SAINT-NAZAIRE (France), October 15 (RIA Novosti)
A French shipyard floated out Tuesday the first of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships being built for the Russian Navy.
The ship, named Vladivostok, being built at the DCNS shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, is expected to start sea trials in March next year.
“The ship will be handed over unarmed, but equipped with French-made landing equipment,” DCNS program manager Yves Destefanis said at the launch ceremony. It will be fitted with Russian-made weapons systems later, he added.
The vessel will receive its additional Russian systems at the Severnaya Verf shipyard in St. Petersburg, and then be handed over to Russia’s Pacific Fleet in November 2014.
Russia and France signed the 1.2 billion euro ($1.6 billion) contract for two French-built Mistral-class helicopter carriers in June 2011.
A second Mistral-class warship, the Sevastopol, is due to be floated out in October 2014.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, both warships will be based in the Far East ports of Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky when they enter service.
A decision on whether to acquire a build a third and fourth Mistral for the Russian Navy will be taken based on the experience of testing the first one, a Russian defense procurement official said Tuesday.
“The final decision on construction of the third and fourth [Mistrals] has not been taken,” said Andrei Vernigora, director of the defense ministry’s procurement department. ‘We must see how all the systems have adapted. It’s possible the project might require further revision.”
The decision to buy a major foreign-made warship – an unprecedented move for Russia since World War II - was a controversial one. Earlier this year, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees defense procurement, criticized the Mistral purchase, made under the auspices of his predecessor Anatoly Serdyukov, for requiring special lubricants and other liquids not produced in Russia in order to work properly in cold weather.
The Pacific Fleet is currently forming crews for the two helicopter carriers, a Pacific Fleet spokesman told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.
Mistral-class vessels are capable of carrying 16 helicopters, four landing craft, 70 armored vehicles, and 450 soldiers.
The Russian Mistral air wings are expected to comprise eight Kamov Ka-52K attack helicopters and eight Ka-29/31 Helix assault transport helicopters.