Why the UK won’t purchase the ex-Russian Mistral assault ships, even though we should

There are many suggesting the RN purchase the 2 ex-Russian Mistral class assault ships from France. The ships which have excellent aviation facilities as well as a floodable dock for landing craft would make superb replacements for HMS Ocean, Albion & Bulwark. If this government understood the true value of amphibious capability, they could abandon the flawed and quite desperate plan to make the QE aircraft carriers double as assault ships and buy the Mistrals.

However, this is very unlikely to happen because:

  1. Even with the small uplift in defence spending announced in the recent budget, there is no spare money in the long term defence plan to fund such a significant purchase. With other pressing priorities this is unlikely to be addressed in the forthcoming defence review.
  2. The RN is desperately short of manpower. HMS Ocean will go out of service in 2018. To man HMS Queen Elizabeth and eventually HMS Prince of Wales will already stretch available manpower. To crew two Mistrals, even with HMS Albion and Bulwark gone, would require a major recruitment effort which would take time (and additional funding) to deliver sufficient trained personnel.
  3. The Mistrals are not fully compatible with RN requirements as they are fitted with Russian & French systems. They would need expensive re-fitting with RN standard equipment.
  4. From a political perspective it would be seen as embarrassing to buy warships from Europe and the French, of all people (even though they are now our new best friends / close ally). Apart from a couple of oddities in WWII, the only French-built warships that have ever served in the Royal Navy were ones taken as prizes during numerous defeats the RN inflicted on them at sea.
  5. There would be the usual, if utterly misguided backlash about loss of British jobs by not building warships in the UK and “buying foreign”. (The ships are already built and there is no capacity to build them in the UK at present anyway)
  6. There is already interest from other nations who are keen to obtain such ships and are hoping to get them at a bargain price. The Britsh Government and MoD would probably have to move quickly and decisively (cough) to secure them in competition with others.

 

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