Thursday, 26 March 2015

Okinawa : Still Occupied 70 Years after WWII

A US Navy P-3C Orion assigned to Patrol Squadron Nine (VP-9)
undergoes a post flight turnaround on the flight line at Kadena Air Base,
 Okinawa, after completing a mission to Edwin-Andrews Air Base
 located in Zamboanga City.U.S. Navy photo


The Ryukyu Islands ( 琉球列島 Ryukyu Retto ) are a chain of islands in the Western Pacific that stretches over 1000km long, the largest of which is Okinawa Island ( 沖縄島 Okinawa Jima ). Collectively, they form Japan's southern-most prefecture - Okinawa Prefecture ( 沖縄県 Okinawa Ken ). Okinawa also happens to be the poorest among the 47 Japanese prefectures. The capital is Naha City ( 那覇市 Naha Shi ), located on the southern part of Okinawa Island. The total population number about 1.4 million. Tourism and agriculture form an important part of its economy. Geographically, Okinawa Island is about 600km south of Kyushu Island and a similar distance from Taiwan and therefore mainland China.

Map of Okinawa. Source : University of Texas Library

The Ryuku Islands shown in red and their geographical location relative to Japan. Source : Wikipedia 

The Ryukyu Kingdom

The Okinawa Islands have a long history dating back more than a thousand years to the ancient Kingdom of Ryukyu. Their proximity to both Japan and China meant that there was an abundance of influence from both cultures in all aspects of life - language, customs, architecture, food etc. They had maintained a tributary relationship with China since the 15th century and with Japan since the 17th century. The Japanese eventually annexed the Ryukyu Kingdom through military incursion in 1872 and it became a Japanese prefecture in 1879.


The Battle of Okinawa

During World War Two, the Japanese military converted the Okinawa Islands into formidable fortresses, deploying tens of thousands of soldiers in well prepared and well defended locations, supported by warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy and aircraft stationed at Naha, Kadena and Yomitan Aerodromes. As the Pacific War raged the United States adopted an island-hopping strategy, reclaiming one Japanese-held island after another, until they finally reached Okinawa. To the Japanese, Okinawa is the last line of defense for the home islands. To the US and her allies, Okinawa would be the staging area for the planned invasion of Kyushu in Oct 1945 ( Operation Downfall ) and the invasion of the Kanto Plain in the spring of 1946 ( Operation Coronet ), which of course never happened.

The US Marines landed on Okinawa on 1st April 1945 and fierce fighting continued for 81 days before the island was secured. Out on the high seas, the invasion fleet had to fight off waves of kamikaze suicide airplanes launched from Kyushu and Formosa ( Taiwan ). It was also notable that the IJN Yamato, the biggest battleship in the world, was sunk by carrier aviation on her one-way suicide mission to Okinawa.

In all, US casualties for the Okinawa Campaign amounted to 82000, out of which 12500 were KIA or MIA. The Japanese military casualties were even more horrendous, estimated at 110000 soldiers killed. Civilian casualties were estimated at between 30000 to 100000, out of a total population of 300000 then.

And that marked the beginning of a seventy year long US military presence in Okinawa which is currently still ongoing and with no end in sight.


The End Of World War Two

The complete destruction of Hiroshima City and Nagasaki City by atomic bombs on 6th and 9th Aug 1945 finally forced the Japanese to an unconditioned surrender on 14th Aug, achieving what Air Force General Lemay's firebombing of Tokyo and other major Japanese cities failed to accomplish. It was followed by close to seven years of US occupation and administration under Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur during which Japan was demilitarized and democratized. Japanese independence was restored in 1952 when the US occupation of the Japanese main islands ended under the San Francisco Treaty. However, Okinawa continued to be under US administration for another twenty years until 1972. Large areas of Okinawa Island were taken over by the US military for the construction of airbases, depots and barracks and for the creation of maneuvering grounds. Once acquired, the lands were off limits to civilians. About 20% of Okinawa Island is currently still under US control.

Areas on Okinawa Island still occupied by US military today are shown in red on this map. Source : Wikipedia
Map of Okinawa showing major cities and highways. MCAS Futenma is at Ginowan City. Kadena AFB is at Okinawa City. Henoko where the new Marines Air Station is to be relocated is south-west of Nago City whereas Motobu is west of Nago. Google Maps.

Okinawa Today : Military Everywhere

I happened to be in Okinawa for more than a week last month to participate in the 23rd 2015 Okinawa Marathon. It was my first visit to Okinawa and I did not know what to expect apart from what the brochures from JNTO described. They did not mention much about the presence of the US and Japanese military forces and their effects on every life in Okinawa. I had the entire trip to discover just how pervasive are the effects in every aspect of Okinawan society.

23rd 2015 Okinawa Marathon. The course brings runners around Okinawa City and at the 29km point enters Kadena Air Force Base Gate 2 and then exits the base at Gate 5 after 3km.

Naha Airport : Civilian And Military

I shall begin by stating that Naha Airport ( 那覇空港 ) is actually a combined civilian airfield and a Japan Air Self Defense Force ( JASDF 航空自衛隊 Koku Jieitai ) air base. I was not aware of this when my Japan Airlines domestic flight from Tokyo was landing at Naha Airport as I was distracted by the emerald blue seawater to the west of the runway. Only now when I examine imagery from Google Earth did I come to realize that had I looked the other direction as the plane was landing, I would have likely seen an entire squadron of F-15J fighters on the tarmac waiting to scramble, together with T-4 advanced jet trainers, CH-47J Chinook heavy lift helicopters, E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft and a swarm of P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.
JASDF Naha Airbase ( 那覇基地 Naha Kichi ) and Naha Airport side by side in this Google Earth Imagery dated 31st Jan 2015, less than 2 weeks before my visit to Okinawa.

12 JASDF Mitsubishi F-15J/DJ and 6 smaller Kawasaki T-4 Advanced Jet Trainers of the 83rd Air Wing neatly parked in 3 rows. 2 Northrop Grumman E-2C airborne early warning aircraft with wings folded and a Lockheed P-3C maritime patrol aircraft are also seen in this enlarged view of the image above.

A total of 8 JMSDF Lockheed P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft parked next to the domestic terminal of Naha Airport, the nearest P-3C is less than 300m from the civilian airliner.
South ( to the left ) of the T-4s are 3 Boeing CH-47J Chinook helicopters and a smaller one, possibly a UH-60 Blackhawk. The large twin engine jet at the extreme left could be a KC-767 tanker.

