Tonnerre_mg_5859[1]Like many of you, I find it sad the US, an innovator in amphibious warfare, isn’t selling amphibs to all comers. If the LPD-17 had been developed quickly and kept simple, the USS New Orleans would have exploded onto the world market just as amphibious platforms become the must-have item for every new (or newly-recapitalizing) naval force. But, today, the LPD-17 isn’t high on anybody’s holiday wish-list.

Instead, ships like the Mistral are eating what could have been an economy-boosting, revenue-generating and trade-deficit reducing lunch. 

 That said, please enjoy this bracing pre-Holiday helping of Mistral goodness–a must-read for any Mistral-curious defense pundit:

A Tale of Two Ships: Why the Mistral has beaten the LPD-17.

What Good Is An Unused Ship?: Back in June 2008, I called for newly-commissioned ships to be put to work right away. The post details some of what the Mistral did to advertise itself during its post-commissioning deployment/shakedown–stuff that our brand-new amphibs (and, ah, our LCS platforms) should be doing.

Remember when LPD-17 was Commercial Spec?: Some scoff at the Mistral, saying Commercial Spec isn’t viable for a warship…well…um. Gosh. Read this and weep.

(If you want some more detail on how we took our eye off the ball with the LPD-17, read about the origins of the LPD-17s climbing wall or be shocked over the unintended consequences of having thicker mattresses than the other ships in the fleet.)

And then there’s the geopolitical angle–certainly, Russian shipbuilding is in crisis, but there are a few other benefits to this sale:

Why the Russians REALLY Want a Mistral: A lot of people are saying that this “buy” is to make Georgia and the little Baltics quiver with fear. Baloney–for a state with a big army, suborning border states don’t really require a whole lot of helicopter carrier. To me, the Mistral buy is more geopolitics than border security.

Remember, France, unlike most other former colonial countries, still maintains a lot of widely-distributed potentially base-worthy property. It’s a good maritime partner to have–particularly when the host is probably willing to trade access rights for some tasty arms deals.

It is a real pity the US hasn’t been at the forefront of naval vessel exports. Instead, Europe is eating our lunch–with ships built by those pesky, annoyingly well-paid, highly-compensated and technically proficient workers, too!

Posted by Defense Springboard in Foreign Policy, Marine Corps, Navy

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • A couple of points…

    1. Why are you comparing an LHA type ship to an LPD???
    2. There are several other LHA type ships that have beaten the Mistral out in sales the most notable of which is the Canberra class.
    3. The action during Lebanon crisis would be more properly defined as an evacuation and not combat.
    4. Once other western navies suffer USS Cole type incidents then the debate over mercantile vs. combat will be over. Thankfully the US Navy has learned the lesson from that incident.
    5. I do agree with your assessment of Russia’s motivation behind the purchase of this ship.


  • RADM (Ret) Ben Wachendorf

    Concur with Sol.

    A few comments relative to the poor state of Russian Navy and ship building industry and an observation on India.

    Russian Navy is not as bad off as Russian Air Force, but a far cry from capabilities clearly demonstrated in the Cold War. The majority of Russian defense spending has been focused on ground troop rotations into the Caucasus Military District (Chechnya). While the Russian Navy still has some very fine sailors, with limited exception of some nuclear submarine operations, the Russia Navy has been in a death spiral since the end of the Cold War. There are indications that revenue from energy sales may be used to reverse this trend, but that will not be easy or soon.

    Besides the issue of buying warships from France which suggests the Russian Navy can not build for themselves, there is an interesting debate in progress between India and Russia about a purchase of the former Russian aircraft carrier Gorshkov and 16 Mig-29K aircraft. This deal was was made in 2004 because the Indian Navy wanted to get large deck aircraft carrier experience to facilitate building their own aircraft carrier. My personal opinion is The Indian Navy valued the aircraft more that the ship, but the Russians would only agree to sell both as a package for $1.5B. In any case, the ship is a mess. The delivery was scheduled for 2008, but is woefully behind schedule due to massive repairs required on the ship. Russia has since asked for another $1.2B which India has refused to pay. India has offered another $600M.

    Again, just my personal opinion, but the US missed a great opportunity in 2004 by refusing to sell India one of our fossil fueled carries like USS Constellation. We have sold other ships as big as LPD’s as I recall, but not aircraft carriers. My understanding was that nuclear weapons testing by India and Pakistan prior to 2004 made it politically incorrect to offer an aircraft carrier sale. With the value of hindsight, my opinion is that we should try harder to view our relationship with India through India’s eyes. They could be a huge ally in an important part of the world. They are already a growing economic power, have a strategic position of opposing China, and would much prefer buying from America than Russia. There is also a Pakistan factor here, but just look at how much military aid we give Pakistan and read the talking points around the current State visit by the Prime Minister of India. Bottom line in my view is we missed an opportunity in 2004.

