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Russia's littoral combat ship angles for international sales.

A Russian corvette currently being built to patrol that country's coastal waters may not live up to the technological stature of the U.S. Navy's littoral combat ship. But it could offer a lower cost alternative to countries that could never afford the LCS, and a potentially attractive choice to nations unable, for security reasons, to acquire weapons from the United States.

The Russian Navy patrol vessels--known as the Steregushchiy class--could begin to enter service this year, says naval analyst Richard E. Dorn, vice president of AMI International, in Bremerton, Wash.

The Russians are building three ships, although they said they plan to produce up to 20, Dorn says.

The vagaries of Russia's defense budget most likely will keep the number low. Nevertheless, says Dorn, once the first three ships enter service domestically, Russia will court international buyers--particularly India and China, which have huge demands for coastal patrolling.

The United States would never sell the LCS to countries such as India or China "simply because we don't want to transfer the technologies," says Dorn.

The U.S. Navy is testing two LCS prototypes: a mono-hull and a catamaran. Both are state-of-the-art warships made with lightweight composite material--a technology that the United States will be most eager to keep away from potential enemies, says Dorn. "These are things we don't like China getting their hands on, so they can tear it apart, and see how they can combat it."

Most of the systems on the Steregushchiy class are older, less technologically advanced than the LCS, says Dorn. Weapons include a short-range air defense system and Gatling guns. The corvettes will be powered by diesel engines, which are not as desirable as gas turbine engines. "The Russians are not talking about putting any real modern equipment on this ship," says Dorn. While the top speed of the LCS is 50 knots, the Russian vessel only will reach 30 knots. The U.S. ship, at 2,800 tons, is larger than Russia's corvette, which displaces 2,100 tons.

So far, the U.S. ship has not scored any international sales, although talks are under way with Israel, Dorn says. Russia's corvette has emerged as the only serious contender. Denmark is constructing a new patrol frigate, but it's not yet a proven design, he says.

The LCS is expected to cost nearly $300 million a piece. The Steregushchiy has been priced at $60 million, but the export version will be twice or three times more expensive, says Dorn.

The first Russian Steregushchiy will commission in 2007. The second ship in the class, the Soobrazitelnyi, will follow in 2008, and a third one, the Boikyy, in 2009.

Dorn says that while keels have been laid for the three ships, no actual photographs have come out of the shipyard in St. Petersburg. Only images of artists' concepts were displayed at the St. Petersburg naval show last year, he says.

One major drawback in the Steregushchiy is that it is vulnerable to air attack, Dorn says. "For a vessel of its size, it doesn't have a good air defense system. It consists of really small missiles that don't have much range." They are installing vertical launchers, but mainly for anti-surface and anti-submarine weapons.
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Title Annotation:UPFRONT
Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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