It is crystal clear that architecture and constructive solutions applied in Mistral are indicative that the ship is nothing but a classic passenger-and-freight ferry designed under the last-century technologies. Basic structural layouts of the ship's hull are typical for civil ro-ro vessels and constitute no special problems to be developed by Russian design bureaus.
That was straightly said by Igor Sechin, Vice Premier and director general of the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) at the press conference in Paris after Mistral's visit to St. Petersburg. Answering the question whether USC is capable to construct such ship by its own efforts, he said: "USC is only executor but not orderer. If defense ministry asks us to build Mistral-type ship, I promise you we would do that. There's nothing difficult… Basically, this is a common ro-ro ship technology. We can easily build such vessel".
The National Defense magazine (No. 10, October 2009) published an article named "Where Mistral Blows?" bringing opinions of competent figures in Russian shipbuilding industry.
"Of course, we can design and build such ship", said director general of JSC Severnoye Design Bureau. "And take note, Russian industry would do it in the most optimal way to meet Russian Navy's requirements. Mistral class ships were designed and built for needs of French expeditionary forces. They are used for transportation of helicopters, armor vehicles, and landing craft designed under NATO standards which are substantially different from Russian analogs. Simply speaking, if Mistrals are built in France, the project must be radically altered. This implies huge additional charges. Otherwise, Russia would have to buy not only helicopter carrier but French helicopters, amphibious boats and armor vehicles as well. That is totally unacceptable, since it will cause an array of problems and enormous expenditures racking for Russia… If they order this project, we're ready to execute it. There's nothing supernatural and outstanding in Mistral class ships".
Another extract from that article:
"Undoubtedly, Russia's leading shipbuilding companies like Baltiysky Zavod, Sevmash, and Admiralteyskie Verfi are capable to execute such orders like Mistral", says director general of JSC Admiralteyskie Verfi Vladimir Aleksandrov. "We have perfectly mastered hull welding technologies. We haven't lost assembling skills as well as everything related to main propulsion plant and general-purpose systems. Indeed, there are some problems with designing of weapon systems, but they are also resolvable".
Now a few words about statement that purchase of ship-building license would be more reasonable that purchase of readymade Mistral. Bearing in mind that in the latter case all spare parts must be also imported (literally, each screw nut would be worth its weight in gold), such decision may really look reasonable. However, experience of shipbuilding under foreign projects shows that any original project normally undergoes substantial changes. This can be explained not only by technological difference in production but the necessity to use Russian-made materials and parts. Without that, there's no point to transfer production to Russia, unless we're talking on elementary complete-knock-down assembly.
Therefore, since the original project was developed with respect to French shipbuilding technology, construction of the ship in Russia under license will inevitably claim fundamental redesign and considerable financing. Moreover, the frame license alone would cost us a pretty good round sum.
Obviously, Mistral project is absolutely non-optimal for Russian Navy, because it is hard to find missions adequate for this ship. Perhaps, it's in no way fortuitous that our foreign "friends" support this contract, being aware of Mistral's uselessness in Russian Navy. Take note, they've chosen not a "short cut" but a sophisticated tactics of persuasion by contraries. How else one can conceive statements of some Baltic politicians weeping that Mistral is a direct threat to their freedom and independence? Honestly, there's no need to use assault landing ship for "peace enforcement" of any Baltic state – land troops and general-purpose warships are pretty enough for that.
Let us recall the interview of French writer and publicist Andre Glucksmann to Le Monde insistently recommending president Sarkozy to withdraw from the Mistral sale. Lamenting for Georgia and Saakashvili's regime, he asks rhetorical question whether it is reasonable to support the autocracy which abridges freedom of expression and kills new dissidents; to sell weapons to the overarmed country; to denude of hope those who fight new tyranny at the hazard of their lives, and so on.