  • Byron

    Concur, RADM Wachendorf.

  • Thanks for the comment RADM Wachendorf. I agree about the aircraft carriers–they’d have made a very interesting contribution to our budding relationship with India.

    Sol–gotta run, but I’ll get back to ya!

  • leesea

    While not at all a fan of the LPD17 class ships (i.e. the epitome of exquisite ships). I think your understanding and statements about “commercial specs’ are far to simplistic to be left stand.

    There is a vast diference between USN warships built to NVR and/or auxiliaries built to ABS and other classification society rules. That is NOT the same a COTS or NDI acquistion rules either.

    That having been said there IS a place for ships such as the Mistral in the USN and that is for the administrative lift of USMC and other services tactical equipment and troops.

    The LPDs are specifically built for forcible entry amphibious assualt. Go read the refs to see how the French Navy classifies the BPC Mistral and its sister. Then you might correct your assertions?

    The above posters points about comparing an LPD to a big deck amphib ship are also on correct diferent ships very much indeed.

  • For those joining the discussion, RADM Wachendorf commanded the Parche and then served as our Russian defense attache…so his thoughts on Russia and Russian equipment are, let’s say, backed by a lot of experience.

    Sol–I compare the LPD and the LHD because the ships are somewhat similar–i.e. broad-brush displacement, size, the 2 LCAC loadout, troop capacities. Yes, it’s not a perfect apples to apples comparison by any means. And yes, (ohmygod!) one has a flat deck, sure. But why does that prevent an LPD/LHD comparison?

    Even though they are different animals, at heart, they’ve both carrying a strkiningly similar mission portfolio (pretty much power projection and command).

    (You might scoff that the Beruit operation was better characterized as an “evacuation,” but…please recall the 2006 Lebanon thing was formally cited as part of GWOT. And that we deployed quite a few fancy forcible entry platforms to support the “evac”. So…why bicker about the phraseology? Particularly if that duty was elgible for a GWOT combat medal?)

    Remember, the LPD-17 was built, in part, to replace the LKA’s (and every other darn thing). While they were meant for combat assaults, the LKA’s were not exactly front-line ships either (and they often, if you look at the LKA legacy, sprung up from civilian sources–civ designs/civ conversions).

    By the time the LPD-17s were designed, it should have been quite clear that these ships were doing things far outside the typical forcible entry portfolio (and did we really need a fancy forcible entry platform for undisputedly forcible entry activities like, oh, Grenada? Or Panama? Or…a lot of other modern-day operations? Really, the definition–as far as support ships go–needs a little work), and the LPD-17s should have been designed with that type of service in mind. They were not.

    And that’s why we’ve seen the LPD-17–which we’ve been marketing–get onto shortlists for foreign sales. Israel thought about one for awhile, but walked away. At least the Mistral is making a few cuts–and has a generated a lot more interest than the LPD-17 (in it’s current guise) has to date.

    As far as utility and value per dollar spent, no contest. The Mistral Class is kicking the LPD-17s fanny–and will continue to do so until the day we try a forcible entry landing that is contested AT SEA, outside our expected standoff ranges.

    Don’t hold your breath for that.

  • wally

    The three Mistrals are built around renforced civilian rules admitting that they are not as resitant to direct attack as a full fledged warship but have enough survival chances for normal duties. Cost was at premium an the french chose to have “something usefull” instead of having “nothing.” French doctrine does not use “forcible entry” but is basing its tactics around a “joint” operation and chosing softer spots to land. The Mistrals are the epitome of carefull thinking and recognising the means the country puts at the disposal of its Navy. With “electric” technology to power the ship the french were able to reduce substantially the crew, so for humanitarian operations only a minimal crew is needed wereas a US Navy ship needs a full and large crew to do the same work.Actually these ships are built the same way the Kaiser Corp built Libertyships and other aircraftcarriers during WWII and they lasted and worked for a very long time! Its time for the US to reconsider its policy and put its enourmous amount of money to better effect!

  • The history of france (the old france, not the new one) is built on religion, but now they want to kill religion (islam, christiannity). Sorry i’m french. Ask questions if you want i can answer them. sorry from the grammart.

  • PEP Tour

    I did my first tour on LPD 17 and made the maiden deployment. I am enroute to the Mistral for an exchange tour where I will spend the next two years onboard as part of the the crew. I am looking forward to seeing the similarities and differences firsthand.