Twice as expensive as the Mistrals. Two universal amphibious assault ships for the Russian Navy

Attack helicopter Ka-52K

On May 22, TASS announced the conclusion of a contract between the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Zaliv shipyard (Kerch) for the construction of two UDCs for the Russian Navy in the amount of approximately 100 billion rubles. For the Russian fleet, universal landing ships are a new project. In the USSR, and then in Russia, ships of this class were not built. At the same time, the experience of creating large helicopter carriers in the Soviet Union was, but these were anti-submarine cruisers, the main task of which was to combat enemy submarines.

New Russian UDCs will cost the fleet twice as much as the Mistrals

As reported by TASS, the Russian Defense Ministry signed a contract with the Zaliv shipyard located in Kerch for the construction of the first two universal amphibious assault ships (UDC) for the Russian fleet. The total cost of the contract is estimated at about 100 billion rubles, sources in the Russian military-industrial complex told reporters about this. According to the interlocutors of the agency, the laying of the ships should take place in the coming weeks. Therefore, with a high degree of probability, we can say that this will happen in the summer of 2020.

Back in 2019, the Russian press discussed information that the head UDC should be handed over to the fleet in 2025, and both ships should be ready by 2027. At the same time, the official dates for the laying and delivery of the ships are not known. At the same time, the TASS report itself says that the agency does not have official confirmation of information about the concluded contract, and the press service of the Zaliv shipyard told reporters that they are ready to build amphibious helicopter carriers for the Russian fleet, noting, however, that they do not have information about the deal.

The Mistral-class universal amphibious assault ship, which was supposed to be part of the Russian Navy

There is not so much information about the new UDC, plans for the construction of which have been discussed regularly since the order of two Mistral-class ships in France. But already now we can say that two universal amphibious assault ships will cost the Russian budget more than their French counterparts.

The contract signed in June 2011 with France for the construction of the Mistral universal amphibious assault ships was estimated at 1-1.2 billion euros. At the same time, it is known for sure that for breaking the contract, France returned 949 million 754 thousand euros to Russia, as well as the Russian equipment installed on the ships. In any case, at the time of the conclusion of the contract in 2011, the purchase of Mistrals cost the Russian budget about 41-49 billion rubles at the then exchange rate (the average rate in 2011 was 40.9 rubles per euro).

Two new Russian-built UDCs will cost taxpayers 100 billion rubles, that is, at least twice as much. At the same time, the ruble, of course, has seriously depreciated in relation to the euro and the dollar after 2014, but the cost of the ships still increased significantly. At the current exchange rate, this is already 1.317 billion euros (the average rate for 2020 is 75.9 rubles per euro). At the same time, experts note that the externally presented ships resemble the Mistrals, although they have slightly grown in size. In any case, it is impossible to compare projects head-on at this stage, since the new Russian UDCs, most likely, will be larger than the French ones, plus it is not known what equipment and weapons will be installed on board the ships. However, the price is still alarming. Especially considering that the ships are planned to be built not in France, but in Russia. With the involvement of workers with Russian, not French salaries, and with the use of Russian materials and components, which, it would seem, do not need to be purchased for foreign currency.

What is known about the project of the new UDC

Little is known about the project of the new UDC. Earlier, the press widely discussed the project of the Russian UDC “Priboi”, developed by the specialists of the Nevsky Design Bureau, but now we are talking about another project. According to the specialized military blog bmpd, which is published under the auspices of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, we are talking about project 23900, which was developed by employees of the Zelenodolsk Design Bureau, which is part of the Ak-Bars shipbuilding corporation.

The first materials and images of the UDC of project 23900 appeared in early January 2020, after the Zvezda TV channel released a news story about Putin’s visit to Sevastopol. Here, on January 9, the Russian president examined an exposition dedicated to the prospects for the development of the Russian Navy. The exposition was held in the building of the Black Sea Higher Naval Order of the Red Star of the Nakhimov School. Within the framework of the exhibition in Sevastopol, enterprises of the military-industrial complex of Russia presented their promising developments, among which warships occupied a special place.

