Renat Mistakhov: “It was said about the third pair of Gepard-class frigates for Vietnam, but there's nothing so far”

Tatarstan shipbuilders have suspended negotiations with ASEAN navy, aiming for a deep modernization of the frigate

Ak Bars shipbuilding corporation, following its competitors, has presented its own Corvette project 11664 to the Russian Navy management, which may replace the current Gepard-class frigates. The information was confirmed to Realnoe Vremya by the head of Ak Bars Corporation Renat Mistakhov. The new project of the Zelenodolsk Design Bureau was prepared with an eye on the upcoming participation in the tender for the supply of a new batch of corvettes, which, as Mistakhov noted, are becoming “more and more popular”. Military experts explain the change of the “model” by the fact that the country still does not have gas turbine engines, without which the frigates “will not float”. Probably, for this reason, Zelenodolsk Shipyard (part of Ak Bars Shipbuilding Corporation JSC) stopped negotiations with Vietnam's Navy for the export of the third batch of Gepards, which took place one and a half to two years.

Gepard 2.0 at the presentation of the Navy in Sevastopol

Ak Bars shipbuilding corporation for the first time has presented its own development of the Corvette project 11664 at a recent exhibition in Sevastopol, the head of the corporation Renat Mistakhov told Realnoe Vremya. According to him, here the leadership of the Russian Navy was demonstrated promising developments of the largest shipbuilding companies in the country, which will be adopted by the fleet. Ak Bars has shown its model of modern corvette, which can become a prototype of the future serial ship of Zelenodolsk Shipyard.

According to Renat Mistakhov, the developers of Zelenodolsk Design Bureau decided to create not a fundamentally new model but focused on the deep modernization of the replicated project 11661 Gepard, under which dozens of combat vessels have been built. However, the new сorvette has a displacement of almost half as much — 2,000 tonnes, which should affect the building cost.

“The idea is this: we propose to form a base of corvettes on the basis of Gepard small missile ship. The uniqueness is that Tatarstan, Dagestan small missile ships were built on the basis of the project 11661. On the first ship, Uran missile systems were tested, and the modern missile system that participated in the battles in Syria was tested on Dagestan," Mistakhov said.

However, according to some reports, in its size, it turned out to be twice as large as the frigate in the Soviet version and more like a destroyer than a brisk guard ship. Thus, the prototype of the future сorvette incorporates the qualities of a maneuverable patrol ship and a large frigate (it was even nicknamed “a small frigate” — editor's note). What name was invented for the Zelenodolsk corvette — the interlocutors of Realnoe Vremya did not specify. Although it is customary to give names when laying a ship, not for a paper model, so they may have not invented it yet.

Ak Bars has developed the ship with an eye on participating in the Navy's tender for the supply of corvettes, General Director of Zelenodolsk Design Bureau Yevgeny Zhirkov confirmed to our publication. And Mistakhov added:

“We proposed the concept to interest the state customer in the possibility of supplying such corvettes. Today, they are in demand in the Russian Navy," said Renat Mistakhov.

The main competitors of Ak Bars are Severnaya Verf and Amur Shipbuilding Plant, which have been building corvettes for a long time under the projects of Almaz Central Design Bureau. Zelenodolsk Design Bureau has reportedly also completed the development of a technical project for the new corvette, and if the auction is won, the Zelenodolsk plant will be ready to start the production.

We add that the Sevastopol presentation of the capabilities of the Russian Navy was held with the participation of the country's top leadership. On January 9, Russian President Vladimir Putin, while in Sevastopol, observed the progress of exercises of the Black Sea and Northern Fleets from the Northern Fleet's missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov. After that, he held a meeting on the development of the military-industrial complex. Putin was also presented with the advantages of the new Tatarstan сorvette.

