Zelenodolsk Gepard is ready to ''pounce'' on Sri Lanka
The time-tested by the naval forces of Russia and Vietnam in various military events frigate Gepard 3.9 is gradually gaining credibility in the arms market of the Asian countries. As it became known to Realnoe Vremya, Rosoboronexport and the Zelenodolsk plant named after A. M. Gorky are completing the two-year negotiations with the Navy of Sri Lanka for the supply of patrol boats Gepard 5.1. Although it is about one vessel, this contract will reinforce the interest in the vessel of other South-Eastern countries — Malaysia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bahrain.
After the operation in Syria, the Zelenodolsk patrol ship Gepard started to gain progress in the export market of ASEAN countries: several countries in South Asia continue to be interested in opportunities of the Russian ship, but the closest to the conclusion of a new export contract negotiations is Sri Lanka.
''Now we are finishing negotiations on the construction of Gepard 5.1 for Sri Lanka: it will be an ocean patrol ship, designed by Zelenodolsk design bureau on the platform of the classic frigate Gepard 3.9,'' told Director General of the Zelenodolsky plant named after Gorky Renat Mistakhov to Realnoe Vremya. ''The difference from usual patrol vessel Gepard 5.1 is that instead of the missile complex Kalibr-M it will be equipped with artillery weapons, as well as landing platform with a hangar for a helicopter. It is expected that in the first half of this year, Rosoboroneksport and we as the manufacturer will come to the signing of a contract for the supply of one of the frigates,'' he said, not calling the possible timing of delivery and the cost of equipment for the Navy of Sri Lanka. However, judging by the similar practice in the execution of export contracts, the construction of one frigate will take almost two years, and the base cost will be at least $150-200 million.
The negotiations with representatives of the naval forces of Sri Lanka cannot be called easy. The first commercial offer was prepared by the plant together with Rosoboronexport at the end of 2014. In January 2015, it was handed over to the military attaché of Sri Lanka for further coordination. By that time, the intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in military-technical cooperation between Russia and Sri Lanka was valid. Russia opened Sri Lanka a credit line at the amount of $300 million for a period of 10 years for the purchase of Russian military equipment (i.e. until 2020). As mentioned earlier, within its framework, Sri Lanka sent the application on the ship of the project Gepard 3.9 and the plant named after Gorky was defined as the manufacturer.
''Within the framework of the requirements specification, we established the price, now it is being considered by Sri Lanka,'' said Mistakhov earlier. ''In the variant of a patrol ship, Gepard is a little easier that we did and do for Vietnam: it is not a rocket ship, only artillery and antiaircraft fire system.'' During the active actions in Syria, the leadership of the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Sri Lanka, it seems, finally decided to purchase the Russian patrol ship. In April 2016, top generals arrived in Kazan and met with Prime Minister of Tatarstan Ildar Khalikov. ''We are interested in the development of cooperation with the Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka. I hope that this visit will strengthen our relations,'' he expressed the wish Ildar Khalikov during a meeting with the military.
The project of the frigate Gepard 3.9 designed by Zelenodolsk design bureau became the basis of export contracts of the Zelenodolsk plant named after Gorky, a part of Holding Company Ak Bars JSC. Having won the competition with the project 2233 Tiger designed by St. Petersburg shipyard Severnaya Verf in the mid-2000s, it was given by the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia and Rosoboronexport the status of the basic Russian modification for the construction of the ship for export.
The first contract was signed with the Navy of Vietnam in December 2006 on the completion of two frigates of the project Gepard-3.9. Under the agency agreement with the Rosoboronexport, the contract financing was carried out by the holding company Ak Bars. Both ships were commissioned on time. At the end of 2013, by order of the Navy of the Vietnam, the factory started construction of two Gepard 3.9 at the total cost of $700 million. Both ships of the ''second pair'' are now on tests: the solemn transfer to Vietnam is scheduled for 2017-2018.
The renewal of the fleet of Sri Lanka is due to the continuing for a quarter century ethnic conflict that demanded huge material resources for the armed struggle with separatists from the government. Many foreign countries offered their modifications of the vessels. In particular, the nearest to Sri Lanka, India, won the contract to build two large patrol ships. On 10 June 2016, the state shipbuilder Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) in Goa launched the first of two being built for the Navy of Sri Lanka large patrol ships of project Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessel (AOPV) — R 623 Sayurala (''Sea waves''). Moreover, the cost per ship is $74 million. Thus, Gepard will have to be integrated into the Indian team. The total fleet of the country is small — only 50 vessels.
''Our traditional competitors are still Holland, which built in Sri Lanka shipyards for military and civilian ships, Germany, Australia, China has started entering the market, and Japan. They have a long history of relations. It is difficult to compete with them. We also wanted to create our own shipyard in this Pacific region, but this requires huge government support. Without it — it is just empty words,'' he regretted.
According to Renat Mistakhov, in the case of signing of the contract with Sri Lanka, even for one ship but there will prospect of the signing of contracts for Gepards in other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. ''They are interesting for Bangladesh (two ships) and Malaysia, but only in the patrol variant,'' said Mistakhov.