The Mistral-Class Warships to Canada, Not Russia.

France’s $1.6 billion deal to sell two Mistral-class warships to Russia has been postponed. The downing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was the turning point in the sale. However, France was still ready to go forward with the transfer to the first ship, the Vladivostok, if all the conditions are respected.

Mistral-class LHD
Mistral-class LHD

These conditions includes a lasting ceasefire and a political settlement in Ukraine. Yet, Russian tanks have been spotted crossing the border in the Luhansk region, alongside transport trucks and armored personnel carriers.

Meanwhile, Moscow issued a statement saying that if the Vladivostok wasn’t transferred to the Russian Navy, they would seek compensation. A compensation for not honoring the delivery contract.

The Vladivostok has already went through sea trials while the Sevastopol will go through the trials later this month.

Many will argue that these 2 Mistral-class LHD are only equipped with Russian equipment. While this might be true, France and Canada could agree on updating the equipment to Canadian standards. Of course this would mean some delays, but Canada will not receive their new ships for the next few years–enough time to get them ready for Canadian sailors. Considering that Canada is willing to buy a frigate for approximately $1.3 billion from Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, Canada, the upgrades needed shouldn’t be a budget issue.

The US Congress is now putting pressure on NATO to buy the two Mistral-class warships to lighten the financial burden it would create for France. The fact that NATO would buy or lease the two ships would send a clear message to Moscow – NATO will stand with their allies against the Russian actions in Ukraine. The Royal Canadian Navy would greatly benefit from having that type of ship for its presence in the Arctic.

Canada and the use of a Mistral-class LHD.

In June 2014, France took part in an exercise called Lion Mistral 2014 with the Canadian Forces. The Mistral-class ship called “Le Mistral” took part in the exercise. Lion Mistral 2014 was a great chance for France to demonstrate the capabilities of “Le Mistral” to the Canadian Forces.

Canada has a $35 billion shipbuilding plan to upgrade and buy new ships for the aging Royal Canadian Navy. While it was a great exercise to establish new relationships between the French and the Canadian soldiers, the plan was to show the abilities of the Mistral-class warship. Canada has already announced a $26 billion contract, awarded to Irving Shipbuilding, for 15 frigates.

There was also a FREMM-class frigate “Aquitaine” alongside the Mistral. The FREMM would be a great multi-role frigate for the Royal Canadian Navy. Yet, the Mistral would also be a great addition to the Royal Canadian Navy.

Canadian LAV IIIs boarding a Mistral-class LHD during Ex LION MISTRAL in 2014.
Canadian LAV IIIs boarding a Mistral-class LHD during Ex LION MISTRAL in 2014.

Canada has no ships ready to welcome an expeditionary force such as the United States Marines Corps Expeditionary Unit (MEU). When I deployed to Haïti after the earthquake in 2010, we flew to Jamaica then to Leogane in Haïti. Meanwhile, another infantry company also flew to Jamaica but boarded a Canadian frigate to finally dock near Port-Au-Prince.

If Canada had a Mistral-class LHD ready for deployment, the Canadian contingent that deployed to Haïti would’ve been in a much better position. We could’ve sailed to Port-Au-Prince with all of our equipment, vehicles and much needed goods such as water and rations.

This example might be 5 years old now but Canada will continue to support humanitarian aid deployments as well as more combat-focused missions. Having a ship like the Mistral would be really beneficial since Canada could very well establish a rapid deployment force that would be able to board the ship and be on their way within 48 hours.

With the Northwest Passage getting accessible on a year-long basis, Canada could very well have a Mistral ship deployed to have a continued presence for sovereignty operations. It could serve as a mobile platform to move troops and equipment around the Northwest Passage and launch ground operations close to the targeted area.

Having said that, the Mistral-class hull might not be able to withstand the Arctic ocean’s freezing water and thick ice. However, as of today, I have yet to see something indicating that it couldn’t sail in the Arctic regions.

The Royal Canadian Navy could send sailors to France so they could receive training, especially now that one of the two Mistral ship is built and ready to be put at sea. Once they are ready, they could sail the ship back to Halifax.

The fact that the Mistral can host up to 70 vehicles and more than 450 soldiers, including all the logistical support, could very well make it a flagship for the Royal Canadian Navy in the Arctic. Since Canada has no marine infantry, a rotation between Regiments and battalions could do the trick, and give some good experience to all the ground troops on amphibious assaults.

Many Canadian infantry soldiers had the opportunity to train with foreign militaries during exercise such as Bold Alligator, ran by the US Navy. In 2012, I had the chance to board the USS Kearsarge where we’d launch a company attack using V-22 Ospreys. The experience we have acquired during this exercise could very well be used aboard a Mistral-class ship.

Another great addition is the 69-bed Role 3 hospital with complete dentistry, diagnostics, specialist surgical and medical capabilities, food hygiene and psychological capabilities. With a good medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) system, wounded soldiers would have access to care closer to where they are operating, especially in the Arctic where they would possibly be sent back south to a civilian hospitals.

Many technical details would have to be looked at, and a careful testing of the capabilities of the Mistral in the Arctic would have to be made before signing a contract with France. However, with the Russian not fulfilling their conditions to acquire the two Mistral ships, Canada could strike a very good deal and have a ship ready to bring a new face to the  Canadian presence in the Arctic.

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Copyright 2015 The Sentinel

Jonathan Wade, CD

Jonathan Wade is the director of the ‘The Sentinel Analytical Group’ and a decorated veteran of the Canadian Forces. Specialized in tactical, strategic, intelligence and geopolitics analysis, Jonathan has a fondness for technical details. His military experience brought him valuable insight on the realities of conflicts and war. A combat veteran of Afghanistan, Jonathan brings in in-theatre experience. Jonathan writes about Russia, Canada and Arctic.