Export of Naval Ships

Author Dmitriy Boltenkov 

A naval segment is within the order of ten percent of the total amount in the export structure of Russian weapons and military equipment. Russia has several reliable importing partners and long-term and highly profitable contracts concluded in this sphere. A very limited range of international manufacturers are able to win in the competition with Russian shipbuilders in regard to “price-quality” ratio. 


Russia as one of the leading exporters of the naval construction products offers a wide selection of ships and submarines, ranging from aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered ocean-going submarine boats to patrol boats. Most contracts include agreements for further servicing, repair and modernization of delivered items, implementation of location and repair systems for Navies of foreign countries.

Such an example of naval ship building in Russia as the project 877 submarine “Varshavyanka” has become a famous brand name on equal terms with the Kalashnikov gun, T-72 tank and MiG-29 fighter.

Russia's military and technical cooperation with many foreign countries in the sphere of naval construction is evident over the last years. We'd like to introduce an overview of the military and technical cooperation with some advanced customers in this sphere.


The USSR and Russia as its legal successor state created submarine forces for some countries.

Vietnam was one of such countries. Vietnam concluded a contract with Russia for construction of six submarines of project 06361, development of a stationing site for submarines and the repairing yard in Cam Ranh, weapon sales and training of crew members.

The contract total amount reached 4 billion dollars, of which 2 billion were the costs spent on submarines.

Submarines were built at the Admiralty Shipyards JSC in St. Petersburg within the period of 2010–2016. The Vietnamese party delivered submarines and ships that had been built for this country, using a heavy load carrier Rolldock (Netherlands) for costs reasons. The flags were officially displayed over the fifth and sixth submarines at the Cam Ranh Naval base on February 28, 2017 confirming the end of the contract implementation. Vietnamese names of submarines are “Ha Noi”, “Ho Chi Minh”, “Hai Phong”, “Khanh Hoa”, “Da Nang”, “Ba Ria-Vung Tau”. A Navy submarine base was developed in Cam Ranh in accordance with the Russian project (Joint Stock Corporation “Shipbuilding & Shiprepair Technology Center” (JSC “SSTC”) was the project designer) in 2015.

Zelenodolsk shipyard continued construction of frigates of project 11661 for Vietnam as “Gepard 3.9”-class frigates. Russia and Vietnam signed a contract valued at sum of 700 mln US dollars for construction of the second pair of frigates of this project with reinforced antisubmarine armament on October 7, 2012. To be honest, the construction was delayed due to cancellation of main gas-turbine power units delivery by a Ukrainian manufacturer. The ships were handed over to the customer a year later than the term assigned, it has taken place in November 2017 (“Trần Hưng Đạo”) and in January 2018 (“Quang Trung”) respectively.

The information was received, that Vietnam was going to order some frigates equipped with the complex Calibr, but with another propulsion system. The first frigate pair was ordered by Vietnam in 2006, and in 2011 it joined the Navy under names “Dinh Tien Hoang” and “Ly Thay To”. Their construction cost 350 mln US dollars.

Construction of project 12418 guided missile-boats is continued in Vietnam under a license. Components for boats are manufactured by the “Vympel” Shipyard JSC in Rybinsk. The contract of 1 billion US dollars value was signed in 2006. Two project 12418 boats were built in Russia within the frame of this contract. Another 10 boats are to be launched in Vietnam. Six boats have been commissioned, two boats are being constructed, four similar boats might be ordered.

The modern Russian “Igor Belousov” (Project 21300) maritime search-and-rescue support vessel was delivered to Vladivostok through Southern seas in 2016. It was presented also in Vietnam that showed interest in this project and asked for its complete set and price.


Algeria traditionally is not inclined to show off its military contracts. Information on orders made by this country with regard to procurement of submarines and ships is very limited.

