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Stavridis: Russian Mistrals Could Work Well As NATO Rapid Reaction Force Asset

Russian Mistral Vladivostok under construction on April 22, 2014. U.S. Naval Institute Combat Fleets of the World Photo

Russian Mistral Vladivostok under construction on April 22, 2014. U.S. Naval Institute Combat Fleets of the World Photo

The suspended delivery of two French-built amphibious warships to the Russian Navy could give NATO an opportunity to buy a ready-made platform for its planned rapid reaction force, retired Adm. James G. Stavridis — former NATO Supreme Allied Commander — told USNI News on Thursday.

“France has made a good decision stopping the sale process — it would be absurd for NATO to be providing assistance to Ukraine on the one hand while selling arms to Russia on the other,” said retired U.S. European Command commander Adm. James G. Stavridis — U.S. Naval Institute’s Chair of the Board of Directors — in a statement to USNI News.
“If the [Russian] arms embargo continues, then the idea of NATO purchasing one or even two as part of a rapid reaction force might make sense… “[But] it is too soon to tell, given discussion today about ceasefires and political settlement.”

Stavridis comments follow a Wednesday announcement from the office French President François Hollande suspending the delivery of the ships as part of a $1.53 billion program.

Citing the continued Russian involvement in violence in Eastern Ukraine, the Hollande administration concluded, “the conditions under which France could authorize the delivery of the first helicopter carrier are not in place.”

It is yet unclear if the suspension of delivery will be permanent.

Rapid Reaction

This week — as part of the ongoing NATO conference in Wales — alliance leaders will likely approve the creation of a, “very high-readiness force able to deploy at very short notice,” NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
“This force can travel light, but strike hard if needed.”

NATO currently has a response force, but the new unit could assemble in two days instead of five.

The force that could pair well with the Russian Mistrals, said Eric Wertheim — naval analyst and author of U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World.

“I [think] that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization should examine acquiring the two ships as NATO alliance assets operating in support of their newly proposed rapid reaction force,” he said.
“Additionally the two 20,000-ton vessels could support NATO mine-countermeasures (MCM) operations or be on standby for humanitarian assistance duties.”

NATO’s Military Assets

It wouldn’t be the first time NATO purchased and operated its own military assets.

“There would be a precedent for joint ownership of NATO maritime and even air assets. NATO has operated the research ship NRV Alliance as well as the oceanographic tender CRV Leonardo,” Wertheim said.
“NATO also operates a fleet of E-3 airborne early warning and control (AWACS) aircraft as well as a force of C-17 cargo aircraft operated by multi-national NATO crewmembers.”

The U.S. Navy also experimented with mixed multi-national NATO crews to some success in the 1960s.

The inclusion of the Mistrals into the NATO arsenal opens up a range of possibilities for the reaction force.

The Russian Mistrals — Vladivostok and Sevastopol — have been modified to carry heavier Russian helicopters and are optimized for Arctic operations, allowing a rare cold weather operating capability for NATO. Most Western ships are optimized to work in tropical climates.

The ships could also serve as a logistics sea base for expeditionary forces from NATO without creating a large terrestrial footprint — much like U.S. Navy and Marine Amphibious Ready Groups and Marine Expeditionary Unites. (ARG/MEU).

Economic Affect and Russian Capabilities

A cancellation of the Russian Mistral deal could have a significant affect on the French defense industry.

Russia has paid France most of the price tag for the two ships and a cancellation of the program could result in a total refund plus $325 million in contract penalties, reported the BBC on Thursday.

“Unless an alternative buyer or use is found for these two ships, cancelation could have a negative impact on their economy, employment and shipbuilding industry,” Wertheim said.

A NATO purchase could defray that cost, he said.

The cancellation would also degrade the long-term outlook for the Russian Navy’s amphibious capabilities.

“Without the two French Mistral class vessels, Russia’s navy has only a handful of small landing ships, none of which carry helicopters or have flight decks,” Wertheim said. “Their newest class of tank landing ships has been under construction since 2004 and have yet to enter service. Without these French ships, Russia remains a decade or more away from gaining a similar capability.”

Russia contracted France to build the two ships shortly after its 2008 war with Georgia. Russian commanders had trouble deploying large numbers of troops on the coast — prompting the deal with France.

  • Let’s hope EU has a plan for heating this winter. Since they really screwed themselves by cutting off heating oil from Russia.

    • J to the K

      It’s called coal.

      • I don’t think burning Coal is allowed in the EU because of their massive Air quality reg

        • J to the K

          Europe is still burning coal, even more so now. You’re probably thinking of coal tar, which is banned.

          • But still since EU & NATO has shot themselves in the foot on this one, they better have a backup plan for heating this winter or else its gona be a long cold winter. Also the Mistral’s only value is transporting troops and being a command center for the russian Navy.

