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France - Mistral Class

Aircraft Carriers
Mistral Class


The Mistral class is a class of three amphibious assault ships, also known as a helicopter carrier, of the French Navy. Referred to as "projection and command ships" (batiments de projection et de commandement or BPC), a Mistral class ship is capable of transporting and deploying 16 NH90 or Tiger helicopters, four landing barges, up to 70 vehicles including 13 Leclerc tanks, or a 40-strong Leclerc tank battalion, and 450 soldiers. The ships are equipped with a 69-bed hospital, and are capable of serving as part of a NATO Response Force, or with United Nations or European Union peace-keeping forces.

Two ships of the class are in service in the French Navy: Mistral and Tonnerre. The work on a third vessel, Dixmude, was launched in April 2009 and a fourth ship may also be built. A deal for 2 ships (+ 2 options) for the Russian Navy was announced by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on 24 December 2010, and signed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and French Defence Minister Alain Juppé in the presence of Sarkozy on 25 January 2011.



Name: Mistral
Builders: STX Europe DCNS Admiralty Shipyard
Operators: Marine Nationale - Russian Navy (future)
Preceded by: Foudre
Cost: $420.0 million ~ $600 million per ship
In commission:
December 2005 - Present
Building: Dixmude (fitting out in Toulon)
Planned: 3-4
Completed: 3
Active: Mistral, Tonnerre

General characteristics

Type:
landing platform helicopter
Displacement:
16,500 tonnes (empty)
21,300 tonnes (full load)
32,300 tonnes (with ballasts)
Length:
199 metres (653 ft)
Beam:
32 metres (105 ft)
Draught:
6.3 metres (21 ft)
Installed power:
3 Wärtsilä diesels-alternators 16 V32 (6.2 MW) + 1 Wärtsilä Vaasa auxiliary diesel-alternator 18V200 (3 MW)
Propulsion:
2 Mermaid azimuth thrusters (2 × 7 MW), 2 5-bladed propellers
Speed:
18.8 knots (35 km/h)
Range:
10,800 kilometres (5,800 nmi) at 18 knots (33 km/h)
19,800 kilometres (10,700 nmi) at 15 knots (28 km/h)
Boats and landing craft carried:
4 CTM (chaland de transport de matériel)
alternatively, 2 LCAC (Landing Craft, Air Cushion)
Capacity:
59 vehicles (including 13 Leclerc tanks) or a 40-strong Leclerc tank battalion
Troops:
900 (short duration)
450 (long durations)
150 (serving as operational headquarters)
Complement:
20 officers, 80 petty officers, 60 quarter-masters
Sensors and processing systems:
DRBN-38A Decca Bridgemaster E250 navigation radar MRR3D-NG air/surface sentry radar 2 optronic fire control systems
Armament:
2 x Simbad systems
4 x 12.7 mm M2-HB Browning machine guns
Aircraft carried:
16 heavy or 35 light helicopters
Aviation facilities:
6 helicopter landing spots

Features and capabilities


Aviation
The flight deck of each ship is approximately 6,400 square metres (69,000 sqft). The deck has six helicopter landing spots, one of which is capable of supporting a 33 tonne helicopter. The 1,800-square-metre (19,000 sqft) hangar deck can hold 16 helicopters, and includes a maintenance area with an overhead crane. To aid launch and recovery, a DRBN-38A Decca Bridgemaster E250 landing radar and an Optical Landing System are used.

The flight and hangar decks are connected by two aircraft lifts, both capable of lifting 13 tonnes. The 225-square-metre (2,420 sqft) main lift is located near the aft of the ship, on the centreline, and is large enough for helicopters to be moved with their rotors in flight configuration. The 120 square metres (1,300 sqft) auxiliary lift is located aft of the island superstructure.

Every helicopter operated by the French military is capable of flying from these ships. On 8 February 2005, a Westland Lynx of the Navy and a Cougar landed at the aft of Mistral The first landing of a NH90 took place on 9 March 2006. Half of the air group of the BPCs is to be constituted of NH90s, the other half being composed of Tigre assault helicopters. On 19 April 2007, Puma, Écureuil and Panther helicopters landed on Tonnerre. On 10 May 2007, a CH-53 Sea Stallion of the US Navy landed on her reinforced helicopter spot off Norfolk.
According to Mistral's first commanding officer, Capitaine de vaisseau Gilles Humeau, the size of the flight and hangar decks would allow the operation of up to thirty helicopters.

