At a time when the U.S. Navy is trying to enlarge its fleet on a tight budget, a series of foreign ships offer thoughtful ideas about how that can be done.
France’s Mistral amphibious assault and command ship is a good example. Now participating in the massive Bold Alligator amphibious exercise off America’s East Coast Jan. 30-Feb. 13, she combines the commercial construction and automation to pack enormous capability into a relatively small and affordable package.
Able to carry up to 650 troops, up to 90 vehicles and between 16 heavy and 35 light helicopters, she has a crew of just 170 and costs about $600 million.
It’s hard to compare her to any U.S. vessel. She carries slightly fewer troops than an LPD-17-class amphibious ship at a third the cost and half the crew, but has a flight deck and aviation capabilities more akin to a Wasp-class assault ship at a sixth the cost and crew size.
Every vessel is the result of tradeoffs. Time will tell whether France made the right choices in a ship that compromises robustness for capacity and efficiency.
What is clear, however, is Mistral has spent most of the past four years at sea on real world missions, most recently off Libya more efficiently and at less cost than older warship designs.
Overall, Mistral is an attractive package that U.S. officials should check out more closely.