The FS Mistral is one of the primary amphibious assault ships of the French Navy (also categorized as a "Command and Projection Ship"). Since her inception in 2005, the vessel has already gone on to prove her worth in several actions - particularly in relief operations. The Mistral can manage a full complement of troops and vehicles while also providing services for the injured thanks to various onboard measures implemented into her design. A powerful vessel, the multirole FS Mistral will enjoy a long and active service life for the French Navy - either in support of amphibious operations, evacuating refugees, treating masses of wounded or sick or replenishing forward-operating elements.
The amphibious landing is one of the most complicated and dangerous of military maneuvers that requires strict attention to detail, competent components and the fine tuning of a well-oiled machine. The amphibious assault has been a tool in the arsenal of generals since the first boat landed warriors against the enemy. The amphibious assault proved a grand strategic move throughout the campaigns of World War 2 and cemented the practice for modern warfare. As such, a special class of warship was eventually born from the fighting, devised specially to support such actions and these became the aptly-titled "amphibious assault ship".
Amphibious Assault Ships provide the warplanner with unprecedented flexibility when attempting to land ground forces onto enemy territory from the sea. Today's vessels can carry tanks, vehicles, men, machinery and support aircraft to ensure a higher success rate than ever envisioned. For the French Navy, the Mistral-class of amphibious assault ship is a relatively new addition and fulfills this role quite nicely. The FS Mistral itself represents the lead ship of her class of three strong which includes the FS Tonnerre (L9014) and the FS Dixmude (L9015). She was laid down on July 10th, 2003 with DCNS handling her construction and officially launched on October 6th, 2004 before being formally commissioned in December of 2005. The Mistral makes her home port out of Toulon, France. The vessel class replaced the Ouragan (L9021) and Orage (L9022) then in service with the French Navy.
The Mistral was completed in three main sections during her construction. This included the bow, center and stern sections. The bow section was completed by Alstom Marine-Chantiers de l'Atlantique in Saint Nazaire whilst the center and stern sections were completed by DCN. Final assembly took place at the Brest shipyard. During its design phase, representatives of the French Army and Navy all had input into the creation of the Mistral to best suit the purposes of the military.
Design-wise, the FS Mistral takes on a unique shape, having the hull appearance of a passenger cruise liner complete with a pointed bow, slab sides and a cut-off stern. The vessel features a large-area flight deck suitable for the accepting and launching of rotary-wing aircraft from stern, midship and bow positions - multiple simultaneous helicopter launches from six landing sports are indeed possible and play up to the strengths of the Mistral. Her base command bridge is located at the front of a starboard-side island superstructure which is detailed primarily by a pair of masts. Air traffic control is managed by a position perched at the rear of the island superstructure. Radar, sensors, TV-satellite and navigation aid fixtures are all present on the island. Her communications suite is such that the vessel can be used as a command post for large-scale operations including serving as the fleet flagship. Four smoke funnels are noted at the aft portion of the superstructure and these exhaust the propulsion system buried deep within the hull. Various openings along both sides of the vessel allow for access to the sea while the stern houses the main sea access bay. A heavy industries powered crane is noted ahead of the stern section and aft of the island. Two elevators at the rear and rear-starboard sides of the flight deck allow for access to the hangar area below. Internally, the aft portion of the vessel houses three main floors - the first being the helicopter hanger. The next deck is reserved for vehicles with a ramp leading down to the last deck near the waterline. This serves multiple purposes, allowing for more vehicle storage, vehicle loading onto support vessels and a launch area for said support vessels out to sea. The midship decks contain sleep quarters, a full hospital, various operations rooms and the like. The hospital includes two operating rooms (can be expanded to six), burn treatment, dental suite and the hangar area can be modified as an ad hoc medical facility if need be. Forward of amidships are various areas for the crew that includes a mess hall. The hangar area also includes the all-important workshop for at-sea repairs and engineers and craftsmen. The vessel measures a running length of 199 meters with a beam of 32 meters and a draught of 6.2 meters.
The FS Mistral is typically staffed by over 180 crew made up of officers and sailors. An additional 450 personnel can be carried aboard as required - particularly under full combat load when supporting an amphibious assault or during relief operations. She is an electrically-powered vessel (the first all-electric propulsion military vessel anywhere in the world) and, as such, her propulsion system is made up of 2 x Mermaid electric motors with 3 x Finnish Wartsila 16V32 series diesel generators as well as 1 x Wartsila Vaasa 18V200 auxiliary diesel-generator. Propulsion is accomplished by way of 2 x Alstom nacelle PODs - Propulsion Orientable Drives - along the stern undersides and a azimuth bow thruster. All this drives power to two engine pods at the stern and delivers a top speed of approximately 19 knots in ideal conditions. Of note structurally is use of fold-out stabilizer fins fitted along each ship side, under the waterline at amidships.
Vessels such as the Mistral are primarily designed as "heavy haulers" at sea, designed to support an amphibious landing assault. As such, the vessel can carry a 13 main battle tanks along with some 60 other armored, logistical and support vehicles. The air arm of the Mistral consists of a mix of various helicopter types which can range from up to 35 light-class helicopters to 16 heavy-class models - all intended to support beach landings or evacuations. In terms of support ships, the Mistral can send out two LCAC hovercraft or four standard landing craft.
The Mistral is defensed by a small collection of armament, to which she relies mostly on supporting warships (such as missile frigates) for heavy outlying protection. Primary ranged defense is 2 x MBDA France Simbad Mistral surface-to-air missiles (one launcher fitted at the bow and the other at the stern). These are backed by 2 x 30mm Breda-Mauser Dual-Purpose cannons (one fitted at the bow and the other at the stern). Close-in defense is provided by up to 4 x 12.7mm Browning M2HB heavy machine guns suitable for attacking low-flying aircraft or light-armored surface targets. The Thales ARBR 21 series radar warning receiver suite manages incoming threats to the ship. Surveillance is by a Thales Naval France MMR-3D NG G-band multirole radar faiclity.
To date, the Mistral has been utilized in a few high profile situations. Less than a year since being put out to sea, the Mistral was sent to the Middle East to assist in the evacuation of Europeans (mostly French) from the Lebanon-Israeli warfront of July 2006. During the action, the French Navy enacted "Operation Baliste" (in reference to the sea-going "Balistidae" family, as in "Triggerfish"). By August, some 14,500 to 15,000 persons were safely relocated. Similarly, in 2011, the Mistral took part in the relocation of refugees attempted to evacuate the fighting in Libya which, by that time, had become a brutal conflict that ultimately led to the death of long-time reigning dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The French design has also garnered some overseas interest that is noteworthy. In early February of 2010, Russian authorities agreed to a deal with the French government in which at least two Mistral-class vessels would be constructed and delivered to the Russian Navy. Construction will involve both DCN and the Russian United Ship Building Corporation. The deal also included an option for two more such vessels if requested at a later date. The agreement was finalized in the summer of the following year though it will be several years before the vessel is officially completed, delivered, evaluated and presented for formal service. It is expected that the first will be made ready for 2014 with the second following in 2015.
October 2016 - Due to the ongoing crisis between Ukraine and Russia, the two Mistral-class warships destined for the Russian Navy have been sold off to the Egyptian Navy instead. They serve as ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser (L1010) and ENS Anwar El Sadat (L1020).