UK wants to modernize the Ukrainian navy with new missile boats

WARSAW, (BM) – The United Kingdom offered Ukraine the construction of missile boats according to the British project in local shipyards, agreeing not only to full technology transfer, but also to finance it with a long-term, low-interest loan, learned citing Defence24.

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If the program is implemented, there will be a revolutionary leap in the impact capabilities of the Ukrainian naval forces as well as in the capabilities of the Ukrainian shipbuilding and armaments industry.

One of the goals of the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Great Britain in October is to obtain help in the reconstruction of the Ukrainian navy – and in its shock part. The British are ready to equip Ukraine’s naval forces with modern missile boats that will not only be able to safely operate in the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Azov, but will also comply with NATO standards.

The Ukrainians were additionally offered that most of these units be built in Ukrainian shipyards, which is to reduce costs and support the local industry – including through technology transfer. Another incentive for the adoption of this proposal is the provision of a long-term loan by the British government for this purpose, which will allow for the additional modernization of two new Ukrainian naval bases. The implementation of the British project will therefore significantly increase the strike capacity of the Ukrainian naval forces, which since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 have completely lost their ability to react by force to the increasingly aggressive actions of the Russian Federation.

The British proposal became famous already at the end of August this year. thanks to an interview given by Wadym Prystajka – Ukrainian ambassador to Great Britain for “Jewropiejskoj prawdi”. He expressed hope that the British would receive “real military aid, assistance in the development of the armed forces”. He already revealed then that it was a “significant contract for a lethal weapon – not only its acquisition, but also production in Ukraine.”

Journalists who later dealt with the topic found that negotiations on this matter are already at the final stage, and that for this purpose, in mid-August this year. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace visited Ukraine. Moreover, talks on this matter were to begin at the end of 2019, and in 2020, despite the pandemic, several visits by British experts to assess the capabilities of the Ukrainian shipbuilding and arms industry took place.

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The rush is great, because the culmination of the negotiations is the visit of President Zelensky to Great Britain in the first decade of October 2020. It is already known that this is when a large Ukrainian-British trade agreement is to be signed, which will not only support Ukrainians, but also improve the political and economic position of Great Britain in Europe, undoubtedly weakened after Brexit. The British have to look for their new place outside the European Union and Ukraine can help them.

The Ukrainian media point out that it is not Zelensky who will sign the documents currently being prepared, because the agreement is to be intergovernmental. However, the Ukrainian president will give her the appropriate rank, the more so because he is the supreme commander of the armed forces of Ukraine. And the “naval” contract for the construction of rocket boats will probably also be ready then.

Why does Ukraine need “mosquitoes”?

Rocket boats proposed by Great Britain have already been called “mosquitoes” for a reason. These are not units that are able to ensure sea control (not having a sufficiently strong air defense), but they can create very burdensome “obstacles” for the enemy, for example: without any problems temporarily interrupting sea communication lines, protecting your own, less armed vessels or preventing a landing operation.

The example for Ukrainians in this matter are the Norwegians and the Swedes, who organized a defense system for their own coast with small, fast and hard-to-detect missile ships supported by coastal launchers and aviation. In addition, it is a relatively cheap solution that allows you to fight off any aggression on your own.

The Ukrainians are well aware that they cannot count on too much help from NATO’s naval forces in this respect. This is hindered by, for example, international agreements that do not allow “non-local ships” to stay in the Black Sea for a period longer than 21 days. Of course, shortly after the annexation of Crimea, attempts were made to organize the so-called rotational presence due to the high risk of a landing operation – especially in the Azov Sea region. However, since 2016, this presence of NATO ships has clearly decreased and Ukraine has clearly drawn far-reaching conclusions from this.

One of them is the recognition that, without modern missile ships, the Ukrainian naval forces are practically powerless in the event of the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation at sea. It was allegedly even included in the development strategy of the Ukrainian naval forces, which assumes the use of three classes of vessels in typical combat operations.

The first is small, fast patrol ships. It is planned to acquire up to eight such units, the main task of which is to patrol coastal areas and the maritime economic zone, as well as protect and escort ships.

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The Ukrainians want to additionally introduce up to sixteen amphibious assault boats that would be able to quickly react to aggressive actions in the coastal zone, having the ability to land up to twenty marines on the sandy coast. The last type of ships is to be rocket cutters, of which according to preliminary estimates there should be eight.

The Americans want to help in obtaining the first two classes of vessels. They will provide Ukraine with:

  • fast patrol boats of the Island type (with a displacement of 168 tons, length 34 m, width 6.4 m, moving at a speed of 29.5 within a range of 3300 NM, autonomy of 5 days and armament consisting of one Mk38 caliber 25 mm cannon and two rifles machine guns 12.7 mm);
  • fast landing and assault / patrol boats of the Mark VI type (displacement 72 tons, length 25.8 m, speed over 35 knots, space for about twenty people and armament consisting of two remotely controlled MSI Seahawk A2 artillery turrets equipped with two Mk cannons 44 Bushmaster II 30 mm caliber and four bases mounted on the sides, on which machine guns or light automatic grenade launchers can be placed).

