Friday, August 20, 2010

Russian Mistral? Not So Fast...

This is an interesting development.

Russia will invite bids from foreign and domestic shipbuilders to build a helicopter-carrier, broadening its options amid lengthy talks with France that have not produced a deal, the daily Kommersant said on Thursday.

Kommersant quoted the president of state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation, Roman Trofimenko, as saying the Defence Ministry plans to hold an open international tender for the helicopter-carrier.
There are two key points mentioned later in the article. The first is the implication the US is pressuring France over technology exchanges - which is potentially part of the issue although I get the sense there is a bigger sticking point - as this quote is revealing:
"For Russian companies, construction of a modern helicopter-carrier is important first of all as a process of learning," Interfax quoted him as saying. "Our shipbuilders will be learning, filling the gap in some technologies."
France wants to build 2 of the 4 Mistral class ships in France, but part of the value of the deal for Russia is building up domestic shipbuilding capacity - so the Russians would prefer to build 3 ships in their shipyards instead of just 2. I think it is still very possible that either Spain or the Netherlands could still win this contract on this single sticking point - because my read is that politics surrounding buying foreign ships starts to get really ugly if Russia doesn't build at least 3 ships. The economics involved makes this a politically hot issue, and I don't get the impression France is taking that dynamic as seriously as they probably should be in the negotiations (if indeed they want to sell).

The Rotterdam is a very mature design capable of supporting 6 helicopters, and given the record to date of the LPD-17 program - I'd have to give the nod to the Rotterdam class being the best LPD class in the world right now (have to also factor the Zuiderkruis class JSS as part of that equation, making it the clear best IMO).

What is unclear is whether Russia can afford 4 of the Juan Carlos class LHDs that Spain is building. It will be interesting to see if Navantia is able to find any suitable shipyards in Russia to work with. The Juan Carlos is an export option - a variant will be the Australian Canberra-class Landing Helicopter Docks.

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