As Okinawa is only 410km from the Senkaku Islands who's sovereignty is in dispute with China and Taiwan, the F-15Js of the 83rd Wing JASDF stationed at Naha Airbase is on round the clock alert for intrusions by aircrafts from mainland China. In fact there had been 400 scrambles in the past year alone, up from less than a hundred 3 years ago, so much so that a second F-15J squadron had been scheduled to operate out of Naha this year. So the military presence can be quite visual even before one lands in Okinawa.

The F-15J in the foreground 22-8939 is with the 83rd Wing based in Naha. A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Royal Maces of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 27 flies in formation with two Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-15J Eagles during a dissimilar air combat training exercise near Okinawa, Japan 24th Feb 2015 . (U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. Spencer Abbot)
As I left Naha Airport in a shuttle bus operated by my hotel, one of the very first landmark that I encountered as the bus drove towards Naha City was a quartet of legacy aircraft, previously operated by the JASDF, displayed prominently near the main gate of Naha Air Base. The most eye catching plane is a Lockheed / Mitsubishi F-104J Starfighter mounted on a pedestal with its nose pointing skywards. The other 3 planes parked next to it comprised of a McDonnell Douglas / Mitsubishi F-4EJ Phantom II fighter, a Lockheed / Kawasaki T-33A Shooting Star trainer and a Beechcraft B-65 Queen Air utility plane. What a sight!
The quartet at the gates of Naha Airbase as seen on Google Earth. F-104J, T-33A, F-4EJ and B-65. Note the Monorail tracks that follow the perimeter of the airbase 
How the JASDF Naha Kichi quartet would look like from the elevated Yui Monorail tracks. From front row Lockheed F-104J, middle row left Beechcraft B-65, right Lockheed T-33A, rear McDonnell Douglas F-4EJ. Credit :

 Okinawa Marathon : Running Inside Kadena Air Base

The most popular marathon held on Okinawa Island is actually the Naha Marathon which takes place in early December at Naha City. The Okinawa Marathon though less popular is unique in the way the course cuts through the US Air Force's Kadena Air Base (嘉手納基地) between the 29km to the 32km point. I am not certain why the race course is designed like this but I guess it could be the USAF, specifically the 18th Wing of the Fifth Air Force stationed at Kadena Air Base, wanted to engage the local community in some meaningful way and therefore opened the base to the marathon organisers for this once a year event.

I initially signed up for the marathon because I wanted to see Kadena Air Base up close. Actually I was secretly dreaming about seeing the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth fighters which I know had been deployed to Kadena Air Base but logic tells me the race course would never be anywhere close to the runways or the aircraft.

I was hoping to see this! Airmen watch as an F-22 Raptor taxis toward a refueling station March 31, 2011, on the flightline at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The pilots and maintainers, along with the F-22s, are assigned to the 525th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. They deployed to Kadena AB earlier in 2011 to test their capabilities in a new environment and to train with Airmen and aircraft there. U.S. Air Force photo

In fact, Kadena Air Base is so huge that runners basically only get to run past living quarters, schools, supermarkets, storage bunkers etc. through the low security zones for the entire 3 kilometers between Gate 2 and Gate 5. I did not at any point in time get even a glimpse of any aircraft or runway! Runners did however get plenty of support and cheering from base personnel and their family members who turned out in large numbers to watch the marathon. Most cheer the runners in fluent Japanese with shouts of "Gambare" " Gambatte" which means "keep at it" or "go for it" and "Faito" which means "Fight!". Many stand by the road side under the hot sun ( hot even in winter! ) to offer runners drinks, sweets, salt and fruits.

23rd 2015 Okinawa Marathon : Entering Kadena Air Base Gate 2.
23rd 2015 Okinawa Marathon : 29km point just after entering Gate 2, Kadena Air Base. Base personnel and their family members turn out in large numbers to cheer the runners on.

23rd 2015 Okinawa Marathon : Possibly high school kids from Kadena Air Base cheering at 31km point.

23rd 2015 Okinawa Marathon : Exiting Kadena Air base at Gate 5

So you see even a civilian event has a decidedly military flavor in Okinawa.

Marine Corps Air Station Futenma

After the marathon, it was time for some sightseeing and some R and R. I went back to Naha City and rented a car to explore Okinawa Island. As I followed the main road north towards Okinawa City, I passed Marine Corps Air Station Futenma ( 海兵隊普天間航空基地 ) at Ginowan City some 9km north of Naha. MCAS Futenma is home to about 3000 marines of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and has a variety of rotary and fixed wing aircraft operating out of it. It had been constructed by the US military in 1945 after the defeat of the Imperial Japanese Army in Okinawa. Over the next 70 years, Ginowan grew from a small village into a congested city of 93000 in population, and Futenma sits right in the middle, occupying a large tract of prime land which could have been used to construct roads, housing and commercial zones.

Aerial view of MCAS Futenma and Ginowan City in a photo dated May 2010. Source Wikipedia.

The logo of Marine Corps Air Station Futemna with a Japanese Shinto torii in the background and the Marine Corps Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem at the top and the Naval Aviator insignia at the bottom. Source : Wikipedia
MV-22B Ospreys assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (HMM-262) park behind a CH-46 Sea Knight also with HMM-262 after landing on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma (MCAS Futenma), August 12, 2013. The aircraft will be based at and operate out of MCAS Futenma, and will be replacing the CH-46 helicopter. HMM-262 is part of Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Katelyn Hunter)

Residents living near the air base had to endure noise form aircrafts taking-off and landing. They also had to bear with the smell of fumes and exhausts from aircraft engines. The risk of air crashes is always a worry and roads have to be detoured around the base through narrow coastal corridors making them vulnerable to congestion and jams. Fortunately for me, it was a weekday and the traffic was smooth. I saw several C-130 transport aircraft in the distance and that was about it.

The iconic Boeing MV-22 Osprey. 150209-N-UF697-202 EAST CHINA SEA (Feb. 9, 2015) An MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 (Reinforced), takes off from the flight deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) currently deployed in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo )

Of all the aircraft deployed at Futenma, the most iconic would be the Boeing MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. They began arriving in Okinawa from 2012 as a replacement for the Boeing CH-46 Sea knight helicopters which were completely retired from service by 2014. A total of 24 MV-22s in 2 squadrons are now deployed in Okinawa. This hybrid aircraft is also at the centre of numerous protests to get the Marines out of Futenma. It is almost synonymous with the US Marine Forces and I have encountered more than once bumper stickers with the "No Osprey" logo as I explored Okinawa Honto ( main island ). In fact there is a No Osprey Movement in Okinawa that is gathering momentum to get rid of the US presence in Okinawa. Okinawans are no longer satisfied to have some of the Marines relocated to Guam. They do not want Futenma relocated to Henoko (辺野古) at the northern part of Okinawa main island near Camp Schwab ( another US military facility ). They want the US out of Okinawa for good.