Amphibious transport
Mistral class ships can accommodate up to 450 soldiers, although this can be doubled for short-term deployments. The 2,650-square-metre (28,500 sqft) vehicle hangar can carry a 40-strong Leclerc tank battalion, or a 13-strong Leclerc tank company and 46 other vehicles. By comparison, Foudre class ships can carry up to 100 vehicles, including 22 AMX-30 tanks in the significantly smaller 1,000-square-metre (11,000 sqft) deck.
The 885-square-metre (9,530 sqft) well deck can accommodate four landing craft. The ships are capable of operating two LCAC hovercraft, and although the French Navy appears to have no intention of purchasing any LCACs, this capability improves the class' ability to interoperate with the United States Marine Corps and the Royal Navy. Instead the DGA ordered eight French-designed 59-tonne EDA-R catamarans.

Command and communications
Mistral class ships can be used as command and control ships, with a 850-square-metre (9,100 sqft) command centre which can host up to 150 personnel. Information from the ship's sensors is centralised in the SENIT system (Systèmed'ExploitationNavale des InformationsTactiques, "System for Naval Usage of Tactical Information"), a derivative of the US Navy's Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS). Delays in the development of the SENIT 9 revision contributed to the one-year delay in the delivery of the two ships. SENIT 9 is based around Thales' tri-dimensional MRR3D-NG Multi Role Radar, which operations on the C band and incorporates IFF capabilities. SENIT 9 also be connected to NATO data exchange formats through Link 11, Link 16 and Link 22.
For communications, the Mistral class ships use the SYRACUSE satellite system, based on French satellites SYRACUSE 3-A and SYRACUSE 3-B which provide 45% of the Super High Frequency secured communications of NATO. From 18 to 24 June 2007, a secure video conference was held twice a day between Tonnerre, then sailing from Brazil to South Africa, and VIP visitors of the Paris Air Show.

Armament
As of 2008, the two Mistral class ships were armed with two Simbad launchers for Mistral missiles and four 12.7 mm M2-HB Browning machine guns. Two Breda-Mauser 30 mm/70 guns are also included in the design, though not installed as of 2009.

Incidents such as the near-loss of Israeli corvette INS Hanit to a Hezbollah-fired anti-ship missile during the 2006 Lebanon War have shown the vulnerability of modern warships to asymmetric threats, with Mistral class ships considered under-equipped for self-defence in such a situation. Consequently, Mistral and Tonnerre cannot be deployed into hostile waters without sufficient escorting ships. This problem is compounded by the small number of escort ships in the French Navy: there is a five year gap between the decommissioning of the Suffren class frigates and the commissioning of their replacements, the Horizon and FREMM frigates.

Following the experiences of French naval commanders during OperationBaliste, the French deployment to aid European citizens in Lebanon during the 2006 war, proposals to improve the self-defence capabilities of the two Mistral class ships were supported by one of the French chiefs of staff, and are under active consideration as of 2008. One suggestion is to upgrade the dual-launching, manual Simbad launchers to quadruple-launching, automatic Tetral launchers.

Hospital
Each ship carries a NATO Role 3 medical facility, i.e. equivalent to the field hospital of an Army division or army corps, or to the hospital of a 25,000-inhabitant city, complete with dentistry, diagnostics, specialist surgical and medical capabilities, food hygiene and psychological capabilities. A SYRACUSE-based telemedicine system allows performing complex specialized surgery.

The 900 m² hospital provides 20 rooms and 69 hospitalization beds, of which 7 are fit for intensive care. The two surgery blocks come complete with a radiology room providing digital radiography and ultrasonography, and that can be fitted with a mobile CT scanner.
50 medicalised beds are kept in reserve and can be installed in a helicopter hangar to extend the capacity of the hospital in case of emergency.

Propulsion
Mistral and Tonnerre are the first ships of the French Navy to use azimuth thrusters. The thrusters are powered by electricity from five V32 diesel alternators, and can be oriented in any angle. This propulsion technology gives the ships significant manoeuvering capabilities, as well as freeing up space normally reserved for machinery and propellor shafts.

The long-term reliability of azimuth thrusters in military use is yet to be tested, but the technology was previously used aboard other amphibious transport ships, including the Dutch Rotterdam class and the Spanish Galicia class.

Accommodations
The space gained by the use of the azimuth thrusters allowed for the construction of accommodation areas where no pipes or machinery are visible. Located in the forward section of the ship, crew cabins aboard Mistral class ships are comparable in comfort levels to passenger cabins aboard Chantiers de l'Atlantique-constructed cruise ships.
The fifteen officers each have an individual cabin. Senior non-commissioned officers share two-man cabins, while junior crew and embarked troops use four- or six-person cabins. Conditions in these accommodation areas are said to be better than in most barracks of the French Foreign Legion, and when United States Navy vice-admiral Mark Fitzgerald inspected one of the Mistral class ships in May 2007, it was claimed that he would have used the same accommodation area to host a crew three times the size of Mistral's complement.

