After deciding to reimburse Russia for the costs of the two Mistral-class amphibious ships that were held up after the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, France is weighing alternate buyers to sell the ships to.
Back in January, France declined to deliver the two ships and negotiations began on repaying the Russian government the money they had already spent. The search for a buyer, or buyers, for the ships began and early reports hinted that China was interested in acquiring the state-of-the-art amphibious assault ships, but China appears more interested in building Amphibs at home.
In early August, Reuters reported that, the French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced the government would be paying Russia almost 1.2 billion euros as compensation for cancelling the sale of the warships. “Talks between President Putin and President Francois Hollande have concluded yesterday. There is no further dispute on the matter,” Le Drian said. “Russia will be reimbursed euro for euro for the financial commitments taken for these ships.”
Unfortunately, France neither needs nor wants the ships. The nation currently operates three ships of the class and the extensive changes that were done to the two export ships to make them acceptable to the Russians – including making them compatible with Russian Ka-52 and Ka-27 helicopters – would mean that much more money would need to be sunk into them to make them compatible with French helicopters.
So, France is still trying to sell them. The conversions – good for the Russians and bad for everyone who doesn’t fly Russian helicopters – are making it hard to get rid of them. Saudi Arabia has been approached, as has Egypt, but there are problems with selling them to either country.
Saudi Arabia can afford them, and they are importing a lot of weapons due to the Houthi insurgency in neighboring Yemen, but these are very specialized ships and need a great deal of support. Egypt has a similar problem and, although the expansion of the Suez Canal would signify a need to expand their navy, these may not be the right ships for them.
“I think this will be a difficult product to sell,” said Dakota Wood, senior research fellow of defense programs at the Heritage Foundation, to the International Business Times. “Military ships are highly specialized and designed for a specific purpose that accounts for all the weapons systems and unique specifications that the navy in question needs. In this case, the spacing and logistics to accommodate the unique aircraft that Russia was going to use. What other country shares those exact specifications?”
Selling the ships to an organization, like NATO, is a possibility, but, once again, where is the need?
“NATO, a European response force or the U.N. could use these ships,” Wood continued. “They could be useful for providing humanitarian relief, peace keeping or disaster response if, say, a typhoon or hurricane came through an area.”
Useful, though, is not the same thing as necessary and with a price tag over a billion euros, any organization or alliance would have second thoughts about buying them.
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