No オスプレイ ( No Osprey ) 新基地 No!! ( New Military Base No!! ) 美ら海をろう! ( Protect Churaumi which means Beautiful Seas in Okinawan ). Poster to call for the surrounding of the National Assembly building on 25th Jan 2015 by a human chain to protest against the construction of a new US base at Henoko ( 辺野古 ) in the northern part of Okinawa Island.

Poster of No Osprey Movement's assembly in Hibiya, Tokyo, 2013
As I drove past Camp Schwab near Henoko, I witnessed a ragtag group of Okinawans protesting at the gates, some displaying banners, others creating noise and arguing with the police as they attempted to exercise some form of crowd control. I decided to just move on without stopping as it was a potentially explosive situation but it really gave an idea of the popularity of the US forces in Okinawa.

MC-130 Combat Talon Over Motobu

The Motobu Hanto ( 本部半島 ) or Motobu Peninsula is located in the northern part of Okinawa Island. It is rather hilly and is most famous for the world class Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium ( 沖縄美ら海水族館 ) who's huge acrylic tank houses several adult whale sharks and many other sea creatures. I happened to be staying at the Hotel Orion Motobu Resort and Spa within a few minute's walk from the aquarium.

Emerald Beach and part of the Ocean Expo Park viewed from the Orion Motobu Resort and Spa Hotel

As I was taking pictures of the beautiful beach and surf from the 10th storey balcony of my room, I spotted a C-130 in air force grey flying past and quickly took several shots at the maximum focal length of 300mm with my Nikon D750. Only later when I viewed the images on my lap top did I realized that it was a MC-130 Combat Talon from its unique and distinctive nose.

Cropped image of a USAF Lockheed MC-130H Combat Talon II special operations military transport aircraft overflying Motobu, Okinawa Island.

Another photo as the MC-130H receded. Numbers on the tail cannot be resolved for unit identification.

Profile picture of the Lockheed MC-130H Combat Talon II, a perfect match with the photos above. Source : Wikipedia

Further checks revealed this aircraft to be most probably the MC-130H Combat Talon II. I have no idea where it was heading ( probably Kadena Air Base since it was heading south ) or what it was doing that morning on 17th Feb 2015 over the resort beaches of Motobu. Either some special forces dude was busy training or some air force puke was having a joy ride.

It is not everyday that one gets to encounter a MC-130. Back home I am more likely to see a run of the mill C-130B or H variant. In any case, it seems that having military aircraft of some sort fly over your head is a common occurrence in Okinawa, no matter near or far from an air base.

JMSDF P-3Cs at Naha

When it was time to leave, I was looking out of the window of my airplane while it was berthed at the domestic terminal waiting for take-off and this was very close to what I saw :

A swarm of Lockheed P-3C Orion MPA at the flight line not too far from the civilian domestic terminal of Naha Airport.

I initially thought they were some local turboprop island hopper but several things stood out to suggest otherwise. Firstly the drape paint scheme is rather unlike the usual colourful decors of civilian airlines, especially those of Japanese airlines, where you can sometime see the entire plane being painted over with cartoon characters, fuselage and tail and all. Then I noticed the aircrafts had four engines each and they were relatively huge in size. Island hoppers are usually small short ranged turboprops with two engines. The sheer number of identical aircrafts aligned in neat rows is also unusual for civilian crafts where you are more likely to see a variety of different aircraft models at any one place. So I took a closer look and realized they were P-3Cs. Wasn't sure if they were Japanese or US at that moment looking head-on but of course now I know better. Chinese submarines and surface vessels must have been intruding into Japanese waters regularly in order for Japan to station such a large number of P-3Cs at Okinawa.

Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Lockheed P-3C Orion MPA over open ocean. JMSDF Photo.

From the moment of arrival to the very last moment before departure, there was never a day that went by without me encountering military personnel, hardware, facility or event of some sort in Okinawa. I would say the military has permeated into every aspect of life in Okinawa and brought about plenty of negative impacts to the ordinary citizens of Okinawa. Apart from the security that came with the stationing of US troops, the only positive impact of 70 years of US occupation is that many Okinawans can speak English, well at least conversational English, much more than the Japanese people from the other 46 prefectures, and I almost forgot to mention, this uniquely Okinawan creation of Taco Rice ( タコライス takoraisu ).

Fulcrum of the Pivot?

The United States needs to engage Asia have her presence felt in the Western Pacific. Otherwise countries like China, North Korea and Russia would do what they please and most of their intentions are nefarious, to put it mildly. The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan signed in 1960 dictates that any attacks on Japanese or US interests perpetrated on Japanese administered territories would have to be acted upon by both countries, and to that extend also provides for the continued presence of US military bases on Japanese soil. Okinawa, nicknamed the Keystone of the Pacific by the Americans, however is host to 62% of all US military bases in Japan, despite making up only 0.6% of Japan's total land area. Okinawa, being the poorest, the furthest and the least influential prefecture of Japan thus have to bear a disproportionate burden of accommodating the bulk of United States Forces Japan ( USFJ ) with warts and all while the rest of mainland Japan enjoy the security that the Americans provide. If President Obama has a Pivot to Asia policy, then I assume Okinawa has to be the fulcrum of that pivot.

USFJ Insignia.

Historically, Okinawa was a very important strategic location for the US Forces in the Western Pacific due to its proximity to East Asia and South East Asia. Today, with the Cold War long over and facing forever shrinking defense budgets and the displeasure of the Okinawans, the US should really reassess the need to have a permanent presence in Okinawa. Advancement in weapons technology over the decades may have partially rendered the continued occupation of Okinawa by US Forces redundant. Why forward deploy when you can achieve the same deterrence by having stand-off weapons?

In my opinion, the US could safely withdraw most of her active military personnel currently deployed in Okinawa back to US soil and return most of the base facilities to the Japanese government, only retaining a skeletal crew and fraction of the land for pre-positioning of combat materials. During times of crisis, a rapid reaction force can quickly be dispatched to Okinawa without the need to shift heavy equipment. In that way The US can still uphold her commitment to the defense treaty with Japan.