          • J to the K

            The thing is though Russia needs the west’s money more than they need Russian energy. There is policy in place for energy market disturbances. They can import more liquid natural gas from Africa, Asia, and the middle east as well as boost imports from north and south America. Not to mention the EU can help at risk members if need be. This is why Gazprom hasn’t turned off the gas. They NEED that money.

            The mistral ships are also something else Russia needs. Their navy lacks a strong amphibious assault component. The mistral can carry a large number of helicopters as well as a full tank battalion. Nothing to sneeze at. Not to mention the communications capabilities. These are potent military ships that would be a huge boon to any military force, which is why NATO will probably buy them.

          • Most likely France will sell them cause they know that they need the cash and when Money talks, Money walks.

          • J to the K

            NATO will most likely buy them.

          • I doubt Nato has the cash to buy anything

          • Secundius

            @ Nicky.

            If it does? I’ll our contribution is going to be at least 30% of the cost. Because, our country has at least 30% of the NATO Alliance’s population.

    • tim robinson

      Lol ok, have you heard of fracking

      All through the baltics & Northern Europe exists the largest shale formations on earth

      Russian has about 7-10 years left till it’s gas is irrelevant

  • Xavier

    France needs to keep an eye on the Russian crews in their country so they don’t try to pull what Israel did when France cut off a planned ship sale to them.

  • dirtybird

    France better cough up the money for the cancelled contract. If France keeps the money and the ship, thereby stealing from Russia, then Russia should send its naval forces into the Pacific Ocean to find a French cruise liner and tow it back to Russia. Then they should tell the French that if they want their people and their ship back, then France better cough up the money for the cancelled contract.

    • Xavier

      France merely annexed the two ships , nothing wrong with annexing what doesn’t belong to you according to Russia with Ukraine’s territory.

      • dirtybird

        A) Two wrongs don’t make a right.

        B) A contract is a contract is a contract.

        C) The first ship has already been paid for. France must either deliver the ship or refund the money paid or the ship in full. France CANNOT keep the ship AND the money.

        Russia should begin taking French nationals into custody in lieu of payment.

        • Xavier

          First you say two wrongs don’t make a right, then you say since France broke the contract that Russia should kidnap innocent French citizens and hold tthrm for ransom. Do you even read what you write?

          • tim robinson

            Two wrongs may make a right if you add to a right, after all two negatives produce a positive when multiplied together with another positive

            I’m positive Putin can kiss his money goodbye! Never offer to give a French man money…

          • dirtybird

            I didn’t say anything about a ransom.

            I merely said that Russia should seize French vessels in the Pacific Ocean and hold them until France fulfills its contractual obligations with the Russian Federation. There is nothing “wrong” with that.

            France SOLD those ships to Russia. Russia PAID for those ship. Now France wants to keep the ship AND the money.

            THAT is an act of war against Russia, and Russia has every legal justification to begin military actions against French assets throughout the world.

        • tim robinson

          Then call it reparations for criminal activities by Russian forces inside Ukraine as well as supporting internal insurgency with arms …

          Could give them to the Dutch for compensation for Russia supplying a missile system used to down MH17 and kill 200 Dutch citizens?

          Malaysia may like one, their plane after all… Australia lost 40, they’d be in line

          • dirtybird

            Russia has not sent forces into Ukraine.

            Firstly, the Russian troops in Crimea were there BEFORE any of this started with the overthrow of legally and democratically elected Yanucovich. They did not invade, since at the time that they entered Crimean, they had the full support of the Ukrainian government at the time.

            Secondly, Crimea is NOT legitimately a part of Ukraine. Russia liberated Crimea from the Turks in the 18th and 19th century. Russia populated Crimea in the 19th century. Russia developed Crimea in the 20th century. Russia shed a lot of blood fighting the Germans in Crimea during World War II. The people of Crimea speak Russian, which means that they ARE Russian. The people of Crimea have never accepted Ukrainian rule and there never was any legitimate reason why the Russian-speaking population of Crimea should be subjected to the foreign and colonial administration of the Ukrainian regime based in Kiev.

            Crimea is Russia, and only by an accident of history did Crimea come under Ukrainian rule.

            Vladmir Putin reversed that accident of history and brought Crimea back under its rightful Russian rule.

            Why should ethnic Russians living in their homeland live under any other rule but Russian rule? There is no reason for that , especially since Russia is a powerful country that can military seize all of those territories in which Russians form the majority ethnicity.

            Crimea has been joined back to its Russian motherland, and there is nothing that YOU, NATO, the United States, or ANYONE else can do about it. Deal with it.

          • tim robinson

            Such passion from one who choses to base opinions on biased perspectives

          • dirtybird

            That irrefutable fact is that to the people of Crimea, Ukraine has always been a foreign country. The Crimean people have, do, and will continue to consider themselves as Russians.

        • J to the K

          You’re quite the hypocrite aren’t you?

