Jan. 31, 2014 - By TOM KINGTON – Defense News
ROME — Algeria’s defense spending spree shows no sign of abating as the North African country gets set for a September delivery of a new amphibious ship from Italy. Algeria is also reportedly preparing to receive three Chinese frigates in 2015 as well as buying a new Italian minesweeper.
In January, Italian shipyard Fincantieri launched the 8,800-ton, 143-meter-long landing platform dock (LPD) Kalaat Beni-Abbes at its Riva Trigosa yard, with handover to the Algerian Navy scheduled for September at the Navy’s Taranto base in southern Italy.
Based on the design of the Italian LPD San Giusto, the ship has been built by a joint venture of Fincantieri and Italy’s Finmeccanica.
The Algerian purchase is part of growing defense expenditures, which one analyst put at US $10.3 billion in 2013. “That’s up 14 percent year on year to about five percent of [gross domestic product],” said Francesco Tosato, a military analyst at the Italian Centro Studi Internazionali.
“About $1.5 to $2 billion of that goes on procurement since the total budget also covers wages for 350,000 personnel,” he added.
In addition to the LPD buy, Algeria is understood to be acquiring a minesweeper built by Italian firm Intermarine, with training likely to be handled by the Italian Navy. Intermarine, which declined to comment about the buy, has built minesweepers for Finland, Thailand, the US, Italy and Australia.
A UK-based analyst said Algeria will meanwhile take delivery of three new frigates from China in 2015. “They have been built at the same yard as the F22 vessels sold by China to Pakistan and could be similar or slightly smaller,” said Christian Le Miere, a senior fellow for naval forces and maritime security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The deals follow Algeria’s purchase of two Meko A-200 frigates from Germany.
While buying the LPD from Fincantieri, Algeria has also dispatched sailors for training by the Italian Navy, with 134 sailors arriving at the Taranto base in September and 30 more in January.
The Algerians will then move up to Fincantieri’s Muggiano yard, where the LPD is being fitted out, and where the Navy has another training center, an Italian Navy source said. By the end of May, the sailors will be onboard the vessel, he added. The Italian Navy, said the source, is working under a subcontract to the Fincantieri-Finmeccanica joint venture.
The vessel features an Italian-built EMPAR radar and is fit to carry the Italian AW101 helicopters Algeria has purchased separately. Some features derive from Fincantieri’s experience in the cruise ship business, including LED lights to save power.
A handover to the Algerian Navy will occur in September, although the ship will not immediately leave Italy, sailing south to Taranto at the end of 2014 for operational sea training and live-fire training of the ship’s 76mm gun.
An Algerian crew will work on a bridge and combat center simulator at Taranto before the ship sails to Algeria in the first half of 2015.
The source said the program was the most ambitious training program the Italian Navy had ever set up. “Training while the ship is built is an innovative, time-saving solution,” he said.
“These new procurement deals are part of a bid to reduce Algeria’s dependence on Russia for naval procurement,” Tosato said. “That said, having ships in service from Russia, Germany, Italy and China does raise questions about interoperability.”
Algeria is meanwhile due to receive two Russian-built Tigr corvettes, one this year and one in 2015, he said, and two Russian-improved Kilo 636 submarines in 2016-17 to add to the four it has.
Le Miere said he wondered if Algeria really needs a landing platform dock. “It is a large vessel, what is it for and will they need it?” he said. “It is of questionable value for a military focusing on internal counterinsurgency.”
Local Islamic militants, active in the country’s vast southern regions, have been increasing their attacks, notably with the attack on a gas facility near In Amenas in January 2013, during which hundreds of hostages were taken. As Algerian special forces raided the facility, at least 39 hostages were killed.
“Algeria turned down the [offer] of US and French help because accepting it would have been damaging to the reputation of the country’s armed forces, both regionally and internally,” said Marco Di Liddo, a second analyst from Centro Studi Internazionali.
To serve its land operations, Algeria has bought 1,200 Fuchs 2 armored vehicles from Germany, a deal that focuses on another Algerian requirement — technology transfer and job creation, Tosato said.
“The plant opened in Algeria to build these vehicles will also build Mercedes trucks,” he said.
But military spending is soaring for another reason, Di Liddo said. “Military spending nourishes the power of the armed forces at a time when they are in competition with the civilian government for influence and as the country’s president is seeking to strengthen politics at the Army’s expense,” he said.
“As long as it has gas revenue, a rivalry with Morocco, instability in neighboring Tunisia and Libya, militants in the south, the need to update an Army still equipped with Soviet-era equipment and the need to create jobs, defense spending in Algeria will continue to rise,” Tosato said.
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