The agreement concluded with Great Britain would completely close the most important shipbuilding needs of the Ukrainian navy, which is why it was met with so much interest in Ukraine – the more so as the British agreed to help build as many ships as the Ukrainian Navy would need – eight.

Ukrainian journalists also concluded from unofficial sources that the first two ships in the series were to be built in one of the British shipyards with the participation of specialists from Ukraine. However, further units are to be built in their own shipbuilding plants designated by Ukrainians, according to the technology and design provided by the British and by already trained shipbuilders.

The British put forward one very strict condition, categorically not wanting to agree that new ships should be built at the Nikolaev shipyard, which is part of Vadim Nowiński’s “Smart Holding”, and therefore is controlled by Russian owners.

Nevertheless, the British proposal is very attractive, taking into account the fact that the recently signed contract for the construction of twenty FPB 98 Mk 1 high-speed patrol boats with the French OCEA shipyard assumes the construction of only 25% of the ordered vessels in Ukraine. In the case of the British, as much as 75% of them. In addition, this independence in the British version is to apply not only to the construction of hulls, but also to the assembly of weapons systems and their integration – with the help of British specialists.

Read more: Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship maneuvering missile system goes into service

The UK’s help is also to cover the financing of the entire project. The British are said to have been offering the Ukrainians a ten-year loan of £ 1.25 billion (around € 1.4 billion). This sum should be enough to cover a large part of the costs of the entire program, including the reconstruction (or even construction) of Ukrainian naval bases. After the occupation of Crimea, Ukraine lost its most important military port in Sevastopol with all logistics and training facilities. Of course, the large port of Odessa remains, but it cannot be the only security for the Ukrainian navy.

This is why Ukraine has undertaken the ambitious task of building two naval bases in Ochakiv on the Black Sea and in Berdyansk on the Sea of ​​Azov. British money would make it possible to adapt these ports to NATO standards, and thus to easily accept allied ships if necessary. The size of the British loan, however, will depend on its own contribution that Ukraine will be able to spend on modernizing its own navy.

What will the Ukrainian “mosquitoes” be like?

At the current level of secrecy in the negotiations, the least known is what the future Ukrainian missile boats are to be. The British are said to have offered Ukraine several variants of watercrafts, differing in size, displacement, speed and equipment (including armament). However, it is Ukraine that is to ultimately define what kind of missile boats it expects and what they should have at their disposal.

And again, Ukrainian journalists obtained unofficial information that the main consideration was a ship with a length of about 50 meters, a displacement of about 400 tons and a speed of up to 50 knots. So far, however, no specific pattern has been presented, so different media focus on different ships. Most people believe that the base for the project of Ukrainian “mosquitoes” will be Barzan-type missile boats, which in the 1990s were built for Qatar at the Vosper Thornycroft shipyard (now part of the BAE Systems concern). These units were built on the basis of the project of 56-meter patrol boats built for Kenya and Oman.

The Barzan-class ships are 56 meters long, 9 meters wide, have a draft of 2.5 meters, a displacement of 380 tons, a speed of 35 knots, and a range of 1,800 nautical miles (at a speed of 12 knots). The permanent crew is 35 people, including seven officers. The armament of these small units is the OTO Melara 76 mm / 62 Super Rapid bow gun, eight MM40 Exocet anti-ship missiles, the Sadral firing position for six Mistral very short-range anti-aircraft missiles, the autonomous, seven-barrel 30 mm Goalkeeper artillery system and two heavy machine guns. 12.7 mm.

Read more: Ukraine tested Neptune missile capable to destroy a Russian warship of any class

In fact, Barzans are old-concept units in which, for natural reasons, the latest developments in, for example, stealth technology, surveillance systems or computing systems are not implemented. Therefore, Ukraine will most likely be offered something completely new.

So far, the Ukrainians assume that each of their future “mosquito” will cost from 46 to 62 million pounds together with the weapons. However, such a price may be difficult to achieve, because future rocket boats are to be equipped with, among others, in eight anti-ship missiles that cost up to £ 3 million in the West. Thus, more than half of the assumed amount would go only to the supply of this type of missile armament.

Meanwhile, it is assumed that only 20% of the sum earmarked for the construction of missile boats will go to British suppliers. This may mean that the Ukrainian defense industry will provide the most expensive anti-ship missiles in the agreement. The most frequently mentioned missiles are the R-360 Neptune missiles developed by the Ukrainians, which in July 2020 were successfully tested as part of the RK-360MC Neptun coastal missile system tests.

Currently, however, they are only available in the configuration prepared for launching from land-based launchers. The work on the sea version of the R-360 missiles is of course in progress, but until its completion, the option of purchasing foreign missiles for the new cutters is also being considered – including the Swedish RBS15 type. In this case, however, the British are declaring their help, proposing to integrate Ukrainian weapons on “their” ships, also thanks to the knowledge and technology they provided.

In this way, the Ukrainians would gain not only new vessels, but also access to missile solutions – bringing their “Neptune” missiles to a completely new generation level.

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