Futenma can be closed and the land redistributed for other uses. Kadena can be transferred to the JASDF of Naha Air Base so that being the most important and busiest air base in Japan, they do not have to share the runway with civilian aircrafts anymore and Naha Airport can be expanded and redeveloped without the constraints of accommodating the JASDF.

With all that land thus recovered from the US, it might even be possible for Okinawa Island to finally have a rail system to facilitate travel between the various cities and towns. As far as I am aware, Okinawa is the only Japanese prefecture without trains, the closest it can claim is the Yui Monorail which runs from Naha Airport to Shuri Castle, with all of its twelve stations within the confines of Naha City. Even Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture of Japan, will be getting its Shinkansen or bullet train connection next year ( Hakodate, 2016 ), but Okinawa has nothing!

The Okinawa Monorail aka Yui Rail of Naha City. Source : Wikipedia
The world will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two this year and US administration of Okinawa had ended 43 years ago. It is time for the US to relinquish the right to occupy Okinawa and put an end to the suffering of the Okinawa people, who did not ask for the War in the first place.


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Who Doesn't Want A$20Billion?


This is an update to my article " Japan's Soryu Class : Collins Replacement Prime Contender ". A quick recap : Australia has a fleet of 6 Collins Class conventional diesel-electric guided missile submarines that needs to be replaced starting from the year 2025. These boats were designed by the Swedish ship builder Kockums AB and built in Australia by a newly formed joint venture the Australian Submarine Corporation. The entire Collins project was riddled with delays and huge cost overruns. Even to this day the submarines still suffer from multiple defects and have serious availability issues.

Digital Image of what Australia's future submarine might look like, as seen on ship builder ASC Pty Ltd's website.

The Royal Australian Navy is looking to replace them with 10 to 12 new submarines by the year 2030 to 2040, at an initially estimated cost of between A$36 to A$44 billion. The ruling Liberal Party came to power promising domestic construction of these future submarines but until recently looks likely to break that promise by buying direct from Japan. That development had prompted German, Swedish and French boat builders to come up with their own unsolicited offers, initiating a submarine bidding war down under, making the Soryu deal less of a certainty.

What's At Stake for Australia

The future of Australia's shipbuilding industry is at stake, as Australia might lose her capability to construct submarines and warships should the contract go to a foreign shipyard there by forcing ship builder ASC to retrench skilled labour or worse, go into receivership. It would be difficult and time consuming to rebuild a new team of professional workers once the existing ones have found work elsewhere.

Jobs could be at stake, as domestic construction at ASC's Adelaide facility could generate and support 3 to 4 thousand jobs.

At least A$20 billion or more is at stake for the winner. This is by far the single most costly defense related procurement by Australia, ever. Even the follow on order of 58 F-35A Joint Strike Fighter announced in April 2014 would "only" cost A$11.5 billion. The Australian Dollar has depreciated significantly in the past 2 or 3 years but is still worth USD0.77 as of today.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott's reputation could be at stake if he reneges on pre-election promises to have the submarines built in Australia, though adept politicians always have ways to wriggle themselves out of such situations.

Gimme Twenty Billion

AUD$20 billion is the magic figure quoted by all the potential submarine makers. Of course everybody wants A$20 billion, who doesn't? SAAB Kockums of Sweden, TKMS of Germany and DCNS of France have all come up with proposals and have indicated their willingness to work with Australia's ASC, giving Japan Inc. a run for their money.


SAAB Kockums : The Come Back Kid

Kockums AB of Malmo, Sweden was the original designer of the Collins Class submarines and the Stirling air-independent propulsion engine used in the Soryu Class boats. It was acquired by its German rival Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) in 1999. Then HDW was itself bought by the German conglomerate Thyssen Krupp in 2005 and they all became a big dysfunctional family known as ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems ( TKMS ).

While all these mergers and acquisitions was happening, Kockums was working on the next generation submarine for the Swedish Navy with several innovative and advanced features, the A-26 Class with air-independent propulsion. However, the development of the A-26 was derailed by TKMS due to long standing conflict of interests. The Swedes believed that they have a great design on hand and wanted it developed not just for the Royal Swedish Navy but for worldwide export as well. The German masters of Kockums on the other hand are worried about cost escalation on a risky new project and cannot come into agreement with the Swedish Defense Ministry on how such additional costs should be managed between the two parties. Although 2 boats have been approved the Swedish by Parliament in 2010 for completion by 2020, long drawn contract negotiations between the Defense Ministry and TKMS came to nothing before failing completely in Apr 2014. Without any contracts to build Sweden's ( or anybody's ) next generation submarines, Kockums looked likely to have to lay off marine architects, engineers and technicians. And as Kockums go under,  the Swedish Kingdom looked set to lose its sovereign capability of building submarines and warships.

Kockums A-26. Source : SAAB

Added to this mess is the uncertainty as to who actually owns the intellectual property rights to the Collins design, is it Kockums / TKMS or is it the Swedish State ( through the Swedish Defense Materiels Administration or FMV ). This has resulted in Kockums being overlooked by Australia in its initial search for suitable supplier for the Collins replacement project.

The loss of the deal to supply the Republic of Singapore Navy with 2 new submarines in late 2013 and the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula earlier last year was a rude wake-up call to the Swedes who realized that they had do something fast to reclaim their ship building industry and to safeguard the defense of their Kingdom.

Negotiations to buy Kockums back began between the Swedish defense conglomerate SAAB and TKMS. Things did not move until Sweden seemingly deployed strong arm tactics, including the FMV's raiding of the Kockums / TKMS office with armed military personnel to forcefully remove highly sensitive materials pertaining to the A-26 and Stirling air-independent propulsion engine designs, taking back what rightfully belonged to the Swedish State. SAAB also embarked on a widely publicised exercise that poached the entire technical management team at Kockums including the manager for the submarine division and more than 200 of Kockums' existing pool of engineers, effectively removing its core workforce. Facing such hostile acts, it is not surprising that TKMS threw in the towel shortly after and agreed to sell Kockums to SAAB.

SAAB has since completed the acquisition of Kockums on 2nd Jul 2014 and the new entity is called SAAB Kockums. This paved the way for the stalled and severely delayed A-26 project to move forward and for SAAB to offer a 4000 tonne version to Australia as the Collins replacement submarine. In the words of the CEO Håkan Bushke " ... the Swedish Kingdom now controls the intellectual property for Australia's currently-serving Collins class submarines. If there is an open competition, SAAB Kockums will be in it."

