The two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships built for Russia are still languishing in the French port of Saint-Nazaire, but the French may be looking for creative solutions to sell the ships and recoup some of the money that it cost to build them.
The Russian-French deal to build the ships collapsed after Russia invaded Ukraine. The sanctions imposed on Russia squelched the arrangement, but did nothing to compensate France for the building of the ships.
However, a recent French navy visit to the port of Shanghai, which included the Mistral, has sparked speculation that the French want to sell the two ships to China. Chinese news services have reported that the government, although it is currently designing its own amphibious assault ships, is interested in buying the already complete ships.
Obviously, there will be problems with that sale, if the two governments attempt to complete it.
- Russia has already said that France cannot sell the two ships without Russian approval. Although the Russians are on fairly shaky ground with that claim, it is true that the stern of both ships was built in Russia. The French government has already said it will return the payment made by Russia if it finds another buyer for the ships.
- China is still under EU sanctions, dating from the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. These sanctions prevent any EU member from selling arms to China. The embargo, however, has no enforcement mechanism and it is up to each member of the EU to interpret what constitutes arms.
- The United States and other Asian countries, many of which are allies of the EU, will take a dim view of sending two state of the art helicopter carriers to the growing Western Pacific power. The acquisition of these two ships would strengthen the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in ways that would have taken the Chinese years to build.
The two Mistral-class ships are very good platforms for what they do. As the core of an amphibious assault force, this ship is a formidable war machine. It can carry up to 900 troops and 59 vehicles. The ship can carry between 16 and 35 helicopters and multiple landing craft to get the troops and vehicles ashore. These ships would be a significant upgrade to China’s current amphibious force.
Fortunately, the possibility that these ships will be sold to China is fairly remote. Legal and political problems will make any deal between France and China a problem and the Russians, at this point, do not want to give up their claim to these ships. Even a refund of the money that Russia has already spent will still leave them needing to supplement their aging amphibious forces.
If the Chinese do manage to arrange a deal with France and acquire these ships, it will shift the balance of power in the South China Sea and cause headaches for the United States and our allies in the region for years.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.