Necessity the mother of Russo-French invention
The expansion of Russia’s defense exports in recent years has caused its manufacturers to buy more components and systems instrumentation from leading Western companies, which has led to closer cooperation between Russian and Western firms.
“Today, the military-technical cooperation of the Rosoboronexport corporation [Russia’s defense export agency] with leading European companies amounts to $100 million per year, which includes both exports and imports,” Rosoboronexport general director Sergey Chemezov told AIN. French defense companies such as Thales and Safran have emerged as Russia’s main partners in defense exports, with a roughly 50:50 export-to-import ratio of components, manufacturing technologies and the optimization of weapons systems.
According to Chemezov, Rosoboronexport is stepping up its cooperation with Safran in many areas, including the codevelopment of thermal imagers and avionics. The French group will cooperate with Russia’s Urals Optics Mechanical Plant (UOMZ) on thermal imagers and with Ramenskoye Design Bureau on avionics.
At the MAKS airshow in Moscow in August, Safran’s Sagem Défense Sécurité subsidiary and Ramenskoye signed a letter of intent to establish a joint venture in Russia, which will specialize in the adaptation, coproduction, sale and maintenance of inertial navigation systems for a variety of Russian and international programs.
After working together for more than a decade, Sagem and Ramenskoye will focus efforts on introducing the Sigma inertial navigation system into Russian Sukhoi and Mikoyan (MiG) fighters being built for various export markets. In particular, the companies will supply the Sigma systems for Su-30MK fighters bought by India, Malaysia and Algeria.
During June’s Paris Air Show, Sagem and Russia’s UOMZ signed an agreement to jointly produce Matis third-generation thermal imagers and optical observation systems (OOS) for civilian roles. “We shall build a facility in Yekaterinburg for coproduction of thermal imagers and optical observation systems for use in Russia and for export,” UOMZ director general Sergey Maksin explained. The companies aim
to have the joint venture operational by the end of 2008, although both partners have acknowledged possible difficulties in getting permission from both Russian and French authorities.
Some Russian military exports already use the French thermal images for various roles. Among these are, for instance, BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles, Pantsir-S1 air defense gun/missile systems supplied to the United Arab Emirates and Zubr
air-cushion landing ships sold to Greece.
UOMZ is expanding its OOS exports to countries such as Germany and Poland. The company has received orders for 90 systems, 40 of which are to be supplied this year and the remainder in 2008. It plans to increase annual output to 100 units.
Meanwhile, Sagem is prepared to equip Russia’s new Su-35 fighters with its avionics. “At issue is an export version of the Su-35 which Sukhoi is promoting to the world market,” explained Christian Didier, Sagem Défense Sécurité’s director for aviation business development. “We are prepared to participate in fitting this fighter with our equipment since its presence onboard increases the aircraft’s export potential.” In Didier’s opinion, the French avionics will be in high demand among export customers wanting Westernized versions of the Su-35.
Rosoboronexport is also boosting cooperation with Thales, which supplies Russian firms with various packages of instruments for aircraft, armor and naval systems. For example, Thales and UOMZ recently announced an agreement for the production of Damocles day/night targeting pods in Yekaterinburg.
The Damocles pod, which has been selected for all 18 Su-30MKM fighters ordered by Malaysia, weighs around 550 pounds and measures just over eight feet in length. It operates in a three- to five-micrometer wave band, ensuring high-precision delivery of guided munitions to ground targets.
Thales equipment, also including forward-looking infrared systems, has also been selected for the Su-30MKI aircraft developed for India. The intention is that the joint manufacturing operation in Yekaterinburg will increase the French group’s stake in Russian combat aircraft exported to third countries. Thales is also one of France’s leading companies producing avionics for Russian combat aircraft.