Continued NATO membership may require buying Mistral LHDs

By P.M. Sanderson, Capt (Ret’d), Canadian Army, Reserve, 9 October 2022

Presently there is no ‘push’ by the Canadian government for amphibious ships nor is there any ‘pull’ from the navy, but by next spring, after Europe’s winter with no gas, the continuing recession and the never-ending Ukrainian war, views will harden – expect change.  

Canada belongs to two important groups, the first is NATO: If a hockey fan looked at NATO as a hockey league, he would wonder why Canada is still allowed to be a member; it doesn’t live in the neighbourhood nor does it have a team bus! The second group is the G7, note the amphibious ship holdings of the other members: USA 7 x Wasp-class LHD, 2 x American-class LHA, 12 x San Antonio-class LPD; Japan (the only non-NATO member), 2 x Izumo and 2 x Hyuga-class LHA; Germany 4 x Roll-on/Roll-off ships available; UK 2 x Albion-class LPD; France 3 x Mistral-class LHD; Italy 1 x Trieste-class LHD, 3x San Giorgio-class LPD; Canada = 0.  

What else are amphibious ships good for? 2005. Hurricane Katrina was very destructive; Canada wanted to help its neighbour so it sent a frigate loaded with relief supplies – the infamous “sending a Ferrari to deliver gravel.” 2006. The Lebanon evacuation required Canada to lease 7 ships to move 50,000 passport holders the 200 km to Cyprus, for flights to Montreal. The French sent their new Mistral to rescue their citizens. 2010. Hurricane Igor hit Newfoundland hard, washing out bridges and roads, leaving 30 communities cut off. Govenment sent an MCDV, and two frigates with Sea Kings to handle any medical evacuation in the cut off towns. The Combat Engineer Regiment which quickly repaired roads and bridges came by civilian ferry. The West coast of Canada is on the ‘Ring of Fire’ so Vancouver or Victoria could suffer ‘The Big One.’ A ship would survive the earthquake and after-shocks. 

Why the Mistral-class LHD is the best choice for both military and humanitarian roles. Cost: Built in a cruise ship yard for 600M euros (2003-2006) using commercial ship building standards including: (1) automation allows it to be run by 20 officers, 80 petty officers and 60 sailors; and (2) all-electric propulsion increases fuel efficiency and the 2 pods and a bow thruster provide better maneuverability and less maintenance. The ship has a technical readiness of over 350 days a year. Mistral was built as a Command Ship with all the radios and antennas for communications, plus a pre-wired, modular, 850 square metre operations centre and accommodation for 200 staff officers. This would also make a perfect Emergency Response Centre. Hospital Ship. Mistral was built around a NATO Level 3 Hospital with its 69 beds and 2 operating rooms. It has the look of an ER prepared for a mass casualty event. Air Mobile Operations. Mistral has the standard 6 position flight deck; below deck there is 1,800 square metre hangar for 16 medium helicopters, 2 elevators and maintenance work shops. Due to corrosion, a marine helicopter must be purpose built, the US Marines’ latest H-1 series fills the bill; the Bell UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper have achieved 84% identical components. The Venom can carry 8 troops or 6 stretchers and it can also carry a heavy sling load to resupply a beach head or resupply medicine to the hinterland.  

Amphibious Operations. Accommodations: Mistral has rooms, bunks, washrooms, laundries and messing for 450 troops/evacuees and room for 450 more on cots in the vehicle hangar for a short duration. The 2,650 square metre vehicle hangar can hold 40 tanks or 70 vehicles. Default Load When not on Ex the vehicle hangar would contain disaster response equipment: ‘wheeled’ dozers, loaders, excavators c/w hammers; Bobcats, dump trucks, cranes and Bailey Bridging on flat beds, bowsers, CP vehicles, cargo trucks, field kitchens, water trailers, water purification units, generators c/w lighting, and line trucks. Well Deck can take 2 x landing catamarans (L-CAT); these are a French invention which have a military lift of 80 tons/110 tons overload and are needed for lifting our 25 ton LAV 6.0 and our 60 plus ton Leopard tanks. Since the L-CAT have a speed of 20 kn, a range of 400nm, a sea state limit of 5; they can undertake independent missions delivering construction equipment and other disaster relief supplies up and down the coast. Strategic Sea Lift. Mistral can load and unload from its pier side ramp.  

The gov’t should order 2 Mistrals, with reinforced hulls for use in the Arctic, and give the ‘tasking’ to the navy which will have to take the ships as is. There may be an upside in this for the RCN. Sending a Mistral to Europe with one-third of our country’s field force on board, would require a full task force for protection. While these LHDs will fulfill our military obligations, they are also an important national asset for the safety of Canadians.  


1. CDFAI Policy Paper: Putting the Cart before the Horse: Why Canada should not purchase the Mistral-Class Ships, for now.  Nov 2014. 

2. RTO-MP-109 Paper: Mistral: A New Concept of Medical Platform for Tri-Service Long Lasting Deployment  Apr 2003.  


4. Defense News Editorial: The Mistral Amphib is a Goldmine of Good Ideas.  

5. Mistral Class LHD BPC.  

6. Wiki, EDR-R  (L-CAT), LCAC, Mistral, San Antonio, Wasp.  

7. Wiki, Chinook, Griffon, Venom, Viper.  

8. Spark: Constructing the second largest ship in The French Navy,  50.41 minutes.  

9. Navy Recognition: L-CAT Landing Catamaran Landing Craft CNIM EDA-R,, 4.14  minutes.  


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