SAAB Kockums in its last minute declaration of interest on the Collins replacement project has also offered to take Australia's shipbuilder ASC and Royal Australian Navy engineers and technicians to work on the Swedish Navy's 3000 tonne A-26 of which five were to be built, with the first boat due to be operational by the year 2023. CEO Bushke said that SAAB's solution will be affordable and will be able to match the $20 billion price tag of its Japanese and German rivals.

Kockum's resurrection from a moribund subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems to becoming part of the Swedish defense giant SAAB within the span of a few months is nothing short of spectacular. It would be even more incredible if they could win this submarine bidding war and become the supplier of Australia's future submarines. Being a completely new design, the A-26 offer carried with it unknown risks of cost escalation and timeline slippages. Add to that volatile mix the uncertainty of ASC's competency as a ship builder and the RAN could end up in a very dangerous situation, third time in a row.

ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems : The Old Favourite

TKMS Logo. Source : Wikipedia

TKMS was until Jul 2014 the parent company of Kockums. It used to be the front runner for an evolved-Collins submarine that will see TKMS build on the strengths of the existing Collins Class and rectify known short comings and defects, since the Collins boats were designed with the help of Kockums in the first place.

The main stumbling block for the evolved Collins Class was that the ownership of the intellectual property rights for the Collins submarine as well as the Stirling AIP engine that will be installed in the future submarines, was in dispute as the spat between the Swedish government and TKMS escalated. Australia understandably have no wish to be caught in the crossfires of a patent ownership war and have ultimately looked towards Japan which has a fleet of the world's most advanced non-nuclear submarines, incidentally also using Kockums / TKMS's Stirling air-independent propulsion system.

TKMS Operational Headquarters, Essen, Germany. Wikipedia.

Another deep seated issue was that TKMS has been constantly stifling Kockums all these years after the merger, intending for kockums only to produce small submarines while its German subsidiary HDW will get to build the big submarines for export. It probably was never quite keen for an evolved Collins boat, preferring rather to have a German solution for the Australians. In fact TKMS already had a Collins replacement concept in existence for sometime. It is the HDW Type 216 diesel-electric submarine with air-independent propulsion. Its design is based on the smaller Type 212A and Type 214 submarines current in service with the German and Italian navies, using HDW's proprietary fuel cell AIP system.

HDW's Fuel Cell Air-Independent Propulsion System. Source : TKMS

Now that Kockums had been sold to SAAB, TKMS can no longer be involved in any evolved Collins design. Nonetheless TKMS has still indicated that it can help Australia build her fleet of 10 to 12 next generation submarines domestically and within the budget of A$20 billion, presumably with the HDW Type 216 design.

HDW Type-216 SSK. Source TKMS

The Type 216 looks good on paper, but is again a yet to be built design and with so much uncertainties, nobody, not even TKMS can guarantee that the entire project could be on time and on budget, especially in the hands of an inept shipbuilder like ASC.

DCNS : Non-nuclear SSN?!

The latest to join the fray is the French ship builder DCNS with its SMX-Ocean diesel-electric submarine with air-independent propulsion. First revealed at the Euronaval 2014 exhibition in Paris in October, it is essentially a non-nuclear version of the Barracuda class SSN which DCNS is building for the French Navy. Although DCNS did not officially state that the SMX-Ocean concept was specifically created for the SEA1000 Collins replacement project, we all know what its purpose is. Incidentally DCNS opened a new subsidiary in Australia on 19th Nov 2014, DCNS Australia Pty Ltd, which just shows how badly they wanted a slice of the multi-billion dollar pie.

DCNS's SMX Ocean SSK ( Top ) and Barracuda SSN ( Bottom )

The SMX-Ocean is a huge boat at 4750 tonnes and 100m long. It is powered by conventional diesel-electric power-plants and a second generation air-independent propulsion system. It can carry a load of 34 weapons including torpedoes, mines, cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles and anti-air missiles. It will incorporate vertical launchers, a UUV Dock, SDV, dry dock shelter and lock-out chamber for up to 8 divers.

Its maximum diving depth is 350m. Its new generation fuel cell will enable a underwater endurance of 21 days. Maximum submerged speed is 20 knots while its usual transit speed will be 14 knots. Endurance at sea is up to 90 days with a maximum range of 18000 nautical miles ( 29000Km ) at 10 knots.

If Australia is going to buy into this mad French scheme, she might as well request the US to convert their Virginia-class SSN into SSKs, just pluck out the General Electric S9G reactor and replace it with the Stirling AIP engine and you can have the frequently craved for 100% compatibility in operations with the USN. No?

Kawasaki / Mitsubishi : Caveat Emptor?

Although the option of a modified Soryu Class built in Japan looks like the safest bet for Australia's Collins replacement project so far, skeptics have plenty of arguments against taking such an option.

First, Japan's war time past has come back to haunt her as pointed out that as recent as 70 years ago Japan and Australia were enemies at war with each other. The Japanese have even bombed Darwin in 1942, ahead of a land invasion which fortunately never materialized. And Australia had lost more than 300 ships to the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. To me that is at best a weak case against the Japanese because, well, times have changed. Australian skiers form the largest foreign groups at the Japanese ski resorts of Niseko in Hokkaido and Hakuba in Nagano every winter. Try convincing these Aussies to ski elsewhere. If one does not buy Japanese, then the Germans should also be excluded in the deal because they were part of the Axis powers with Japan and Italy during WWII!

Skeptics are also concerned if Japan will remain a staunch American ally throughout the projected life of the future submarines, and whether Japan's constitution will again be changed to prohibit arms export in the future.

Australia's opposition Labour Party has pre-emptively said that they would cancel any deal with the Japanese should they come into power after the next election.

In response to the flurry of unsolicited offers from the European boat builders, the Japanese have indicated that they too are willing to co-operate with the Australians to help the Aussies develop the special steel required for submarine construction. Assembly will still be done in Japan.

ASC Pty Ltd : Can't Be Trusted To Build A Canoe!!

ASC screwed up the entire Collins project. They then went on to mismanage the upgrade and maintenance programme of the Collins boats. Now the same story is repeating itself with the Hobart-class air warfare destroyers.

Late last year Australia's ex-Defence Minister David Johnston was censured by the Senate after saying he wouldn’t trust would-be contender for Australia’s new submarines, the government-owned ASC, to build a canoe. He later expressed regret that his remarks could have offended anyone, that he had expressed frustration over ASC's past performance in what PM Abbott had described as a rhetoric flourish. He further said that he was directing his remarks at a legacy of issues and not at the workers in ASC, whom he considered world class, eventually putting all blame on the former Labour government for mismanaging the troubled Air Warfare Destroyer programme.

