Russia to Help Vietnam Produce Anti-Ship Missiles, RIA Says

Russia and Vietnam plan to begin jointly producing an anti-ship missile this year, RIA Novosti reported, a development that would mark the Southeast Asian nation’s latest move to boost its coastal defenses.

The weapon will be based on Russia’s Uran subsonic anti- ship missile, the state-run news service cited the head of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, Mikhail Dmitriyev, as saying. It would have a range of 250 kilometers (155 miles) and could be fired from helicopters, ships and land, according to the report.

“These anti-ship missiles are a very important capability for the Vietnamese to possess given the growing power of the Chinese navy,” said Ian Storey, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “They don’t change the balance of power in the region, but they are a significant development for Vietnam.”

Vietnam has acquired submarines and aircraft as it modernizes its military to assert sovereignty in waters off its coast that are also claimed by China and may contain oil and gas reserves. Chinese vessels last year chased away survey ships doing work in the South China Sea for Vietnam and the Philippines, which is also boosting its maritime defenses.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t immediately respond to faxed questions about the news report.

Lacking Capability

The missiles Vietnam and Russia plan to produce lack the capabilities of the anti-ship ballistic missiles under development in China, Storey said. The Pentagon has expressed concern that China’s technology may threaten the dominance of U.S. naval forces in the Pacific region.

Oil reserves in the South China Sea, which contains two disputed island chains, may total as much as 213 billion barrels, according to Chinese studies cited in 2008 by the U.S. Energy Information Agency. The Paracels are fully controlled by China, which ousted fellow claimant Vietnam from the 30 islets and reefs in a 1974 battle in which 71 soldiers were killed.

Russia has been Vietnam’s main supplier of weapons, accounting for more than 80 percent of its arms imports between 1990 and 2010, according to data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In 2010, Vietnam spent $2.4 billion on defense, compared with China’s estimated $114 billion, Sipri statistics show.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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