French, Dutch enter Russian carrier bid

Dec. 23, 2009 at 6:06 PM
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MOSCOW, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Spain and the Netherlands have joined France in the bidding to outfit Russia with a helicopter carrier.

"Yes, we are holding talks, and not just with the French, but with the Netherlands and Spain, about the acquisition of a ship of this class," Russian navy chief Vladimir Vysotsky was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

France is pitching its helicopter carrier Mistral, which last month sailed to St. Petersburg to convince the Kremlin to agree to what would be the largest arms deal ever signed with a Western country.

Dutch ship maker Damen Schelde and Spanish shipyard Navantia would classify for such a huge project.

But observers say the 650-foot Mistral is still favored to win the contract.

The vessel is capable of transporting and deploying 16 helicopters, up to 70 vehicles and 450 soldiers, although troop numbers can be doubled for short-term deployment.

Russia is eager to buy three or four Mistral carriers together with a license to build more of the ships itself.

Russian navy officials began calling for the vessel earlier this year, frustrated with the time it took their Black Sea fleet to carry out amphibious landing operations in the war with Georgia.

The ship has an estimated price tag of around $750 million and can deploy four landing barges at great speed. France would love to strike a deal with Russia, which has never purchased a foreign-made military vessel.

The Mistral is armed with two Simbad missile launchers and four 12.7mm M2-HB Browning machine guns. Equipped with a 69-bed hospital, the Mistral carriers are integrated into the NATO Response Force and have completed U.N. and EU-led peacekeeping missions.

Meanwhile, Russian newspaper Kommersant reports that Moscow will sell 20 MiG-29 fighter jets to Myanmar. The contract is worth around $570 million, the paper said, relying on information from an official with Russian weapons maker Rosoboronexport.

Military-run Myanmar is under Western sanctions, but India, China and Russia are said to have delivered defense equipment there.

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