By the end of this year the naval balance of power in the South China Sea will begin to alter when Vietnam takes delivery of its first Kilo-class fast attack submarines. Vietnam’s submarines are designed for general reconnaissance and patrol, anti-submarine and anti-ship missions. The remaining four submarines are expected to be delivered by 2016.
Vietnam placed an order for six Project 636 Kilo-class conventional diesel-powered submarines in December 2009. The Kilo-class submarine has a displacement of 3,000-3,950 tons. It has a range of 9,600 km for 45 days; it can dive to a maximum depth of 300 meters. The Kilo-class submarine carries a crew of 52. Vietnam’s submarines are expected to be armed with 533M heavy torpedoes and 3M54 Klub-S anti-ship missiles with a 300 km range.
Construction of the first submarine, HQ Ha Noi, began in August 2010 at the Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg. HQ Ha Noi was launched a year later and began sea trials in December 2012. Its crew began training in January this year. Construction on the second submarine, HQ Ho Chi Minh, began in September 2011. It was launched in December 2012, outfitted in January and completed sea trials in late April. Its crew commenced training in July. Vietnam’s third submarine, HQ Hai Phong, is scheduled to be launched at the end of this year. The hull for Vietnam’s sixth submarine was laid at the Admiralty Shipyard in February.
In May 2012, Vietnam and Russia raised their long-standing strategic partnership to a comprehensive strategic partnership. Russian sales of military equipment, technology and military training are the centerpiece of this relationship. Under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Naval Cooperation, the two parties established a joint working group to work out the modalities of naval cooperation in 2013. Russia and Vietnam have also signed a protocol on cooperation in military technology until 2020.
This year Russian and Vietnam exchanged visits by their respective defense ministers and reached new agreements on arms sales, the transfer of military technology and long-term service arrangements. In February, for example, Vietnam and Russia signed a contract for the sale of two additional Gepard-class frigates. In 2011, Vietnam took delivery of two Gepard-class frigates. The new frigates will be fitted with an advanced propulsion system and will be equipped for anti-submarine warfare.
Russia’s Defense Minister General Sergei Shoigo made a working visit to Hanoi in March at the invitation of his counterpart General Phung Quang Thanh. At a joint press conference they announced agreement on continuing high-level visits, cooperation in military technology, professional military training, an annual defense dialogue at the deputy minister level and further arms sales. Russia grants over one hundred military scholarships annually; under this agreement Russia agreed to increase the number of scholarships and expand the fields of training for Vietnamese personnel. The two defense ministers also agreed to cooperate within the framework of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus.
General Shoigo visited Cam Ranh Bay where Russian military engineers were constructing logistics and maintenance facilities to house Vietnam’s Kilo-class submarines. General Shoigo pressed Vietnam to construct a five-star resort at Cam Ranh for Russian military personnel, particularly the crews of Russian naval ships returning after anti-piracy duties off the Horn of Africa. General Shoigo also called on Vietnam to simplify procedures for Russian naval ships using the service facilities at Cam Ranh.
Vietnam’s Minister of National Defense, General Thanh, paid a return visit to Russia in August. The two defense ministers reached agreement on a five-year MOU covering exchanges of military delegations at all levels, annual dialogue on defense policy and strategy, military technology cooperation, professional training for Vietnamese officers and other ranks, and future arms sales (quality, price and service). Under the MOU, Russia will upgrade, digitize, and assist in maintaining weapons and weapon systems sold to Vietnam.
The two ministers also discussed establishing a joint venture to maintain, overhaul and repair Soviet-era and Russian military equipment and munitions acquired by Vietnam. General Shoigo once again raised the issue of streamlining administrative procedures for Russian naval ships to visit Cam Ranh Bay for repair and maintenance and for crew rest and relaxation.
Ten days after General Thanh’s visit it was announced that Vietnam had signed a contract for the purchase of an additional twelve Sukhoi Su-30MK2 multirole jet aircraft armed with anti-ship missiles in a deal valued at US$450 million. The planes are to be delivered in three batches of four planes between 2014-2015. Vietnam has previously purchased 20 of the aircraft from Russia.
Vietnam’s new submarine force, combined with additional Su-30s, will increase its ability to project power into its maritime zones in the South China Sea and provide an enhanced anti-access area denial capability.