France’s $1.6 billion deal to sell two Mistral-class warships to Russia has been postponed. The recent downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was the turning point in the sale. However, France was still ready to go forward with the transfer of the first ship, the Vladivostok, if all the conditions were respected.
These conditions included 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 for not honoring the delivery contract.
The U.S. Congress is now putting pressure on NATO to buy the two Mistral-class warships to lighten the financial burden it would create for France. NATO buying or leasing 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.
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 Lion Mistral 2014 was a great exercise that established new relationships between French and Canadian soldiers, the plan was to show the abilities of the Mistral-class warship. 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, too.
Canada currently has no ships ready to welcome an expeditionary force such as the United States Marines Corps Expeditionary Unit (MEU). With the Northwest Passage becoming accessible on a year-long basis, Canada could very well have a Mistral ship deployed in that region for a continued presence to maintain 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.
The Royal Canadian Navy could send sailors to France to receive training, especially now that one of the two Mistral ships 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 their 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 exercises such as Bold Alligator, run by the U.S. Navy. In 2012, I had the chance to board the USS Kearsarge, where we launched a company attack using V-22 Ospreys. The experience we acquired during this exercise could very well be applied to a Mistral-class ship.
Another great feature of this ship is the 69-bed, role-three 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 the next closest medical facilities might be civilian hospitals on the mainland.
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 Russians not meeting the conditions set forth 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.