Grachonoks to sail this year

Zelenodolsk Shipyard (part of Ak Bars) has been building expensive small missile ships for the Russian Navy for many years. The company's annual turnover is 20 billion rubles, Renat Mistakhov said. However, Gepard-class frigates were built according to an outdated project of the '80s, while ones of its competitors — Severnaya Verf and Amur Shipbuilding Plant — had projects laid down several years ago.

Military-industrial complex observers report that the highest circles of the Russian defence ministry had debated for a long time what to build — modern corvettes or small missile ships, which led to a motley composition of the fleet. Moreover, during the construction of the ship, there repeatedly arose the need to improve the project, which led to a delay in the serial construction.

This year, Zelenodolsk shipbuilders do not plan to lay large ships, Renat Mistakhov stated.

“They will only continue the series of anti-sabotage boats of the project 21980 Grachonok. We will have launchings this year," says the head of Ak Bars, referring to the commissioning of new vessels for the Navy. “This is a patrol ship with the factory number 639 (meaning Grayvoron small missile ship).

This is the last small missile ship built under the contract with the defence ministry from as of 2013 for the supply of four ships. Anyway, the series will continue until 2021-2023. The ministry of defence signed a contract with Zelenodolsk Shipyard JSC in 2016 for the construction of three more small missile ships of the project 21631 worth 27 billion rubles.

Ak Bars shipbuilding corporation has stopped negotiations with Vietnam

But most likely, the plant decided to refocus on corvettes, relying on them when entering foreign markets. The Gepard project seems to have exhausted itself. According to Renat Mistakhov, new supplies to Vietnam are not discussed.

“Of course, it was announced on television about the 'third pair' (before that, the plant had supplied two pairs of Gepards to Vietnam's Navy — editor's note). We really hope that if we are invited we have something to show. But so far there are no offers from the ASEAN states, there's nothing so far," the head of the corporation stated.

Industry sources confirmed that the talks have been terminated. Although in December, a delegation led by the president of the National Assembly of Vietnam, Nguyen Thi Kim, visited Kazan and met with the president of the Republic of Tatarstan in the Kazan Kremlin. At that time, the TV channels reported that they had reached an agreement to buy a third pair, but this news was premature.

Military observers are sure that the refusal of Zelenodolsk shipbuilders from frigates is due to the lack of gas turbine engines in the country, without which they cannot sail. And for this reason, the deal with Vietnam's Navy did not take place.

“We can talk at length about the differences between the classes of ships, but the main problem of our shipbuilding is that there are still no gas turbines. But you can't make a frigate without gas turbines," Andrey Frolov, the editor-in-chief of Arms Export magazine, said in an interview with Realnoe Vremya. “Apparently, this is one of the reasons why now all shipbuilders are interested in corvettes because they can be made without a gas turbine (ships can sail on diesel engines).

It's impossible to sail without a gas turbine

“The failure with Vietnam is most likely due to the lack of turbines," Frolov believes. “Well, you remember how many problems there were with the second pair of Gepards (commissioned in 2016 and in 2017, when the supply of gas turbine engines was banned due to sanctions — editor's note). And now no one can guarantee that a remake of this painful story will not happen," the expert says. “I think that Vietnam has taken a pause in connection with the story with sanctions. In general, there can be a lot of reasons. That could be disagreements on price and terms or a lack of guarantees that we would solve the turbine issue. Before that, Vietnam bought four frigates and six submarines, built a ship repair plant from scratch, spending a total of $4 billion. This is a lot for Vietnam. And let's face it, the Gepard project relates to the development of the '80s, it is very outdated.

According to the expert, Zelenodolsk shipbuilders make a “diesel” version of Gepard, so as not to stand in the backwater waiting for turbines. “Apparently, this is a recognition that the situation with turbines will not be ok for a long time," he says. “But whether it will be successful with military customers is still unknown. God only knows what considerations the navy will be guided. So far, the navy is building corvettes for the projects 20380 and 20385.” And the main budget of the navy is directed to nuclear submarines, everything else — on a residual basis.

By Luiza Ignatyeva