Project 06361 submarines are under construction at the Admiralty Shipyards JSC (St. Petersburg). Algeria ordered the second pair of such submarines with the total contract value of 1.2 billion US dollars in 2014. These submarines will be handed over to the customer in 2018 in accordance with the schedule. The first pair of submarines of this project was procured by Algeria for the amount of 600 mln US dollars in 2006, they were delivered in 2010. Three Algerian project 1159Т missile-armed corvettes and three project 1234E missile-armed corvettes were overhauled and passed an integrated modification at “Severnaya Verf” shipyard in St. Petersburg between 2007–2017. These ships were built in the USSR in 1980s. The guided missile system Kh-35E “Uran-E” was installed during modernization, up to 80% of all ship systems were replaced, new radioelectronic complexes were installed. They were repaired in pairs (one frigate and one corvette), and works were completed in March, 2017. The ships’ life cycle was prolonged for a period of 10 years after repair.

Now Russia and Algeria hold negotiations regarding order and construction of four patrol ships of project 22160, so that one of them could be built in Russia and the other three, in Algeria. The ships can be equipped with guided missile system CLUB-N.


The Shipbuilding Center “Zvyozdochka” in Severodvinsk is carrying out an overhaul and modernization of the project 877EКМ submarine “S60 Sindhukesari” for the Indian Navy. It should be handed over to the customer in 2018 and will become the sixth (since 1997) submarine repaired at the “Zvyozdochka” center for the Indian Navy. The “Zvyozdochka” center helps India to repair submarines of this series at the plant in Visakhapatnam. The diesel-electric submarine S61 Sindhukirti” for the Indian Navy was repaired and upgraded in Severodvinsk, and works were completed in 2016. Ten submarines of this project were delivered by the USSR and Russia to India in total. The Indian Navy have decided to carry out the second interim overhaul of its four submarines. At least two of them will be repaired at the Shipbuilding Center “Zvyozdochka” and the submarine S60 Sindhukesari” became the first one among them.

An intergovernmental agreement concerning delivery of the second project 971 nuclear-powered submarine on lease was reached in 2016. It can be assumed that it is referred to the submarine “Samara” being under repair at the Shipbuilding Center “Zvyozdochka”. Another possible option might become the “Magadan” submarine of Russian Pacific Ocean Fleet.

Earlier, in 2012 India received on lease the nuclear-powered submarine “Chakra” for 10 years. Being named K-152 in Russia, this submarine had been laid down during the Soviet period and completed under the project 971 “Irbis” in accordance with the contract concluded in 2004. Leasing fees are estimated at 900 mln US dollars. It is remarkable that India was interested in project 885М nuclear-powered submarines being under construction. Unfortunately, such interest was denied.

An intergovernmental agreement concerning construction of four project 11356 frigates for the Indian Navy was concluded in 2016. This country has previously received six similar frigates built in Russia by two series and handed over to the Indian Navy in 2003–2004 and 2012–2013 respectively.

The Shipyard “Yantar” in Kaliningrad is building six ships for the Black Sea Navy Fleet, three of which have been handed over to the Navy. But some problems appeared when the second part of ships were fitted out. Ukraine failed to supply gas turbine power units for these ships that had already been paid by Russia. It is likely, that two of three ships located at “Yantar” will be completed for India (in this case Ukraine is ready to deliver the required units), and another two ships will be built on the customer site. Anyway, no contract for these ships supply has been signed yet.


Russia handed over to Egypt a project 12421 guided missile boat R-32 in 2016. The boat was named “Ahmed Fadel” in the Egyptian Navy. It was built in Russia in 2000 and was designed for export purposes; the boat is armed with the guided missile system “Moskit-E”. One can only assume that this boat has been delivered to Egypt for information and training purposes in order to arrange further procurement of project 12418 guided missile boats. The boat was officially handed over with the following comments: “provision of assistance to Egypt in the fight against terror at sea”.

It might be mentioned that military and technical cooperation between Russia and Egypt has become more active in these days. Egypt has bought a large lot of Russian combat planes and helicopters. This country has fought a war using Soviet ships. The world’s first successful employment of an anti-ship missile weapons took place on October 21, 1967. Egyptian guided missile boats of the Soviet origin sunk the Israeli torpedo boat destroyer “Eilat” on this day.


