Mistrall class LHD (photo : Le Figaro)
Paris – Russia has selected France's controversial offer of two Mistral command and projection warships, with an option for two more units, for an undisclosed amount, a French official statement said Dec. 24.
"The president of the Russian Federation Dimitri Medvedev has today informed the president of the French Republic Nicolas Sarkozy that following the international tender launched Oct. 5 for the supply to the Russian Navy of two command and projection ships, the Russian authorities have selected the offer presented by the consortium formed by French companies DCNS and STX and the OSK Russian shipyard," the French president's office said in a statement.
The sale of the 21,300 ton Mistral class of helicopter amphibious assault ship, worth around 500 million euros ($6.6 million) per unit, marks the first major sale of military equipment by a NATO country to Moscow. The prospect of a sale of the advanced design warship has raised deep concern with the U.S. administration and the Baltic states, following the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia.
French officials have deployed various arguments to justify a sale, including emphasizing the civil standards to which the ship was built and that it would be inconsistent to call Moscow a partner of the West and then refuse to sell the warship.
"President Medvedev and President Sarkozy welcome the realization of this unprecedented cooperation, which will benefit industry and employment in our two countries, and which illustrates the determination and capacity of France and Russia to develop large scale partnerships in all domains, including in defense and security."
The deal represented the equivalent of five million hours of work or employment for 1,000 workers for four years for the French companies DCNS and STX, with most the work at the Saint-Nazaire shipyard, northern France.
Mistral class LHD (photo : haborumuveszete)
"DCNS is delighted the Russian authorities have chosen the Mistral," a company spokesman said.
U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates, when asked in February about the French offer of the Mistral to Moscow, said: "Yes, we did discuss it. We had a good and thorough exchange of views. I will leave it at that."
It was not clear where the ships will be built as the industrial details have not been finalized.
"The consortium's offer initially envisages the common construction of two ships of this type, which should be extended by the building of two more units," the statement said.
The Mistral is designed around modular blocks so it is possible large blocks could be prepared in France and sent for assembly in Russia.
The first of class Mistral and sister ship Tonnerre were assembled at Saint Nazaire after blocks were built at Brest and Saint Nazaire, with a Polish yard at Gdansk subcontracted to build some of the blocks.
French officials feared that if Paris refused to sell the ships, Russia would buy rival products from Spain or the Netherlands.
Russia has insisted on a transfer of technology and construction of some of the ships, while the French government wanted the first two ships to be built at Saint Nazaire, and the second two assembled in Russia.
France owns a stake in STX France, which is a subsidiary of the Korean STX group. Defense electronics company Thales holds a 25 percent stake in DCNS, with an option to raise this to 35 percent.
The Mistral is a highly automated warship, with a crew of 160. The 199-meter long ship is designed to embark a headquarters command staff, equipped with a hospital, can carry 16 helicopters, landing ships and accommodate around 450 troops.
The French government last year ordered a third Mistral vessel to be built under a 2.3 billion euro defense stimulus package.