Remember those palmy days of summer, when the French helicopter carrier Mistral visited Canadian waters for a joint exercise with the Canadian Army? I half-joking referred to it as Canada “kicking the tires” … but the idea hasn’t gone away completely. In the Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese reported earlier last week that the International Business Times had run an article about it.
Halifax, Nova Scotia. FS Mistral (L-9013) is an amphibious assault ship, and lead ship of her class. She was commissioned in 2006. She features a landing craft dock, and helicopter facilities. Photo: Halifax Shipping News
The deal is worth $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion (different figures are out there) to the French. The Russians are interested in three of the ships. The French haven’t proceeded yet with the sale to Russia because of the situation in Ukraine.
But how probable is it that Canada would buy the Mistral-class ships?
Earlier this year, the Royal Canadian Navy was looking at buying surplus U.S. Navy supply ships. But that is not going to happen, RCN commander Vice Admiral Mark Norman told Defence Watch. What is being examined is the purchase of a commercial oiler (maybe).
The RCN is in dire need of an oiler/supply ship……not, at this point, an amphibious assault ship. So if there is an extra billion dollars or more around, the focus might be on acquiring an oiler/supply fleet to replace the decommissioned AORs.
Mistral-class ships are capable of carrying 16 helicopters, landing barges, up to 70 vehicles and 450 soldiers. They also come equipped with a hospital.
Canadian shipyards could also be expected to oppose such a purchase. There would be little for them (except maybe in-service support) in such an acquisition and they could argue that such a purchase would undermine the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.
In September, I called the idea of Canada buying the Mistrals as the maritime equivalent of “pie in the sky”, despite a passionate article in the US Naval Institute News pushing the idea. They even showed what a Canadian Mistral would look like:
Mistral-class ship, Sevastopol configured as a NATO/Canadian Navy ship. CASR Image
So, on the surface, the idea isn’t likely to go anywhere for practical and economic reasons. But, a couple of days later Pugliese posted another article on the Mistral debate, responding to criticism from University of Ottawa professor Roland Paris:
If the Paris had actually read the articles in question he would have found out that the stories arose not from Hugh Segal’s comments from May but from the fact that the delegation led this week by French President François Hollande to Canada contained a significant contingent of the country’s defence industry representatives, including those from Mistral shipbuilder DCNS. That group included the firm’s diplomatic adviser.
In addition, sources have told Defence Watch that the delegation did indeed try to interest Canada in Mistral-class ships, as well as the FREMM class frigates.
Will they succeed with Mistral? Like I have mentioned a number of times at Defence Watch, including in the posting cited by Paris, the answer is likely no.
France, over the last two years, has embarked on a significant push into Canada to promote its defence products, particularly in the naval arena. With $35 billion on the table for shipbuilding who can blame them?
There was a specific reason a Mistral-class warship sailed across the Atlantic this summer to take Canadian soldiers on board for amphibious exercises. And it wasn’t about any close relationship between the French and Canadian militaries, although that might have played a minor role.
No, the French are interested in selling. They want to sell Canada warships, warship designs, and naval equipment like that on board the Mistral-class and the FREMM frigates. That is the reason the FREMM ship Aquitaine also visited Canada.
Personally, I’d love to see the RCN acquire a pair of Mistral-class ships, but they would not come cheap, they wouldn’t create a lot of jobs in Nova Scotia, Quebec, or British Columbia (and therefore wouldn’t be useful for gathering votes from those provinces), and they’d require the government to fully equip them … helicopters are extra. And we all know how the Canadian government can’t manage to say the word “helicopter” without wasting millions of dollars, never mind actually buying any.