Shot from the report of the TV channel “Zvezda”

According to experts, the presented images of the UDC of the 23900 project allow us to speak of a significant external similarity of this project with the French Mistrals. The bmpd blog directly called the project a “largely clone” of the French UDCs. The ships are indeed very similar in appearance and, apparently, have similar architecture and layout of the internal landing decks. At the same time, the Russian version came out wider than its French counterpart, which affected the displacement and increased capacity of the ship.

The choice of a design company raises certain questions. The development and construction of UDC in Russia and the USSR have never been involved. But the real experience of creating large warships, the same heavy aircraft-carrying cruisers of Project 1143, was at the Nevsky Design Bureau. However, it was not they or another St. Petersburg enterprise, the Krylov State Scientific Center, that were responsible for the development of the UDC, but the Zelenodolsk Design Bureau. The company is undoubtedly successful, but it has won a place under the sun with projects of small rocket ships: Buyanov and Gepardov. Previously, the company did not design warships larger than the Cheetahs, with a displacement of less than 2,000 tons.

Obviously, Russia to some extent became the owner of the technology and design documentation for the Mistral, which makes it possible to design ships even with the involvement of specialists from the corporation, which previously regularly and with excellent quality supplied numerous patrol and small rocket ships for export and for internal use. … Experts also refer to the advantages of the design bureau from Zelenodolsk that advanced technologies mastered here. It was the enterprise from Tatarstan that was the first in the industry to introduce a hardware and software complex for virtual prototyping. Thanks to this complex, designers and customers, even before the start of construction, can walk through the interior of the future warship in 3D glasses, assessing how the project will look already at the stage of construction and commissioning.

Technical characteristics of the new UDC

The most interesting thing is the technical characteristics of the new UDC. The ship is 204 meters long and 38 meters wide. Thus, the Russian version is slightly longer than the “Frenchman”, but noticeably wider – by 6 meters. It is no coincidence that the ship has a large total displacement, which is estimated at about 25 thousand tons, for Mistral the total displacement was 21,300 tons. The draft of the ship will be approximately 7.5 meters, which is more than a meter higher than the analogous parameter of the “French” who never made it to the Russian coast.

Zaliv shipyard, photo: nowcrimea.ru

The main tasks of the new Russian UDCs will be:
– transportation of troops operating in coastal areas;
– reception, transportation by sea and disembarkation of troops and landing equipment;
– fire engagement of enemy anti-amphibious defense targets.

The last point, which is shown on the footage shown by the Zvezda TV channel, may indicate that offensive weapons, and not only sea-based attack helicopters, will be deployed on board the UDC. It is reported that the universal amphibious ships of the new Russian project will be able to take on board up to 1000 people, up to 75 units of various military equipment and 6 landing craft.

It should be noted that the landing capabilities of the Mistrals were more modest. For example, the ship could take on board no more than 900 paratroopers (when switching to a short range) and up to 4 landing craft located in a special docking chamber. The increase in the ship’s width had a positive effect on the dimensions of the internal and flight decks. So experts assessed the capabilities of the Mistral in 60 transported military vehicles, and the maximum size of the air group on board was estimated at 16 helicopters. The number of helicopters on the new Russian UDCs will most likely increase to 20 units.

A traditional question that arose both when buying Mistrals and when discussing projects of Russian ships of a similar class: why do the Russian fleet need such ships? There are at least two answers to it.

Firstly, this is the emergence of an over-the-horizon landing capability for the fleet, when the UDC is located at a very large distance from the coast beyond the reach of most weapons, and troops are delivered to the coast by helicopters and landing craft. There is no need to land equipment and troops directly on the shore, as Soviet and Russian landing ships do. The second important point is the ability to project force in different theaters of military operations, as well as the organization of a supply chain in the region. The military actions in Syria have clearly demonstrated how important it is to address these tasks.

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