This and similar publications picture that Russia realizing its "imperial ambitions" (oh dear, how some people are afraid that Russia revives former power and mightiness!) with the help of "the all-powerful pearl of French Navy" would quickly resolve Georgian and Crimean issues, as well as the Baltic one…
And what is surprising is that such crazy messages reach addressees! According to appraisals of certain top-ranking military officials, acquiring of Mistral for Russian Navy is very advantageous. For instance, Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov said the following: "Yes, we do want to purchase Mistral-type ships. They are vital to us. Our industry is unable not only to build but even to design such vessels. In Russian Navy, ships of this class could act as landing platforms, floating hospitals, and command posts".
Such statements of not-the-last persons in the military are nothing but provocation heavily striking Russia's prestige. As it follows from them, our country which 20 years ago possessed powerful native-built ocean-going navy today cannot build even a primitive ro-ro ship! A question involuntarily comes to mind – is that a kind of mass hypnotic delusion among our highest military "warlords" or something else? Make no mistake – it was not France to offer us its Mistral first…
Generally, all this gossip about naval arms imports started with provocative talks on procurement of German submarines. Then were debates about a Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier, gradually shrinking to the level of Mistral. By all appearances, some influential military figures try to shape a kickback scheme to "split" defense budget abroad. If so, these things should draw attention of the quite certain agencies.
Especially as there were some similar precedents. First, they shamelessly purchased English sniper rifles for Russian Airborne Troops; then disdainfully brushed aside Russian unmanned aerial vehicles (having impoverished domestic designers prior to that), bought Israeli UAVs and are about to reject Russian analogs totally…
Let us get back to the statement of General Makarov, however. Looks like he has never heard about Project 1174 Ivan Rogov large landing ships which are still the most advanced vessels of their class in Russian Navy. As a counter to "the pearl of French Navy", we'll give a piece of information about this ship.
Project 1174 ocean-going large landing ship is designed for transportation and debarkation of marines and armor vehicles on equipped and unequipped coast with low bed slope. Draft design of the ship was approved in Oct 1965; corrected technical design – in May 1968. As a result, Soviet engineers created an original landing ship unprecedented in the world's shipbuilding; the ship is capable to land troops both directly on shore and from the off-shore position (amphibious vehicles – on water, non-floating – by landing craft, personnel with portable arms – by helicopters).
The ship (full-load displacement is 14,000 tons) is capable to transport and land up to infantry battalion including 440 men and 79 vehicles (armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, tanks, trucks and so) or tank unit with 46 main battle tanks. There is a tank hold in the bows (length is 54 meters; width is 12 meters; height is about 5 meters), and a dock section in aft part (length is 75 meters, width is 12 meters, height is about 10 meters). To load vehicles from the pier while aft mooring and accept landing craft into the dock section, transom piece has a folding port with hermetic cover which is used as an apron in dropped position.
Tank holds, empty dock section, and top deck together can accommodate about 50 tanks, or up to 80 armored personnel carriers, or up to 120 trucks or other mobile vehicles in any other combinations. Landing party is placed in quarters and 4-men officers' cabins. Bow landing assembly includes bow door and a 32-meter long retractable landing apron which is normally located under top deck and pulled out by hydraulic drive.
Troops on non-floating vehicles can be landed directly on unequipped coast with minimal bed slope of 2-3 degrees (depending on total load weight) and fording depth at the apron's end not more than 1.2 meters. To land non-floating vehicles without beach entry, the ship's dock section can take six Project 1785 landing boats (speed is 7.5 knots) or Project 1176 Akula (speed is over 10 knots), or three Project 1206 Calmar landing air-cushion boats (speed is up to 50 knots). Dock section can also accommodate new fast-speed (up to 32 knots) Project 11770 Serna landing air-cavern boats.
Each of abovementioned landing boats is capable to transport one tank or other mobile vehicle depending on capacity. The ship may carry four Ka-29 transport/combat helicopters capable to transport 16 marines each. Helicopters can provide landing party with fire support. Helicopter hangar is located in the bulkhead between two heliports.
The ship's armament includes self-defense SAM system Osa-M (one coupled launcher, 20 SAM missiles), 76.2-mm twin gun mount AK-726 and four 30-mm automatic guns AK-630. Besides, the ship is armed with MLRS system Grad-M to destroy coastal targets.