Four patrol ships arrived to this far South-American country in December, 2015. They were rebuilt on the basis of deep-sea tugs of “Neftegaz” series according to the contract with the price of 8 mln US dollars signed in December, 2014.


Russia signed a contract on construction of two project 12232 air-cushion landing ships “Zubr” (first this contact had been concluded between China and Ukraine) in February, 2015. Provisions were originally made for construction of two ships in Crimea (town of Feodosiya) at the PO “More” Shipyard, and another two ships, in China. The contract value was 315 mln US dollars.

It should be noted, that Ukraine underbid the price and destroyed negotiations between China and Russia concerning construction of ten amphibious assault ships. Ukraine offered China an unlicensed “Zubr”-class vessels thereat. Russia insisted on ordering more ships. Then, after Crimea returning to Russia, the latter was forced to take on responsibilities for completion of the contract that was not so profitable for the country.

Special features of the Russian military export shipbuilding

A strong point of the Russian shipbuilding industry is its capability for implementation of complete engineering projects. There were two such projects implemented, involving integration of ships built in the USSR and reconstructed with due consideration of modern technologies and customer’s requirements (India).

One such example is the reconstruction of the Soviet aircraft carrier “Admiral Gorshkov” and its transformation into the Indian aircraft carrier “Vikramaditya”. In reality, a new ship, the class of which was completely changed, had been constructed on the basis of a hull built in Nikolayev in 1988. The aircraft carrier was handed over to India in 2013.

Another export project to have been implemented for India was completion of the nuclear-powered submarine К-152 “Nerpa”. One more project 971 nuclear-powered submarine customized according to Indian requirements might be possible for modernization at present.

One more strong point in Russia’s shipbuilding industry is that it renders technical aid in construction and building of ships in other countries. For example, India has been building her aircraft carrier “Vikrant” with technical help from Russian side.

Apart from construction of ships and submarines, Russia also carries out development and construction of inshore naval deployment sites. At the Cam Ranh Naval base (Vietnam) ship-repairing yard X-52 has been built. Quite a few inshore facilities were constructed in India. So, Russia offers comprehensive projects for ship building and infrastructure development.

Also one of the strongest points of Russian shipbuilding industry is considered to be its ability to apply the experience gained in the process of implementation of export contracts in programs aimed at modernization of ships for the Russian Navy. In this connection, having developed some repair and modernization technologies on Indian project 877EКМ submarines, the Shipbuilding Center “Zvyozdochka” began to repair submarines of this project for the Northern Fleet. Two submarines, “Kaluga” and “Vladikavkaz” have been returned to the Navy after their reconstruction recently.

JSC “Sevmash” uses experience obtained during modernization of the aircraft-carrier “Admiral Gorshkov” and its conversion to the air-carrier “Vikramaditya”, in the process of modernization of the aircraft cruiser “Admiral Nakhimov”.

Unfortunately, Russia does not have submarines equipped with air-independent propulsion power plants (VNEU) at the moment. This fact significantly complicates its position in the market of modern submarines. Development of a Russian air-independent propulsion power plant is still stuck, and there is no reasonable basis to expect commissioning of the project 677 submarine equipped with the air-independent propulsion power plant in the years to come. Meantime, submarines equipped with an air-independent propulsion power plant might be of high interest for traditional customers of Russian submarines, such as China, India, Algeria, and Vietnam. Another serious disadvantage is absence of completed projects related to ships known as “dock assault helicopter ship” (DAHS – DVKD). Amphibious transport docks are considered to be a compulsory part of the Navy in many countries at present.

It should be noted, that there is an arms market based on the principle of present availability. It is needless to say, that such second-hand weaponry is cheaper. Russia is an active seller of weapons available in the segment of aircraft and armored force vehicles. Unfortunately, our country is almost not presented in the marine market based on the same principle of availability. Some decommissioned from the Navy submarines “Vologda” and “Novosibirsk” were offered to foreign countries in 2014. But they didn’t find their owners. Anyway, the Russian Navy does not possess any ships for export at present.

