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Russian defense officials criticizing Mistral contract

Russia has started construction of its first Mistral helicopter-carrier. This picture was taken during construction of France's first Mistral vessel in 2003.(Photo from Wikipedia)

Purchase of French-built Mistral assault ships is ‘absurd’ says Russian defense industry official. ‘They won’t work in cold’ says Deputy Prime Minister.

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Military-Industrial Commission Deputy Head Ivan Kharchenko said the $1.2-billion deal with a French shipyard, signed under the ousted Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has caused significant damage to the state and the Russian shipbuilding industry.

“We have been discussing the absurdity of this earlier decision. It was the initiative of Serdyukov and it’s not the only damage he has inflicted to the government and the industry,” Kharchenko said at a meeting with defense companies in Moscow last week, RIA Novosti reports.

Also Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin criticizes the decision to purchase the Mistral vessels: “It’s very strange that landing crafts that won’t work in temperatures below seven degrees should be floating in our latitudes,” he said according to RIA Novosti. Rogozin has special responsibilities for the defense industry.

Russia and France signed the contract for two French-built Mistral class ships in June 2011. The first ship, the Vladivostok, is being built at the DCNS shipyard in Saint-Nazaire and is due to be delivered in 2014, while the second, the Sevastopol, is scheduled for delivery in 2015.

Kharchenko said the ships must now be completed, otherwise Russia “would lose more” if the country backtracks the deal. Another contract for two other Mistral vessels was under discussion, but has been postponed.

Defense equipment deals normally include massive penalty clauses for cancellation to protect the producer from losses by clients pulling out, as they incur huge expense when starting such projects.

Serdyukov was fired from his office in November amid an investigation into alleged fraud at Defense Ministry subsidiary firms.

A Mistral-class ship is capable of carrying 16 helicopters, four landing vessels, 70 armored vehicles and 450 personnel. Each of the two first ships will have air wings consisting of 30 Ka-52K Alligator attack helicopters and Ka-29 helicopters. Prototypes of a naval version of the Ka-52K are now under construction and flight tests are expected to start in 2014.