Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Russia eyes landmark purchase of French assault ship

ULAN BATOR, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Russia plans to buy an advanced warship from France this year, a top general said on Wednesday, in what would be the country's first major foreign military purchase and a blow to domestic arms producers.
Gen. Nikolai Makarov, the chief of Russia's general staff, said that before the end of the year the navy planned to agree the purchase of a 21,300 ton Mistral-class helicopter carrier.
The deal would be Russia's biggest one-off post-Soviet purchase of weapons abroad, representing a major departure for the Kremlin, which has traditionally been protective of domestic arms producers.
"I believe not a single country in the world is capable of producing everything at the highest technological level," Makarov told reporters during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Mongolia..
Makarov declined to give the cost of the carrier, which is capable of carrying helicopters, armed vehicles and tanks for thousands of miles to launch amphibious assaults.
The Kremlin has made re-equipping the 1.1 million-strong armed forces a top priority after last year's war in Georgia revealed serious problems with hardware and electronic equipment.
The appearance of NATO warships in the Black Sea during the war also highlighted the problem of upgrading Moscow's Soviet-era navy.
But a series of accidents, including the sinking of the Nerpa submarine last year with the loss of 20 crew and five failed tests of the new Bulava intercontinental missile have exposed serious problems with Russian military technology.
Makarov said he hoped to follow up on the purchase of the helicopter carrier by organizing joint Russian-French production of similar ships.
"The talk at this stage is about one (ship), but we want to launch joint production to make at least a series of four or five of these ... We hope to agree on our contractual obligations by year-end."
Makarov also said is was "quite probable" that Russia would seek to buy a small number of French FELIN infantry combat suits, which combine weapons, communication and positioning devices.
In 2004, Paris-based Sagem Defense Systems won a contract to supply FELIN suits for the French army.
"In principle, it is in many respects better than our own (equipment)."
"Our producers do not understand what we want from them," he said. "On Sept. 2-4 we will conduct a conference of all brigade and army commanders. We will show to them modern war technology, what kind of hardware we need."

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