Ivan Rogov class ship is equipped with three-dimensional search radar, two navigation radars, and advanced radio facilities. Passive electronic warfare systems and countersabotage means are also provided.
Echelonized main propulsion plant is placed in two wing spaces; all auxiliary systems are located between them under deck floor.
Hull shape provides relatively high speed for a ship with bow landing apron (21 knots), excellent landing performance and almost unlimited navigability. The ship is equipped with liquid/solid cargo underway reception system. By the way, three ships of this project had been launched; all of them excellently served in Soviet/Russian Navy.
Perhaps, Chief of the General Staff has forgotten about Project 11780 assault landing ships developed by Nevskoye Design Bureau as early as in 1980's. Even in Soviet times the Navy ordered two ships of this project – Kremenchug and Kherson, but the collapse of the USSR disrupted their commissioning. Having displacement of about 25,000 tons, Project 11780 landing ship was supposed to carry up to 2 marine battalions (1,000 men), up to 30 airborne vehicles, and either 2-4 air-cushion landing crafts or more landing boats of smaller size.
The ideology of such ship was the same as Tarava class US ships, but Project 11780 (dubbed "Ivan Tarava") was planned to have a number of advantageous distinctions. Primarily, more powerful arms including middle-range SAM system and gun mount AK-130; that would significantly increase ship's defensive potential and its capabilities to support landing party. It should be also noted that the high speed (up to 30 knots) with appropriate aircraft assistance would make possible to use Project 11780 as an antisubmarine warfare ship.
Of course, today this project is inadequate for immediate production and needs radical alterations on the basis of present-day requirements. In contrast to Mistral, however, this is not a simple troop carrier but a full-fledged warship designed with regard to more severe requirements for survivability and, consequently, capable to meet wider range of challenges while properly equipped. Supermodern Zephyr [Mistral is a light wind in southern France] looks an absolute tit against the background of Soviet achievements, doesn't it?
Summarizing the Mistral subject, apart from opinion of competent Russian shipbuilders, it seems reasonable to give the floor to naval servicemen. Admiral Valentin E. Selivanov, former Navy Deputy Commander-in-Chief speaking on potential procurement of Mistral said the following:
"Talks on disability of Russian shipbuilding industry to create landing ships like Mistral are nonsense! We started to build large landing ships as early as in mid-70's. First ship of this class – Ivan Rogov – was commissioned in 1978. I mean, the ship was not only constructed but passed all appropriate trials and had a well-integrated crew. Ivan Rogov was built by Yantar shipyard in Kaliningrad and successfully attended the Baltika-78 naval exercise. I know it for sure as I headed Baltic Fleet Missile Ship Division at that time. Combat capabilities of Ivan Rogov are pretty comparable to those of Mistral – she also could carry air-cushion landing boats, tanks, and helicopters on the top deck.
As of production complexity, a landing ship is by no means in the same league with nuclear submarines and missile cruisers which we're still able to build. Moreover, now we continue to construct nuclear-powered icebreakers. Make no mistake – these vessels are 10 times as complicated as a landing ship. Basically, what is a helicopter carrier? Simply speaking, it is nothing but a huge "pan". And to create such pan, one does not need any super-advanced technology but simply a good welding. In this regard our country has been holding the world's leading positions since the time of Professor Evgeny Paton. By the way, talks on production of Mistral class ships is a pure dilettantism, because we have to buy license for that and it costs 90 per cent of the ship's price. The game is not worth the candle!
All these debates on warship imports heavily harm reputation of Russian shipbuilding. Who would buy our ships while we ourselves purchase them from abroad?"
As of today, only one landing ship is being constructed for Russian Navy – Ivan Gren (displacement is 5,000 tons) which is capable to carry up to 2 marine companies, a couple of landing boats and 2-3 helicopters. Such ships are also needed, but if the question is revival of ocean-going fleet, we should think about construction of larger multipurpose ship – a small-size aircraft carrier with wide range of capabilities.