Mistral deal blows an ill wind

Background

The Mistral is the French Navy’s new 21,300t amphibious assault, command and power projection ship. Each ship has the payload capacity and versatility to carry up to 16 heavy helicopters and one-third of a mechanised regiment, plus two LCAC hovercraft or up to four landing craft. 

The Mistral Class is also fitted with a high-performance communications suite which makes the ship suitable for deployment as a command vessel.

Other key features of the ships are:

  • the capacity to accommodate a combined (multi-national) joint (i.e. multi-service) task force (CJTF)
  • a 5,000m² flight deck which can accommodate up to six helicopter movements simultaneously, plus an 1,800m² hangar
  • the ability to carry either four CTM, landing craft utility (LCU) or two air-cushion landing craft (LCACs)
  • armed with two MBDA France Simbad launchers for the Mistral air defence missile (which has infrared guidance and a range up to 6km)
  • two Breda Mauser 30mm naval guns and four 12.7mm machine guns
  • sufficient stores for the crew and 450 troops for 45 days between replenishments
  • a crew of 160 with 20 officers
  • maximum speed is 19kt and the range at 14kt is 11,000nm

The ships also have a 69-bed, 750m² hospital is equipped with two operating theatres. If additional hospital or medevac space is required, the hangar can also be converted into a modular field hospital.

The first Mistral was handed over to the French Navy in February 2006.

The deal with Russia

So much so good.  Then along came the proposed deal to sell one of these ships to Russia.  But as wierd as that sounded, the Russians then upped the anty by requesting the right to build three more on their home turf.  Is this starting to sound like a game of Russian Roulette?

This of course has now set off alarm bells in Washington and London – right at the time when Whitehall in particular was advocating (as part of the prelim to the full Strategic Defence Review) that the UK should be seeking greater military ties and cooperation with the French.

So, okay – here’s a thought:  wouldn’t the UK’s needs for global force projection, and expeditionary / coalition warfare, capabilities be better served by having a few of these Mistral-class ships in the fleet, than it would by spending BILLIONS on two new aircraft carriers – which won’t enter service for quite a few years yet?  Surely the Royal Navy could drop one of the two “future aircraft carriers” (and Joint Strike Fighters) commissioned and use the money to buy several Mistrals and a lot more helicopters.  Especially as that would definitely give us porridge today, rather than the mere promise of “jam tomorrow”.



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