According to defense minister Anatoly Serdiukov, Russian industry can neither produce up-to-date shipboard furniture and plumbing systems nor import them from China. This follows from a document signed by defense minister, Navy Commander-in-Chief, other military officials and industrialists saying about exclusive contract signed with Strongbox Marine Furniture LTD (Great Britain) for metal furniture and latrines to be delivered for Russian warships. So what, British-made latrines are more watertight?
Interior appearance of Type 45 Destroyer cabin furnished by Strongbox Marine Furniture LTD
Editors of Central Navy Portal fished out a copy of "Decision on re-equipment of living and service premises in Russian Navy ships designed, built, operated, and modernized with use of modern finishing materials, associated hardware, and metal furniture". Text of the decision was endorsed by Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral V. Vysotsky and Deputy Defense Minister A. Sukhorukov. The document was signed by high-ranking officials responsible for combat readiness of the Armed Forces and Navy in particular. Defense minister Anatoly Serdiukov approved that decision early in November 2011. The document provides that all newly-built Russian warships must be equipped with furniture and sanitary appliances made by British company Strongbox Marine Furniture LTD.
Experts of the 1-st Central Research Institute (former Defense Shipbuilding Institute, now – affiliate of the Kuznetsov Naval Academy), Navy Main HQ, Leningrad Naval Base command, the crew of Project 20380 lead corvette Stereguschiy, and representatives of defense companies were carrying out research work on board the ship since March till October 2011 and held the following activities:
– two cabins were re-equipped with furniture made of up-to-date materials;
– filament lamps were replaced with new-type light fittings;
– modern stainless steel sanitary appliances meeting the highest ergonomic and sanitation/epidemiological standards were installed.
Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral V. Vysotsky personally inspected both cabins of Stereguschiy during International Maritime Defense Show 2011 and watched the display booth of Marine Complex Systems Ltd. (MCS) which is an exclusive representative of British company Strong Box in Russia and CIS. Except for MCS, another Russian company grouping producing shipboard furniture and equipment – Aris & Geser – also took part in the tender. But finally, its production was found unsuitable and non-conforming to new comfort requirements of Russian prospective warships. The only winner is Marine Complex Systems Ltd which will supply new ships with furniture and plumbing fixtures. Among ships to be furnished by Strongbox Marine Furniture are Project 22350 frigate Admiral Gorshkov, Project 11356 frigate Admiral Essen, Project 20380/20385 corvettes, Project 21631 small-size missile ships, and Project 21630 small-size gunnery ships. Defense ministry's department responsible for procurements was told to collect all appropriate draft projects on re-equipment of abovementioned ships.
Interior appearance of aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth furnished by Strongbox Marine Furniture LTD
Late in October 2011 directors of the 1-st Central Research Institute convened a coordination conference with participation of Russian industrialists designing and producing shipboard furniture and equipment. National companies were informed about the fact that the tender had been won by no other than British furniture makers.
This brings up a bunch of questions. Why did the Navy choose only two companies to attend the tender, with one of them offering imported products? According to participants of that conference, they heard nothing of the Navy's desire to improve comfort standards at almost all prospective ships. Why the decision was made in favor of foreign products by no means conforming to our national and branch standards?
Neither furniture nor latrines are so hi-tech production which is beyond the reach of Russian industry. Of course, Strongbox Marine Furniture LTD delivers the high-grade shipboard furniture to ships of the Royal Navy including newest Type 45 destroyers, aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth being built for British navy, and other NATO warships. But another question instantly appears here. What is the price of that furniture? According to Russian manufacturers, it costs a lot higher (1.5 times and more) than national analogs meeting the Navy's demands.
With a simple stroke of pen hundreds of million rubles will be channeled abroad to support foreign producers, in this particular case, British ones. Did Russian-made berths, lockers, wash sinks and toilet bowls really evoke such aesthetical aversion that made Admiral Vysotsky refrain from the idea of producing better analogs in Russia? As said one of furniture producers, after that notorious conference they had a keen sense of needlessness.
By the way, Navy commander's essential requirement for cabin appearance is that furniture must be made from steel – for reasons of strength and incombustibility. Visiting Severnaya Verf shipyard, Vysotsky was dissatisfied with quality of shipbuilding and said the Navy was about to import not only equipment like furniture or ventilation systems but even weapons. And the next assertion sounds like an anecdote. As is known, one of key features of Stereguschiy-class corvettes is so-called 'stealth capability', i.e. lower radar signature. With this in view, deck erection is made from radar-absorbing polymer materials reducing opponent's detection range. What impact would have massive steel lockers and tables installed in all living cabins and service premises on that parameter? Maybe, in pursuit of 'ultra comfort' it does not matter? But to what extent would grow the mass of all that furniture?
Mattress Thickness Standards
RAPS shipboard furniture center and company grouping Aris & Geser are not only producers but designers of Russian shipboard furniture with rich experience of working in Soviet Ministry of Shipbuilding. Company grouping Aris & Geser primarily works for civilian shipbuilding industry (regular foreign sales), but sometimes for military as well.
Except for them, many shipyards have furniture-production shops including Russia's largest works at Sevmash shipyard. Severnaya Verf which builds most of abovementioned surface ships for Russian Navy also has such production. Companies construct and install furniture and equipment on board warships in accordance with technical plan approved by the Navy command.
Such production is strictly regulated by state and industrial standards. Perhaps, most of Soviet standards have turned old. Materials have been used not for one decade either. But this by no means cancels adherence to standards. What barred our Navy and defense ministry from initiating development of new standards, say, in 90's or early in the current century? Then no one cared about that, but now defense ministry considers many of Russian industry's developments totally obsolete and inadequate for present-day armed forces.
Industry asks military authorities for new requirements and standards, but defense ministry often prefers just to waive national products and export them from abroad. At first, things seemed reasonable – import of electronic components where Russia was far behind the world's advanced technologies. But now there is a trend not to work with own defense industry at all and simply import everything from the West. So far, they buy automobiles, UAVs, furniture, Mistrals , and voice plans to purchase tanks and so forth.
Problem of ship habitability is a long-standing issue. It became especially pressing in 60's when Soviet Navy reached the World Ocean. Some steps were taken, and living conditions for long-term shipboard service had been improved by 70-80's. Besides, at that time there was a chance to compare, since many ships for Soviet Navy were built in Poland and Germany. What could have been envied was only thickness of Polish-made mattresses; they were obviously better comparing to thin Soviet ones. But those times are over the hill. Now our navy takes oceans occasionally, and its role as political tool is minimized. Polish mattresses have been worn out and were replaced with Russian ones. However, problems with maintenance of foreign equipment including sanitary hardware are bothering because original components are nowhere in evidence, and Russian analogs do not suit. Only gumption and workmanship of our naval mariners make possible to keep some shipboard system serviceable and maintain combat worthiness.
Recently, United Shipbuilding Corporation began to incline to lowering of warship building standards remained since Soviet times. President of the corporation Roman Trotsenko many times offered the Navy to level down those standards and build warships by civilian norms – that is faster, cheaper, and more stylish. I wonder if the Navy would consent to insistent proposal of the monopolistic shipbuilder. But what if magnificent and luxury-furnished warships would sustain damages and sink faster?
Questionable care of naval mariners. Indifference towards own industry.