A deal was in place to buy two Mistral-class ships from France, but Russia has decided to build helicopter carriers itself.
Moscow will build an amphibious assault ship of its own due to problems with the deal. In 2011 the two countries agreed that Russia would pay France $1.5 billion in return for two Mistral helicopter carriers, but Paris withdrew from the deal, writes Zachary Keck for The National Interest.
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France backs out of deal to sell Mistral-class ships
Both of the ships have already been built, and the first was due to have been delivered in November 2014. However France reneged on the deal due to concerns over Russia’s role in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Since the moment that French officials announced that they were considering pulling out of the deal, there have been rumors that Russia would simply build them domestically.
As far back as October 2014, Russian Rear Adm. Victor Bursuk claimed that Moscow is “not dependent on France in any way” and that a planned program to build Mistral-style helicopter carriers “will certainly be implemented.”
In recent weeks France has moved to formally terminate the deal, provoking further discussion of domestic construction in Russia.
Progress is being made on domestically-built ships
Oleg Bochkaryov, the deputy chairman of the Russian Military-Industrial Commission, told the press: “We have these types of ships planned.” Speculation arose that Russia would copy blueprints of the Mistrals that it had received from France, but Bochkaryov later said that the Russian model “will be built in line with a different class.”
Vladimir Pepelyayev, the chief of naval shipbuilding division at the Krylov State Research Center, said that the Russian design “suits the tactics of using our forces, our mentality and our approaches to amphibious operations.”
“The task of our ships is to provide assistance to frontline troops in defending our borders, in other words, landing assault groups in the rear of advancing enemy forces. Naturally, they are designed differently,” he added.
Pepelyayev predicted that the ships would cost approximately $550 million to build, with 80% of the budget devoted to weaponry and 20% to the hull.
“The conceptual design will take about twelve months to accomplish and the technical project and design documentation, another year or two. Building the ship will require another three years,” he continued. Other naval experts have also predicted a similar timeline for construction, and claim that the ship could be completed by 2020.
Ships part of push to modernize Russia’s military
The construction of helicopter carriers is part of the huge military modernization program promised by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who recently promised to spend $400 billion retooling the armed forces. It is not clear how Russia will be able to afford such ambitious plans given the worsening economic situation.
As well as the amphibious assault ship, Putin plans to buy thousands of costly Armata tanks, as well as upgrading other vehicles and weapons. If economic factors force the Kremlin to choose between different projects, it is not yet clear which will take priority.
There have been previous indications that the assault ships are not a great priority for Russia. According to Russian security officials, the failure to acquire the Mistral ships from France will “definitely not” impact national defense, and the breaking of the deal “cannot even be considered a loss.”
Such statements may reveal that the ships were never truly necessary, or it may point to the fact that some figures believe that the ships should have been built at home rather than bought from abroad.