for them.
Igor Korotchenko spoke in favor of purchasing the French ship, but not very convincingly.
According to Litovkin, Korotchenko made the following argument. The Mistral purchase is part of a political-economic agreement between Moscow and Paris. And so France will obviously win the Defense Ministry’s coming international tender. This French ship will be extremely useful to the Russian Navy, and strengthen its combat capability. Then Korotchenko seemed to imply that Mistral is less important as a naval platform than as a symbol of Franco-Russian military-technical cooperation, and France’s independence of the United States.
This view is a bit Cold War, and not particularly reflective of Moscow’s current effort to buy military capabilities abroad, and use them to improve the armed forces and defense industrial production at home.
Litovkin said the Mistral purchase raises a series of questions. First, why does Russia need it? The expeditionary missions for which it’s intended aren’t tasks for the Russian Navy under the new military doctrine, according to him. If, as First Deputy Defense Minister Popovkin has said, Mistral is based in the Northern and Pacific Fleets, it’s senseless because Russia’s not very likely to land its troops on Norwegian, Japanese, or Chinese shores. Second, Mistral needs to be part of a multipurpose naval grouping by virtue of its weak self-defense. And Litovkin says Russia isn’t exactly laying down lots of other ships to escort and protect it. Third, it’s not clear that a new base to support Mistral will be built. Soviet-built proyekt 1123 and 1143 helicopter carriers (Moskva, Leningrad, Kiev, and Minsk) bobbed at anchor, lacked support, and were ultimately sold for scrap.
Aleksey Bezborodov starts from the state of the state of Russian shipbuilding. Even if Russia tries to build the third and fourth Mistral units, shipyards won’t be able to manage it because they’ve lost many technical capabilities. He maintains Russia doesn’t have an enterprise that can make engines for Mistral.
Makiyenko and Ilya Kramnik took issues with these ‘pessimists.’ The former noted that GPV 2011-2012 may include 15 frigates, 20 corvettes, etc. The latter argued for acquiring Mistral because the Navy’s missions and requirements and Russia’s doctrine could change over the ships’ lives. He sees it as a good platform for showing the flag and defending Russian interests abroad, and a hedge against future problems.
Litovkin says the discussion only went two hours, and it’s a shame General Staff and Navy representatives weren’t there to share their opinions.