Having barely survived a no-confident vote and in a move to save his own career as the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott had given in to political pressure and had promised that the procurement of the future submarines would be subjected to a "competitive evaluation process" and ASC would be allowed to bid for it. It will not be an open tender, meaning not everybody is welcome to bid, certainly not Dear Leader Kim, or Bloodymir Pootin, or Xi Jinping for that matter. So the Japanese are now not guaranteed to win the Collins replacement deal and they are extremely confused and worried at the moment about Australia's sudden change of heart.

What A$20 Billion Can Buy

Should Australia be spending A$20 billion on a dozen super-sized conventionally powered submarines with air-independent propulsion? Would she be better off buying a larger fleet of smaller submarines while at the same time constructing more submarine bases? Something like the HDW Type-218SG SSK might cost "only" 500 million Euros each. Buying fifteen of these smaller SSKs instead of the Soryu-class or similar to populate five submarine bases will probably save Australia enough money to construct the new submarine bases along the eastern, northern and western coastlines. Tony Abbott can then also sort of keep his electoral promise of local construction. You couldn't pre-fabricate submarine pens in Japan and then ship it over to Australia for assembly, or could you?

Update 26th April 2016

The Race is over. DCNS won the A$50 billion contract with its Shortfin Barracuda, aka SMX Ocean.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Can I have Two Mistrals, ... Please? Updated




The French naval ship Tonnerre, a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship. Wikipaedia

The French build pretty good warships. Good enough for the French Navy and evidently also good enough for many other navies of the world to have contracted the French shipyards to have ships built for them. An example would be the six Formidable-class stealth frigates of the Republic of Singapore Navy, a derivative of DCNS's Lafayette-class frigate. The French shipbuilders also churn out other high-end stuff like the Barracuda-class nuclear powered hunter-killer submarines and the conventionally powered and widely exported Scorpene-class SSK.

Of course they can also build aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships, like the Mistral-class BPC, for which the French Navy had already acquired three. BPC ( French  bâtiments de projection et de commandement ) means " Projection and Command Ship ", the equivalent of the LHD or Landing Helicopter Dock amphibious assault carriers of the US Navy.

In Dec 2010 under the ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy's watch, the Russians too decided that they would like to have two of these Mistrals to equip their navy and a deal was made to have them delivered by 2014 / 2015. The two Russian ships, the Vladivostok and the Sevastopol was laid down in 2012 and 2013 respectively. The Vladivostok was undergoing sea trials when the Ukraine crisis erupted and Russia decided to annex Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine. That prompted French President Francois Hollande to cancel the planned delivery of the Mistrals indefinitely, even though some money had been paid, even as the Rouble became rubble....

Warped Logic

I could never understand why Russia had to buy the Mistrals from France. They had been constructing amphibious assault ships of their own designs in the past like the Project 775 Ropucha-class, Project 1171 Tapir-class large landing ship ( NATO reporting name Alligator ), the Project 1174 Ivan Rogov-class and the most recent and still in production, the Project 11711 Ivan-Gren-class large landing ships. They were also not new to constructing helicopter carriers and aircraft carriers, examples of which includes the Project 1123 Kondor Moskva-class helicopter carriers and the Admiral Kuznetsov-class aircraft carriers.

A Project 775M Ropucha III class LST-077 Peresvet of Russia's Pacific Fleet during Ex. Joint Sea 2015 at Vladivostok. Photo : Sputnik

A BTR-80 armoured personnel carrier driving off the ramp of the Project 775M Ropucha III class LST-077 Peresvet of Russia's Pacific Fleet during Ex. Joint Sea 2015 at Vladivostok. Photo : Sputnik

Project 1171 Tapir Large Landing Ship ( Nato reporting name Alligator ) Source : Wikipedia

Project 1174 Ivan Rogov class large landing ship. Source : Yantar Shipyard
They have the means to design and construct satellites, space rockets and even complete space stations like the Soyuz and the Mir. They were the first to launch a satellite into earth orbit ( the Sputnik ) and the first to put a man in space ( Yuri Gargarin ) but now you tell me Mr Pootin has to beg Mr Hollande to sell him two miserable Mistrals which he could not have built himself?

In today's world of out-sourcing and off-shoring, perhaps Pootin might have thought the French could build the amphibious assault ships more efficiently, given that they had already completed three ships which are currently serving with the French Navy, but it is not like him to admit that his own country is weak or incapable. That man has an ego as big as woolly mammoth's b****.

The truth might be that following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, the Russian shipyards had been without any military orders for years and their industrial capacity might have deteriorated to such an extend it would not be easy for them to simply produce an amphibious assault ship on short order just like that. Indeed, the Ivan-Gren had been laid down in 2004 and will only be commissioned into the Russian Navy in 2015. A long latent period is not a good sign in ship building. If Pootin urgently needed the ships to invade Ukraine or the Baltic States, he jolly well has to buy them from somewhere.

On the other hand, it might not be inconceivable that Russia really cannot build her own amphibious ships. It has recently come to light of Russia's torpedo troubles, having to halt production because of her undue past reliance on a Ukrainian company. Now if you cannot even produce the parts for torpedoes, what else are you good for?

The Mistral-class Amphibious Assault Ship

Aerial view of the Mistral BPC from the official brochure of DCNS, the main systems integrator

These ships don't come cheap. Poor Mr. Pootin had to cough out serious dough, something like €1.37 billion for the first two ships, with a separate option for two more subsequently, if he is satisfied with the first two. The money had been paid in advance, and it seemed that France was more in need of the deal than Russia. As it turned out, the shipyard that was constructing France's third Mistral and the two Russian Mistrals, STX-Europe of Saint-Nazaire, was in dire straits financially and badly needed the Russian contract to keep its work force employed.

The Landing Helicopter Dock Dixmude (L9015) in Jounieh bay, Lebanon May 2012. Source : Wikipedia

The Mistrals displace 21300 tonnes fully loaded, with a length of 199m and a beam of 32m. They are capable of operating any helicopter type flown by the French military, including the NH-90 medium helicopter and the AS-665 Tiger attack helicopter. The flight deck has six helicopter landing spots with the #1 landing spot rated to 33 tonnes for heavy lift helicopters and the hangar can hold 16 medium helicopters. In addition, the Mistrals can transport 450 troops and 70 vehicles, including light and medium tanks. They can carry with them four LCM type landing barges or two LCAC-type medium hovercrafts. The Mistrals can be used as helicopter carriers and amphibious assault transports, with secondary capabilities as command ships and naval hospital ships. However, unlike the American LHDs and those operated by other navies like Australia's Canberra -class LHD, the Mistrals lack a ski-jump and cannot be used for operating fixed-wing aircraft.

