Russia needs Mistral class amphibious assault ships to boost the combat capabilities of its Navy in the Far East and ensure protection of the disputed Kuril Islands, Russia's top military commander said on Tuesday.
Russia is negotiating the purchase of at least one French-built Mistral-class amphibious assault ship, worth 400-500 million Euros (around $540-$675 million) and plans to build three more vessels of the same class in partnership with the French naval shipbuilder DCNS.
"We need this ship to increase the maneuverability of troops in the Pacific Ocean considering the size of this geographical region and the lack of adequate forces to protect, in particular, the Kuril Islands," chief of Russian Armed Forces Staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov said.
Tokyo's claims over the four islands off northeast Japan, which were annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II, have so far prevented Russia and Japan from signing a formal peace treaty to end World War II hostilities.
A Mistral-class ship is capable of transporting and deploying 16 helicopters, four landing barges, up to 70 armored vehicles including 13 battle tanks, and 450 personnel.
Many Russian military and industry experts have questioned the financial and military sense of the purchase, and some believe that Russia simply wants to gain access to advanced naval technology that could be used in the future in potential conflicts with NATO and its allies.
Makarov said the existing Ivan Rogov class ships are four-five times smaller than the Mistral and could not satisfy the modern demands of the Russian Navy.
Russia built three Ivan Rogov class amphibious transport ships during the Soviet era. One of them, the Mitrofan Moskalenko, is still in service with the Russian Navy but has been put on a Defense Ministry list of assets for sale.
An Ivan Rogov class ship can carry a reinforced naval infantry battalion landing team with all its combat vehicles, plus 10 PT-76 light amphibious tanks. Its flight deck can accommodate four Ka-27 or Ka-29 naval helicopters.
MOSCOW, June 8 (RIA Novosti)