  • Chris Altvater

    Does any of this have any impact on the planned third and fourth ships to be constructed in Russia? Some of the modules of the first two ships were made in Russia and then shipped to France. Russia has had oversight of the construction and they now have a partially trained crew. Even if they got all of their money back, they still got the technology to build their own ships.

  • OleSalt_1

    Very complicated, depending whether the French will eventually consider (i.e. go ahead as originally planned), or renege a major business contract with Russia. Also, will France finally succumb to NATO’s pressure? Don’t appear to have an end to this “story”, as both France and Russia are expected to keep their cards close to their chests in this game of “poker”, while others observe.

  • sdfqef

    France will cave in and deliver the first ship in November.

    • silencedogoodreturns

      they’ll have to, unless someone pays them. They’re not going to eat the billions in cost they would have to cover otherwise

      • sdfqef

        on top of that, the ships were specifically designed with Russian Specs. (Reinforced hull for arctic navigation, reinforced deck for the heavy russian helicopters, taller hanger for coaxial rotar blades of the Russian Helicopters, etc). The only other potential buyer who has the cash and meet the specs is CHINA.

        • pp_muscimol

          can serve for canada.

          • sdfqef

            Where is Canada going to get the funding from?

  • silencedogoodreturns

    But I thought NATO created a rapid reaction force decades ago?

    • Diogenes

      Hi. I still have the “Allied Rapid Reaction Force” contingency plans developed in ’93/’94 as well as some of the annexes for its implementation. It was authored by a British major general and signed off by NATO in anticipation of invading former Yugo through Hungary. The title block “Allied Rapid Reaction Force” headquartered in Germany. I would have to dig it out to recall all the particulars, but some of it was used to direct the deployment of NATO troops into Bosnia through Croatia via Zupanja, B&H in ’97 or so.

  • Secundius

    The Star Fleet of the 21st-century. NSN, NATO Stock Number or National Stock Number Fleet. NSN, Alliance, NSN, Leonardo, NSN, ?, and NSN, ? GREAT, things are not locking too well for the NATO Navy!!! But, at least the NATO Navy is getting BIGGER, while OUR US. Navy, is getting SMALLER. 28-Nato countries, and probably soon to be 29 countries and only (4) Ships?

  • Diogenes

    The 19th and 20th Century is replete with examples of one nation building warships for another and then keeping or selling them to allies as the result of ever shifting political alliances. The trend continues. The most pointed contemporary time was just before and immediately after the beginning of WWI. Ironically, many of the warships bartered about Europe and Asia Minor were later sunk trying to breach or defend the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits keeping the Allies from the Black Sea. The bad guy was Turkey. Russian was Europe’s quaint, despotic, monarchist friend, a relationship renewed 20 years later with the most vile of Communists to defeat Germany, France’s two brand new amphibious warships – assuming they could survive in any event – need bodies, weapons and willpower to be useful. None is available. The US is broke, its Army is both literally and spiritually out of gas. Russia is standing in a swamp of cheap, available energy next door to a huge market. Putin know that. Yapping in Wales is not a deterrent. Follow the money. The ships are merely symbols of momentary politics.

  • omegatalon

    France didn’t just offer to sell the Mistral to Russia as they were selling the design of the ship as well; thus part of the money Russia provided was for the establishment of a Mistral drydock for where this class of ship could be built in Russia under license as France has not disclosed how far this part of the contract had gone which means while Russia might not get these two ships, the program may simply be delayed as Russia might be building their own Mistral ships already.

    • Chris Altvater

      You are so right. Under the deal, the French subcontracted the Russian shipyard to build the modules of the ship hulls and then the modules were sent to France for final assembly. So the Russians have had the plans for the ships and they already know how to build the hulls of the ships.

      If France does provide a refund, will it include the funds paid to the Russian subcontractor? The subcontractor is not giving back anything to France. If it does, then Russia comes out even more ahead on this deal because what was paid to the subcontractor is now a sunk cost for the French.

  • Ifti Pakistan

    As you sow ,so shall you reap
    Russia cancelled s-300 weapon deal with Iran. Now France doing the same:)

  • Secundius

    I wonder if the Russian’s are stupid enough to send in a Spetsnaz Lead Expeditionary Force, to try a “Cutting Out”, to get both those Gator-Freighters.

  • Secundius

    Unless you to keep both of these ship’s in port indefinitely, as sea-going “Paperweights”. These are “Dead Men’s Ships”. Anyone crewing these ship’s are going to be Serving Dead Men, Because we embarrassed the Russians, and their going to use any means possible too, remove the Embarrassment, Even if that means sinking them by either Anti-Shipping Missile Attacks, or Torpedo Attacks. Right now they’d be better of Scrapped or Scuttled. Make an “Artificial-Reef”, out of them.

  • Nottheusual1

    Ships are built out to a Russian spec so will need major reworking – adding major costs.

    This is a trial balloon to see where everyone stands on the possibility. Someone will have to pay for them, too.