Beyond the Russian Mistral

August 29, 2009 · Posted in Amphibious Warfare, Marines 

Russia appears interested in expanding their expeditionary and amphibious standoff capabilities by purchasing French Mistral class amphibious assault warships. Great story and well covered and discussed in the blogs/journal articles below.

Thoughts on the Mistral at Information Dissemination

Russia Scopes Fancy Imports in Window-Shopping Weapons-Buying Spree at Wired: Danger Room

The big question in my mind after reading all of this was how well is Russia positioned in terms of ship to shore connectors to support operations from a Mistral?

Helicopter capacity is 16 heavy helicopters with 6 landing spots on deck. Using the French NH-90 as a metric you can get roughly the same number of the KA-29 B Assault helicopters on board. The problem though is the first KA-29 B IOC’d in 1985 and I can only assume that by the time one of these ships comes into service very few would be left if any at all and something new would have to be developed or purchased. Quickly looking at what the Russian military helicopter industry is doing the MI-38 is likely to replace army transports and its stats are not extremely different then the existing KA-29 or French NH-90 although it is bigger.

Name Height Length Rotor Diameter Max Speed Troop Capacity
NH-90 5.23 m (17 ft 2 in) 16.13 m (52 ft) 16.30 m (53 ft 5¾ in) 300 km/h (186mph) 20
KA-29 B 5.5 m (18 ft) 10.4 m (34 ft) 15.75 m (51.64 ft) 270 km/h (166mph) 16
MI-38 5.13 m (16 ft 10 in 19.70 m (64 ft 8 in) 21.10 m (69 ft 3 in) 275 km/h (171mph) 32
* All data pulled from internet (wikipedia) and correlated with at least one other source (internet or Combat Fleets).

Landing craft capacity for the Mistrals is roughly 2 LCAC (assume US LCAC pictured above is the metric) or 4 LCM’s. A quick look shows the Russian Zubr and Aist type LCAC are definitely out as they are much too large and there are very few Lebed LCAC’s left in service (again IOC’d sometime in the early to mid eighties) although they have operated from Ivan Rogov class amphibious warships (see picture below) in the past. There are several other types of Russian LCAC’s but there are no current LCAC type projects specifically suited for well deck operations.  If Russia chooses the slower LCM path they do have several types that may be suitable although very old and slow. In any case, Russia would have to develop or purchase new landing craft to support the Mistral although given their experience they’re positioned well to do so. My only other thought is maybe a new Chinese LCAC design or investment in the CNIM French L-CAT program. If they’re willing to buy Mistral its not a stretch to think they’d go import for their landing craft choice too.

Finally there is the amphibious vehicle option with the Mistral’s capability to carry 59 vehicles of different types. Russian Naval Infantry Brigades do employ BTR-80 APC, PT-76 amphibious Tanks and possibly a few BMP-3 IFV types however like most navies vehicles like these suffer from range, speed and sea state limitations that other methods of landing do not. Fact even employing them generally forces the amphibious force close to shore generally negating their standoff advantage. I can’t see any Navy really investing more in this until these limitations are overcome and given that no nation has really solved this it would be a major project.

So clearly if the Russia does purchase Mistral class ships they’ll have to make a significant investment in ship to shore connectors as well. Most of their current gear is old but they’re experienced enough to build and could certainly buy as well.   It’ll be interesting to see if this purchase pans out which way the Russians will go and how it will shape the naval infantry in the years to come.


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