Russia, Vietnam step up technical collaboration in UAVs and anti-ship missiles

Jon Grevatt Jane’s Asia-Pacific Industry Reporter

Russia and Vietnam are reportedly stepping up military technical collaboration efforts to jointly develop and produce unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and anti-ship missiles.

The two countries have close defence relations, which have seen Hanoi purchase a number of major platforms from Russia in recent years, although Vietnam’s involvement in these projects has been limited by its industrial capability.

The UAV and anti-ship missile programmes represent a continuation of Hanoi’s strategy to develop that industrial base and focus on the acquisition of technologies that will enable enhanced protection of Vietnam’s expanding assets, notably energy, in the South China Sea.

Citing an interview in Izvestia , Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported on 15 March that the UAV deal – signed a day earlier – covers the initial build of a mini-UAV system designed by Russian aerospace corporation Irkut as well as technology transfer to Vietnam. The value of the deal is USD10 million.

The anti-ship missiles programme was reported by RIA Novosti in February. Russia will lead a project to build facilities in Vietnam to enable localised production of a modified version of the Kh-35 Uran missile system (NATO designation SS-N-25 ‘Switchblade’). Vietnam is understood to already operate SS-N-25 missiles on missile boats purchased from Russia over the past decade.

Yury Malov, head of the Irkut group’s engineering subsidiary, reportedly said that Irkut will build the UAV and its associated ground-based transmitting and control systems and then transfer related technologies and know-how to Vietnam to enable in-country production of the complete system.

The report did not specify the Irkut system to be built for Vietnam, although indications are that it is a short/mid-range UAV with an operational radius of up to 70 km, a take-off weight of up to 100 kg and an autonomous flight endurance of about 16 hours. Vietnam is not thought to operate any UAV systems.

Meanwhile, the Russia-Vietnam programme to jointly manufacture modified SS-N-25 anti-ship missiles in Vietnam was revealed by Mikhail Dmitriyev, head of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Co-Operation with Foreign Countries.

The programme is scheduled to begin later this year and Dmitriyev told RIA that it will be similar in nature to the Russian-Indian project to build the BrahMos cruise missile, which is based on the Russian 3M55 Oniks/Yakhont missile system (NATO designation SS-NX-26). The BrahMos missile is in series production under a joint venture between India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia.

In recent years Vietnam has emerged as one of Russia’s largest procurers of materiel. In 2010 Hanoi ordered six ‘Kilo’-class (Project 636) diesel-electric submarines; 20 Sukhoi Su-30MK2 fighter aircraft; and Svetlyak-class (Project 1041.2) fast attack craft. Another deal was reportedly signed in December 2011 covering the supply of two additional Gepard frigates equipped with anti-submarine equipment and weapons.

Additionally, Vietnam state news reported in August 2011 that the government was negotiating the potential purchase of additional Russian-made K-300P Bastion-P mobile coastal defence systems.

Although Vietnam’s participation in these programmes has been limited, Hanoi is likely to have negotiated defence offset-related technology transfer from Russia to enable maintenance and support of the ordered platforms. Given its focus on securing off-shore assets, such technologies are likely to be focused on shipbuilding and naval systems as well as those related to missile production and surveillance.

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