It is, by no means, clear that the first Russian Mistral won’t be delivered when it’s due at the end of October 2014. Maybe it will be just quiet enough on the eastern front of Ukraine for Paris to fulfill its contract with Moscow.
But CAST’s Andrey Frolov suggests in a recent VPK article that, if the first Mistral isn’t delivered, Russia could team with South Korea to build its own LHD at Zvezda shipyard in Komsomolsk.
“If we leave parenthetical the question about the need to have a UDK [multipurpose assault ship] in our Navy and accept as an axiom that our fleet needs them, next the question arises about the possibilities of Russian defense industry for import substitution for such a class of ships.”
Then he turns to what it would take and the rather large obstacles Moscow faces:
“Obviously neither Russian nor Soviet shipbuilders had experience in similar construction, especially on such a technological level. Those large assault ships [BDK], which entered the USSR Navy and were inherited by the contemporary fleet, represent a completely different direction conceptually and technologically. Taking into account the fact that, according to well-known data, in the post-Soviet period the design of an UDK has not been ordered from a Russian KB [design bureau], it is possible to suppose: in the best case, only draft drawings, done on initiative, exist. That is, in the event of a possible order from the Defense Ministry, several years would be needed just to prepare a design. The experience of developers of designs like aircraft carriers by OAO Nevskoye PKB as well as a ship of less displacement in the destroyer class (the design has been in the works for several years already) speaks eloquently about the possible difficulties on this path.”
“It is possible to trace the pitfalls in the construction of our own forces in the history of the modernization of CVHG project 11434 Admiral Gorshkov for India, in the serial frigates of project 22350, and also in the lead unit of large assault ship project 11711 Ivan Gren, which we note, is much simpler to build than Mistral.”
Russia’s shipyards are so busy with naval and civilian orders that laying down even two LHDs seems improbable, according to Frolov.
Nor, with sanctions in place, does Frolov think it’s realistic to believe that Russia can obtain all the dual-use technology it needs for such ships. It’s also doubtful it can develop its own. And the cost of these ships is a large issue.
But, says Frolov, the possibility of foreign cooperation remains. European partners are already irrelevant because of sanctions. Daewoo Marine Shipbuilding and Engineering (DSME), however, already partnered with Zvezda in an effort to land the contract Mistral won.
Frolov believes Russia and South Korea have similar views for an LHD: a ship for littoral operations close to home rather than for transoceanic expeditionary warfare.
Russia would have to develop some equipment, components, and systems for a Russified Dokdo to replace U.S. ones that Washington would certainly not permit the South Koreans to provide to Moscow.
Frolov reminds that Russia already has a record of weapons development cooperation with Seoul. For example, the Russian radar developed for the ROK’s KM-SAM will be used on Russia’s new Vityaz SAM.
He concludes that a Russian-Korean LHD could become “a more threatening player on the world arms market” and fill Zvezda’s construction program.