More Mistrals sur la Mer: Dixmude, France’s 3rd LHD

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FNS Tonnerre [BPC 2],during sea trials(click to view full) In December 2008, reports surfaced that France intended to accelerate production of its 3rd Mistral Class LHD amphibious assault and command ship, as part of a EUR 2.3 billion defense component of France’s economic stimulus package. That deal was finalized on Apr 10/09, and production of […]
FNS Tonnere

FNS Tonnerre [BPC 2],
during sea trials
(click to view full)

In December 2008, reports surfaced that France intended to accelerate production of its 3rd Mistral Class LHD amphibious assault and command ship, as part of a EUR 2.3 billion defense component of France’s economic stimulus package. That deal was finalized on Apr 10/09, and production of the 3rd ship of class is now complete. It is expected to enter service as FS Dixmude in 2012.

Cost figures were not released initially, but the use of commercial cruise ship standards and civilian yards reportedly allowed France to field the first two 21,300t Mistral Class LHDs for about EUR 660 million. By 2010, it emerged that Dixmude would be delivered for about 10% less, or EUR 300 million. That would make each Mistral Class LHD just 25% of the price for a single American 22,700t LPD-17 San Antonio Class amphibious assault and command ship.

BPC 3: A Different Construction Approach

Mistral assembly Brest

Mistral front-end
arrives in Brest, 2004
(click to view full)

The first 2 ships of class, FS Mistral [BPC 1] and FS Tonnere [BPC 2], were built in multiple shipyards around France, with state-owned DCN responsible for 60% of the value of construction. Chantiers de l’Atlantique, which is now part of the South Korean shipbuilding multinational STX, built the forward halves in Saint-Nazaire. Some of the construction work was even outsourced to Stocznia Remontowa de Gdansk, in Poland.

This ship will use a very different construction approach, in order to meet both the challenging cost targets set by the French government, and the economic stimulus program’s requirement to finance French jobs. DCNS’ release stated that:

“…the ship will be built solely on the Saint-Nazaire site [by STX]. In fact, the sharing of the construction of the platform between two production sites would have generated additional costs – in particular for transport, interfacing and tests – which would have made it impossible to meet the budgetary target fixed by the Government.

STX France, in charge of the overall coordination of the project for the industrial part, will build the whole of the propelled platform including the fitting out of equipment onboard. This represents 75% of the vessel value. Once trials are completed, BPC 3 will move to Toulon under its own power. DCNS will manufacture and integrate the combat system, which includes communications, navigation and combat management systems [and is 25% of the project’s value].”

As its name implies, STX France Cruise SA is one of the world’s premier designers and builders of advanced passenger cruise ships. The former Chantiers de l’Atlantique corporation was renamed STX France after being bought by Korea’s STX group, and the French government acquired a 33.34% stake in November 2008. Cruise ship construction has been hit by the economic slowdown, and the use of complementary shipbuilding standards for the Mistral Class made it easy to advance BPC 3, in order to preserve some of those jobs.

A July 23/10 release from France’s Ministere de la Defense placed the Dixmude’s cost at about EUR 300 million.

Contracts & Key Events


click to play video
Jan 14/12: DCNS delivers BPC Dixmude, and says they are 3 months ahead of the initial contract schedule. French DGA [in French] | DCNS.

Oct 12/11: Dixmude’s impending arrival has wider ripples, as France sells one of its 2 smaller LSDs. Chile beats Argentina and Brazil as the top bidder for FS Foudre. Read “2nd Time Lucky: Chile Buys French Amphibious Ship.”

July 13/11: BPC Dixmude arrives in Toulon, southern France, after sailing from the west coast shipyard at Saint-Nazaire on July 6/11. Over the coming 6 months, DCNS will be working on and testing the ship’s combat system, electronics, and mechanical systems, in preparation for delivery in early 2012. DCNS.

July 23/10: A release from France’s Ministere de la Defense discusses the prospect of building Mistral Class ships for Russia, and places the Dixmude’s cost at about EUR 300 million.

Apr 10/09: Deal announced. See: French DGA announcement [in French] | DCNS release | STX Europe release | Defense News.

Additional Readings

* French Navy – Le BPC, un navire nouvelle generation [in French]

* DCNS – Mistral Family LHD.

* Naval Technology – Mistral Class – Amphibious Assault, Command and Force Projection Ship, France

* Wikipedia – Mistral class amphibious assault ship

* DID (Jan 11/09) – French Navy’s RIFAN IP Networking Moves to Phase 2

* Defense News (Dec 18/08) – French Detail New Orders, Procurement Changes. As a result of their economic stimulus package.

Appendix A: The Mistral Class LHDs

Mistral LHD

Mistral Class LHD
(click to view – Francais)

The 21,300 ton Mistral Class “BPC” (Batiments de Projection et de Commandement) ships operate as helicopter carriers and amphibious assault transports, with secondary capabilities as command ships, and an on-board hospital. Propulsion comes from 2 electric-powered maneuverable thruster pods, similar to those used on cruise ships, with 2 more bow thrusters for added maneuverability in tight situations.

Mistral Class vessels normally carry 450 equipped troops for up to 6 months, but can raise this figure to 700 troops or evacuees for short periods. Normal hospital capacity is 69 beds, with a fully-equipped operating room. That capacity can also be expanded in emergencies, by appropriating other ship spaces. The command post section is not expandable, but has workstations for up to 150 personnel.

The Mistral Class ships are slightly smaller than contemporaries like Navantia’s BPE/Canberra Class LHDs, or Italy’s Cavour Class hybrid aircraft carrier, and lack the ski jump that gives their contemporaries fixed-wing aviation capability as well. This has led some observers to characterize them as LHAs, alongside offerings like South Korea’s Dokdo Class, but distinct from US Wasp Class or Spanish Juan Carlos/ Canberra Class LHDs. DCNS itself refers to the Mistrals as LHDs.

Mistral Class helicopter capacity is about 1,800 square meters, accommodating up to 16 machines with size “footprints” similar to the NH90 medium helicopter, or Eurocopter Tiger scout/attack helicopter, with full housing and repair capabilities. Heavy helicopters like the much larger American CH-53E can use the #1 landing spot, over the bow, if “lilly pad” operations are required.

Vehicle storage capacity is 2,650 square meters, accommodating an estimated 60 wheeled armored vehicles, or 46 vehicles plus 13 Leclerc tanks, or 40 tanks, plus associated munitions. For delivery to the beach, exercises off the American coast have demonstrated well deck compatibility with LCAC hovercraft, as well as conventional landing craft.

The Mistral Class is built to commercial standards, rather than naval combat standards, and currently carries very light defensive systems: 4 machine gun stations, a pair of 30mm guns, and a pair of manual Simbad twin-launchers for MBDA’s very short-range Mistral anti-aircraft missiles. Deployment in zones that feature anti-ship missiles, such as the 2006 evacuation off of Lebanon, requires protective escort ships.

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