The well dock of the Mistral-class BPC with two landing crafts. The well dock can be flooded with sea water to allow the landing crafts to be released or retrieved. Wikipaedia 

They are also lightly armed, with only four 12.7mm heavy machine guns and Mistral surface-to-air missiles in two Simbad launchers and provisions for the installation of two Breda Mauser 30mm naval guns. As such, the Mistral BPC cannot survive in a high threat environment and would require a protective task force of frigates and submarines when deployed.

This Mistral BPC Infographic summaries its specifications and capabilities nicely. Source : Sputnik


The Vladivostok-class BPC

The Russian Mistrals differ sufficiently from the French Mistrals to qualify as a variant class. Potential ice hazards in the Pacific Fleet and the Northern Fleet's areas of operation meant that they will have to reinforced the hulls with special alloy metals to protect against damage from sea ice during Artic navigation. The well deck door at the aft portion of the ship will also be modified to close completely for protection during adverse weather conditions common in the extreme northern latitudes, unlike the original design which has an opening at the top even when shut. The height of the ship was also increased to accommodate Russian helicopters that require a bigger overhead clearance due to their intrinsic co-axial / twin-rotor design. The thickness of the flight deck are increased to accommodate the heavier Russian helicopters, a mix of sixteen Ka-52K and Ka-29.
The Vladivostok-class will also be much more heavily armed than the Mistral-class and will have Russian communications equipment and radar installed.

The French Mistral-class have well deck doors that do not close completely, leaving a large gap at the top as seen here in this aft view of the Tonnerre. Wikipaedia

The Air Wing

They will be carrying the Kamov KA-52K co-axial scout / attack helicopters which are navalised versions of the KA-52 Alligator ( NATO reporting name Hokum-B ), with folding rotors and wings to enable them to fit into ship hangars. These rotary crafts pack a serious anti-armour punch and can also carry short-range air-to-air missiles. The naval variant is capable of carrying two Kh-35 anti-ship missiles with a range of up to 300km or two Kh-38 high precision air-to-surface missiles with a 40km range. A total of 32 have been ordered for the Russian Navy in Aug 2014 to equip the Vladivostok and Sevastopol and they are due for delivery between 2017 and 2018.

They will also likely carry the Kamov KA-29TB assault transport helicopters, the KA-27PL Helix in anti-submarine (ASW) and search and rescue (SAR) role and perhaps the KA-31 airborne early warning (AEW) helicopter.  

Kamov KA-52 Alligator attack helicopter. Source : Wikipedia

Kamov KA-31 Airborne Early Warning helicopter. Source : Wikipedia

The Missile Systems

The Russian BPCs will of course also have more teeth compared to their French counterparts, given the Stalinian paranoia that seems to afflict every Russian that I know of. Instead of the Mistral SAM, the Russians would install their Gibka 3M-47 Gimlet naval air defense missile system, NATO reporting name SA-N-10, a navalised version of the SA-24 ( Igla 9K338 / Igla-S ) man portable missile. The missile has an effective range of 5km. Two Gibka systems will be installed.

Gibka 3M-47 Gimlet Naval Air Defense Missile System. Source : Imgur

Having some kind of close-in weapon system (CIWS) like the American Mk15 Phalanx or the Dutch Goalkeeper for last ditch defense against shells and missiles would definitely be better than a quartet of centenarian Ma Deuce type machine guns that the Mistral totes. The Russians go a further step beyond just a gun based solution by selecting their newest Palma CIWS, a combined naval missile and gun system. The Palma is sometimes also referred to as the Palash naval air defense system. It is an all-weather, high precision ship defense system that packs two AO-18KD 6 barrel 30mm rotary autocannons combined with eight Sosna-R hypersonic missiles. According to IHS Jane's, the Sosna-R surface to air missile is a two-stage missile that carries two warheads totaling 7kg and two different fuzes. The first rod-fragmentation warhead has a proximity fuze while the second fragmentation warhead destroys its target on impact. The missile is radio-command guided during its boost phase, after which a laser beam riding guidance system takes over. The optical fire-control system makes the Sosna-R highly survivable, effective in clattered environments and difficult to jam. It has a range of up to 10km, maximum engagement altitude is 5km. The Palma's 30mm cannons which has a rate of fire of 5000 rounds per minute each ( combined 10000 rds per min ) can shred aircraft, UAVs, incoming missiles and shells, small boats etc up to 3km in altitude and up to 4km away. Two Palma naval ADS will be installed on the Vladivostok-class.

Artist rendition of the Palma Naval Air Defense System. Source : Kutejnikov 

The combat module of the Palma Naval ADS. Photo : Nudelman Precison Engineering Design Bureau


Unlike the Mistral which does not have any large calibre guns at all, the Russians will install the A-220M 57mm automatic rapid fire naval gun mount on the Vladivostok-class BPC. This could be useful against air and surface threats, anything that you would not want to waste a missile on.

The A-220M 57mm Naval Gun Mount. Photo : Burevestnik

The Radar

The Vladivostok-class will be fitted with the Positiv-ME1 3D shipbourne radar that operates in the X-Band. It can simultaneously track up to 50 targets and has a maximum detection range of 250km. The original Mistral-class lacks such powerful radars.

The Positiv-ME1 active 3D radar. Photo : Concern-agat


Russian Act of Piracy in Saint-Nazaire

The Vladivostok, presumably on sea trials out of Saint-Nazaire. Photo :

Nothing is quite new here. Pootin cometh, Pootin see, Pootin like very much, Pootin take. Count yourself lucky if he didn't hurt or kill you in the process or afterwards.

As the Vladivostok's sea trials were being concluded in the summer of 2014, a group of 400 Russian naval personnel arrived at Saint-Nazaire on their training vessel the Smolny to train on the BPC in groups of 200. They regularly took the BPC out to sea for joy rides and sea maneuvers. As the Ukrainian crisis dragged on and the likelihood of the non-delivery of the Vladivostok became higher and higher, the Russian hooligans attempted a hostile takeover of the ship right under the noses of the somewhat unsuspecting French.

