The French-Russian mistral helicopter deal has been embroiled in controversy over the last few months over Moscow’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis.
The deal, since it was signed in 2010, has drawn fire from the United States and its NATO allies from Eastern Europe.
With the number of disputes surrounding the deal, the question why does Russia need this class of ship when it is capable of manufacturing its own arises.
The answer is that the French mistral helicopter carrier offers capabilities currently beyond the Russian Navy’s reach.
According to a report published by The Pravda in 2010, “Russia's large amphibious ships are three to four times smaller than Mistral, which has a total displacement of 21 thousand 300 tons, maximum length of 210 meters, the width of 30 meters, maximum speed of 19 knots, and a crew of 160 people. It is capable of carrying 450 people and amphibious vehicles - 16 heavy helicopters, hovercraft and motorboats.”
In addition, the Mistral is not to be confused with any landing craft carrier, it is a staff vessel, an amphibious assault ship, a hospital, a transport vehicle as well as a helicopter carrier.
New features may also be added in a short period, according to the report. In addition, in the Navy, Mistral will deal with transportation of people and goods, anti-submarine struggle and rescue of people in emergencies.
"You probably forgot that in the Far East we have an unresolved issue of the islands from the standpoint of Japan, while from our point of view it has been resolved. You probably forgot that we have a special area of Kaliningrad as an enclave, with which there is no direct connection. How will we make deliveries there?" Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin was quoted as saying at the time.
An expert of the Center for Military Forecasting Anatoly Tsyganok told in an interview with Pravda.ru that Russia does not need such a ship because it is poorly armed. "To protect helicopter carriers we need escort of cruisers and destroyers, ships of this type are designed to solve problems that the Russian Navy does not have (like transferring landing troops long-distance), equipment of Mistral is incompatible with the Russian equipment (helicopters do not fit in elevators), and modifications will result in additional expenses. And the ships will be delivered without electronic "stuffing" because NATO will not allow it."
Russia's large amphibious ships are three to four times smaller than Mistral, which has a total displacement of 21 thousand 300 tons, maximum length of 210 meters, the width of 30 meters, maximum speed of 19 knots, and a crew of 160 people. It is capable of carrying 450 people and amphibious vehicles - 16 heavy helicopters, hovercraft and motorboats, the report added.
The deal is important to the French too. The Russian order saved the shipyard in Saint-Nazaire from bankruptcy, according to media reports.
Meanwhile, Russia seems to be having second thoughts on relying on foreign powers for military equipment. Russia's envoy to NATO, Alexander Grushko told Ria Novosti that France's hesitancy to make good on its promised delivery of the two Mistral-class helicopter carriers to Russia have influenced Moscow's attitude towards military cooperation with its foreign partners.
"Of course the situation around the Mistral-class ships could not help but influence our attitude towards the possible cooperation with our partners in the military sphere," Grushko was quoted as saying.