Sunday reading. Although closing the Russian Navy base in Kam-Rahn during Putin's first presidency, Vietnam is remained a key Russian ally in South-East Asia and an important counter-balance against growing China's power. After a bloody incident around disputed Spratley islands, Hanoi activized the purchases for its Navy. A number of Russian-made project 1241.8 'Molniya' fast missiles boats equipped with Kh-35 misiles were bought. The 2006 contract for two '2000 t displacement 'Gepard'-class corvettes is under way too. This is an article about the project from Russian 'National Defence' journal:
Experts of the Vietnamese Navy's Technical Department led by Chief of the Department Nguyen Van Nin have recently completed inspection and acceptance of work on construction of the first Ccpard-3.9 frigate accomplished by the Zelenodolsk Plant named after A.M. Gorky. Final documents, including a forma! working document and an acceptance report for the next payment of the schedule stipulated by the general construction timetable. The Vietnamese experts also inspected construction progress of the second Gepard class frigate. As a result, an acceptance test report was signed more than a month ahead of the schedule.
The Gepard-3.9 class frigates developed by the Zelenodolsk Design Bureau (Russian acronym ZPKB} are designed for searching, detecting and destroying surface, underwater, and air targets, convoying and patrol operations, as well as for safeguarding the exclusive camomic zone.
The Zelenodolsk Design Bureau possesses a vast experience in designing corvettes and frigates, including those for the navies of Southeast Asian and South Asian nations. In the 1970s-1980s, some 14 ZPKB-designed Project 1159 Jaguar (NATOcodename Koni) corvettes in several modifications featuring a displacement of 1,400-1,500 t, including tropical (1159T) and missile (1159TR) versions, were built. Most of them are still in operation.
The Gepard class ships are a logical derivative of the series. At the same time, their design boasts many innovations. In fact, these are transformer ships. A common platform featuring a length of slightly over
102 m and a displacement of 2,000-2,100 t can accommodate dif-request: strike, defensive, and ASW weaponry, as well as modern EW equipment. The main propulsion plant can also differ in configuration. In upgrading, such a «flexible» platform enables an easy replacement of weapon systems.
The Project 11661 patrol vessel Tatarstan, which currently is the flagship of the Russian Navy's Caspian Flotilla, became the first in the Gepard series. Its running characteristics are excellent. The ship combines a high maneuverability and a good seaworthiness, which was repeatedly confirmed during its operations. The ship is driven by a CODOG diesel and turbine plant providing a maximum speed of 28 knots. Us up-to-date armament suites the tasks to be fulfilled in the given region and includes EW equipment. Nowadays the Zelenodolsk Shipyard is fitting out the second ship of the series named Dfffj/ii'sffliF with a modern armament suite differing from that of the type ship, which confirms the platform flexibility.
The two Vietnamese Gepards also differ from their prototypes by weapon systems. Their antimissile and air defense weapons include one 76.2mm AK-176M versatile artillery mount, one
missile-gun air defense complex, and two AK-630M artillery systems. The ships will be equipped with the Sigma-E combat management system meeting today's requirements. Their antiship missile armament has remained unchanged. They will acquire the capability to receive Kamov Ka-28 or Ka-31 helicopters. The designers have found an original solution by housing the helicopter not in a hangar, but in a shelter which will protect the rotor-craft against sea waves no worse than a hangar. The frigate's efficient layout of accommodation and service spaces favors a good habitability which is continuously upgraded considering the region peculiarities. An air-conditioning system maintains a required microclimate which is of prime importance in the tropics. Gepnrd-3.9 modifications can be equipped with more powerful air defense and ASW systems at a customer's request. For instance, the number of Palma firing modules can be increased to three units. ZPKB has also developed a frigate version with Palma
Aside from the Gepard-3.9 class frigates, ZPKB offers foreign customers the Project Gcpard-5.1 offshore patrol vessels (OPV) featuring a CODAD diesel propulsion plant, long endurance and long range. As is common for this type of ships, the Gepard-5.1 carries no strike or ASW "Caspian Suari"-, Project 1161 weapons, but a helicopter is hangared. On the contrary, the Project Gepard-5.3 frigate, also with a diesel propulsion plant and a helicopter in a hangar, carries more powerful strike weapons (compared to the Gepard-3.9) - /our quad launchers of the Uran-E antiship
It should be noted that even one version may involve several variants. For instance, ZPKB has developed a version of the Gepard-3.9 class ship with the Club-N missile system which can strike against both surface and shore targets. The designers are considering equipping various C.cp.irds with the newest 100mm AK-I90E automatic artillery mount. ZPKB has also elaborated ship versions with EW equipment and weaponry of non-Russian origin.
Multifunctionality is a major advantage of the Gepard class frigates. Efficient application of stealth technologies original design solutions, and use of off-the-shelf hardware make these ships relatively inexpensive and affordable for the countries with limited defense budgets. These ships can also be built at foreign shipyards with technical assistance of the Zelenodolsk Design Bureau and other Russian enterprises.