It has been reported that for a brief moment on the original official date of handover which was 14th Nov 2014, the Maritime Mobile Service Identity or MMSI of the Vladivostok was mysteriously changed without authorization, from French (227022600) to Russian (273549920), all this happening while the Russian thugs were trying to move their personal belongings from their training ship the Smolny to the Vladivostok. Then the Automatic Identification System (AIS) for ship tracking was also switched off. It didn't help when the official website of the port of Saint-Nazaire also listed a departure of the Vladivostok on 21st Nov without a return date, unlike the usual sea trial trips around the port.

So the Vladivostok became Russian flagged and the Russians almost got away and underway to St. Petersburg if not for an alert social activist who spotted the change and alerted the French authorities. Thus the Russian crew were prevented from loading their belongings and by the next day the MMSI was again switched to the original French registration and the AIS system came back online as well. Was it a genuine attempt to steal the ship or just to test the reaction of the French? Needless to say DCNS and the French authorities became much more watchful on the BPC after that incident.

The Russian sailors completed their training but without a ship to bring back were finally ordered to sail home in the Smolny on 18th Dec 2014. Bon Vent, or good riddance as we would say it in English. The French always seem to be able to express an unpleasant word so eloquently.

No Mistrals For Putin

You'll be surprised but there is actually a social media campaign group that rejoiced in the denial of the BPCs to Pootin. You can check it out yourself here . They have snippets of news and videos about the BPCs as they were being constructed right up to 18th Dec 2014 when the Russian mafia sailed home. It makes interesting reading.

No Mistral For Putin Logo

No Mistrals For Putin Home Page

The Fate of the BPCs

As the Vladivostok languishes at the docks, the Sevastopol nears completion. Very soon the French government would have two brand new BPCs on their hands with no immediate prospect of delivery to Russia as Pootin is not likely to get his paws of Ukraine anytime soon. They could either integrate them into the French Navy ( which originally wanted to have four by the year 2020 ) or sell them off at a discount to some NATO ally like Canada or Poland, whom we know is interested in getting a smaller version of the Mistral (BPC 140). The original Mistral is BPC 210 (21000 tonnes). The fear is that by reneging on the Mistral delivery, other potential arms mega-deal like the Indian MRCA replacement involving 126 Rafale fighter aircraft might be compromised. They can also choose to keep the money already collected and do not pay any compensation for the broken deal. Give Pootin a taste of his own medicine, just remember to watch your back, especially as you walk across bridges, and do not accept any offers of tea, even from old acquaintances, under ANY circumstances.

Update : Cancellation of the Mistral Deal

As expected, the Ukrainian Crisis continued through the year without any signs of slowing down. Russian backed rebels and Russian military personnel continued to clash with Ukrainian government troops in eastern Ukraine despite ceasefire agreements. Heavy weapons are used in the fighting, violating truce agreements. After protracted talks with the French government failed to secure the release of the two Russian Mistrals, is official that on 5th Aug 2015, Paris and Moscow terminated the contract for the delivery of the Mistrals.

France promised to reimburse Russia all the money it had paid for the Mistrals, and negotiations continued regarding the exact penalty France has to pay.

Three days ago on 27th Aug 2015, Sputnik News Agency reported that France had transferred a sum of € 900 million ( USD 1 billion ) to Russia as compensation for not delivering the ships. One would logically think that the payment would be on condition that France should be free to dispose of the ships as she wished. However, Sputnik quoted a high ranking source in Russia's Federal Service For Military-Technical Cooperation that despite the fact that France had transferred all the funds for failing to deliver the Mistrals, permission has not yet been given by Russia to export the ships.

Things get complicated when we realise that Russian shipyards had been involved with 40% ( as they claimed ) of the construction of the Mistrals. The aft section of the hull being constructed in St Petersburg and then shipped on monster barges to Saint-Narzaire for integration with the forward section. They must also have been involved with some design work, especially those modifications specific to the Vladivostok-class and may have contributed to classified designs meant for the Russian Navy. So who owns which portion of the ship and who owns the intellectual property rights to the Vladivostok-class becomes a complicated issue. Russian equipment already installed on the Mistrals will also have to be removed by Russian engineers and technicians and that will be scheduled in September. In the end, the Vladivostok and the Sevastopol will be empty shells and the French government might as well scrap them.

Looking at the brighter side, all this bickering around the Vladivostok and Sevastopol had probably generated lots of free publicity for DCNS and their Mistral BPC. As news of the termination of contract spreads, potential buyers are queuing up to pick up a good deal. Egypt and Saudi Arabia had expressed interest, and so did China, India, Vietnam and Brazil. The latest enquiry came form Malaysia!

France certainly paid a heavy price for breaking the contract, but that is the only right thing to do in the face of Russia's naked aggression and land grabbing antics in the Black Sea. The Mistrals should never have been sold to Pootin in the first place, as the idiom says, a leopard never changes its spots.

Now the Russians have the blueprints of the Mistral and they must also have had some form of technology transfer from DCNS, one of which is said to be in the form of Large-Block Assembly technology, a shipbuilding process in which parts of a large ship are constructed separately in different places, then erected together in a single dry dock to form the ship's hull. The process is an efficient way of creating large vessels, but is logistically challenging. They could easily construct an amphibious assault ship based on a similar design, just that it would take a slightly longer time. In fact that was just what they claimed they wanted to do - build a helicopter carrier, perhaps even nuclear powered, that is bigger, faster and far more powerful than the original Vladivostok, with air defense and submarine defense systems, without blatantly copying the Mistral's design. So far two designs have surfaced, the 24000 tonne Lavina helicopter carrier and the 14000 tonne Priboy Large Landing Ship, each could embark 16 and 8 helicopters respectively.

I have a feeling this will not be the last we hear about the Russian Mistrals, and this article might be updated further when the time comes.

Second Update

On 23rd Sep 2015 the Office of the French President announced on their website that the two BPCs have been sold to Egypt for EUR950 million ( USD1 billion ), exactly the amount France had agreed to compensate Russia for the cancellation of the contract. IHS Jane's Defence Weekly even had a cover feature on its 30th Sep issue " Sevastosold! France sells Russia's Mistrals to Egypt ".

Before the deal with the Egyptians was finalized, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were all rumoured to be interested in snapping up one or both the Mistrals.

Meanwhile, after splurging on 24 Rafale multi-role combat aircraft, a FREMM frigate and 4 Gowind 2500 corvettes earlier in 2015, Egypt continues its weapons acquisition spree, signing a contract with Russia for 46 Kamov Ka-52K Alligator attack helicopters ( naval variant ). Some of these helicopters will eventually find their way onto the decks of the Mistrals.