Results and Perspectives

Africa & the Near East

When sanctions were imposed against Libya, Russia has lost this naval engineering tech customer. The current state of this country does not allow to consider it as a potential importer. On the other hand, if the field marshal Haftar is able to take the control over the territory of at least a part of the country, then some orders for construction of patrol boats and vessels might be expected.

The market in Syria and Yement, former customers of the naval engineering in the USSR, has been lost for evident reasons.

Persian Gulf countries have never ordered naval engineering in the USSR/Russia, excluding Iran. Iran bought three project 877 submarines in the early 1990s. As things stand, we can expect renewal of the military and technical cooperation with this country after sanctions lifting.

During the period of segregation, Iran found a way for development of its own military industry, began to build combat ships and submarines and is mainly interested in navy technology.

In the meantime, such countries as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia might become future-oriented consumers for both submarines and combat ships.

It’s well-known, that a project 22160 patrol vessel was offered to Saudi Arabia.

Central & South America

In its time the USSR has been delivering its military ships to Cuba and Nicaragua. Nicaragua ordered two guided-missile boats and four patrol boats in Russia in 2013, but after that no information came on contract implementation. Cuba tries to modernize its Navy by its own strength and means.

There are some countries in Latin America which can become prospective customers in future. At present there are no ships of Russian build in service there. Delivery of four patrol tugs for the Argentina Navy can be considered as the first step in this quite advanced market. Venezuela has also been planning to buy a batch of project 0636 submarines. Various types of patrol ships, including frigates of “Gepard” type, as well as research ships and boats can be promoted in this region.

Chile and Argentina have a serious program for searching works in the Antarctic region. Russia has a huge experience in construction of ice-breaking ships. So these countries can be interested in such vessels.

Far East

In the early 1990s China became again an importer of Russian weapon and military technologies. The USSR delivered to China a lot of weapons and technologies in the 1950s, but this process stopped after relations between the countries were broken off.

China began active modernization of its military forces in the early 1990s. The country needed both military shipbuilding samples and military technologies. Russia delivered four project 956EМ torpedo boat destroyers and 10 project 0636М submarines in the 1990s. China has been rendered all possible support in design of new ships for the Chinese Peoples’s Liberation Army Navy. Nowadays, the People’s Republic of China is still interested in military and marine technologies. On the other hand, the country tries to procure finished products as few as possible.

 South-East Asia & Middle East

India and Vietnam continue to be partners of Russia. Some countries, such as Malaysia and Bangladesh, are interested in Russian military & marine project designs. Negotiations with Sri-Lanka concerning the procurement of one frigate of project “Gepard 5.1” have been almost completed. Unfortunately, Bangladesh and Thailand have bought submarines for their fleets in China.

Negotiations with Indonesia are being held regarding delivery of some Russian submarines since 2013.

Special attention should be paid to the fact that countries of this region carry on active policy of technologies transfer and military vessels construction at their own shipyards.

The Philippines can be considered as a prospective partner country. Submarines and various patrol ships of Russian build might be of interest for this country.


 Export deliveries of combat ships and submarines constructed in the 1990s and 2000s helped shipbuilding yards and design bureaus in the struggle against degradation and perishing. New ships designs have been developed, such as project 11356 frigate and project 636 submarine. These ships have been constructed not only for export, but also began service in the Russian Navy.

The market of key consumers of maritime products (Algeria, Vietnam and India) is quite full at present. Also, these countries buy ships from other manufacturers as well.

The author can not predict any new big export contracts for Russia on construction of ships and submarines in the nearest future. But such situation has its advantages, because the country’s shipbuilding industry is aimed at renewal programs for the domestic military fleet. In 5–10 years Russia will be able to offer to foreign customers a new generation of ships and submarines “in metal”.


New defence order. Strategy | 05 | 2018

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