Mistral class ships can be used as command and control ships, with a 850-square-metre (9,100 sqft) command centre which can host up to 150 personnel. Information from the ship's sensors is centralised in the SENIT system (Systèmed'ExploitationNavale des InformationsTactiques, "System for Naval Usage of Tactical Information"), a derivative of the US Navy's Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS). Delays in the development of the SENIT 9 revision contributed to the one-year delay in the delivery of the two ships. SENIT 9 is based around Thales' tri-dimensional MRR3D-NG Multi Role Radar, which operations on the C band and incorporates IFF capabilities. SENIT 9 also be connected to NATO data exchange formats through Link 11, Link 16 and Link 22.

For communications, the Mistral class ships use the SYRACUSE satellite system, based on French satellites SYRACUSE 3-A and SYRACUSE 3-B which provide 45% of the Super High Frequency secured communications of NATO. From 18 to 24 June 2007, a secure video conference was held twice a day between Tonnerre, then sailing from Brazil to South Africa, and VIP visitors of the Paris Air Show.

Armament
Emplacement of the bow 30 mm Breda-Mauser, not presently installed. Another turret is planned at the aft.
As of 2008, the two Mistral class ships were armed with two Simbad launchers for Mistral missiles and four 12.7 mm M2-HB Browning machine guns. Two Breda-Mauser 30 mm/70 guns are also included in the design, though not installed as of 2009.
Incidents such as the near-loss of Israeli corvette INS Hanit to a Hezbollah-fired anti-ship missile during the 2006 Lebanon War have shown the vulnerability of modern warships to asymmetric threats, with Mistral class ships considered under-equipped for self-defence in such a situation. Consequently, Mistral and Tonnerre cannot be deployed into hostile waters without sufficient escorting ships. This problem is compounded by the small number of escort ships in the French Navy: there is a five year gap between the decommissioning of the Suffren class frigates and the commissioning of their replacements, the Horizon and FREMM frigates.
Following the experiences of French naval commanders during OpérationBaliste, the French deployment to aid European citizens in Lebanon during the 2006 war, proposals to improve the self-defence capabilities of the two Mistral class ships were supported by one of the French chiefs of staff, and are under active consideration as of 2008. One suggestion is to upgrade the dual-launching, manual Simbad launchers to quadruple-launching, automatic Tetral launchers.

Future developments
Further French BPCs
The French Livre Blanc sur la Défense et la Sécuriténationale 2008 (White Paper on Defence and National Security), a policy-defining document for matters of defence, forecasts that two more BPCs will be in service with the French Navy by 2020. A third ship has been ordered in 2009, with this order being placed earlier than expected as part of the French government's response to the recession which began in 2008. Her construction began on 18 April 2009 in Saint-Nazaire; due to economic constraints, the entire ship will be built there.

The French helicopter cruiser Jeanne d'Arc is due to be decommissioned in 2010, leaving both the traditional name and the school ship role open for a new unit; however, the navy didn't wish to replace Jeanne d'Arc, despatching trainee officers of the Écolenavale amongst BPCs and, especially Tonnerre which 6-month campaign as a training ship starts 4 March 2010. For this reason, naming the third BPC Jeanne d'Arc has met some opposition within French naval circles.

On 17 December 2009, it was announced that the third ship of this class would be named Dixmude.

Export
Since 1997, and particularly since the Euronaval 2007, the Mistral type has been promoted for export. The "BPC family" comprises the BPC 140 (13,500 tonnes), the BPC 160 (16,700 tonnes) and the BPC 250 (24,542 tonnes, 214.5 metres (704 ft) long). The BPC 250 was the design from which the final Mistral class design was derived: the reduction in length and other modifications were a price-saving exercise. The BPC 250 concept was one of two designs selected for the Canberra class amphibious warfare ships, to be constructed for the Royal Australian Navy. The design finally chosen was the Spanish Buque de ProyecciónEstratégica class amphibious ship.
According to French daily La Tribune, the Canadian Forces Maritime Command shows "strong interest" in buying two Mistral ships. The Royal Malaysian Navy, the Swedish Navy and the South African Navy might show an interest in the ships. The Indian Navy has also expressed interest in the design of the Mistral type. Brazil and Turkey could in time consider purchasing BPCs. Algeria is also considering the purchase of two BPCs.


 
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