Skip to content

Mystery Over Mistral! Why did the French Warship Dock in China?

MH Rajesh Writes: The timed visit of Mistral to Shanghai is a clear overture to China! One shouldn’t miss it. France wouldn’t send a specific ship half way across globe without a reason.

By MH Rajesh


On 09 May, two French Warships docked at the Shanghai Port. One a Mistral Class Amphibious Ship and another a Lafayette Class Frigate. The timing and type of ships that docked in China led to widespread speculation regarding the visit.


French Warship Mistral

Earlier in 2011, France had inked a contract to sell two Mistral class ships to Russia. This raised eyebrows then, as an Intergovernmental deal was struck between France and Russia after an open tender, probably for price discovery. This signalled the first major sale by a NATO member to Russia.

The sale was seen more as a deal by Russia to absorb high-end technology like modular construction of large warships than a simple military purchase. In what appeared a commercial decision, French went ahead despite strong protests by US/NATO allies.

The deal was worth $1.7 bn, of which $1.2 bn was paid. As per some reports, the per day cost of berthing and allied expense to France is $ 5mn. This is besides a refund. Hence, France was looking elsewhere for stop loss options offering this to several countries including Brazil and India as per this report.

The timed visit of Mistral to Shanghai is a clear overture to China! One shouldn’t miss it. France wouldn’t send a specific ship half way across globe without a reason.

Mistral is an LHD class of ship, which carries troops and tanks, enabling amphibious operations. The vessel carries smaller crafts and helicopters for swift delivery of personnel ashore for assault. It can carry up to 900 troops and can deliver them ashore using four air cushion vehicles and up to 30 light helicopters.

Being an amphibious vessel it has an immediate bearing on Taiwan and other SCS/ECS nations who have territorial issues with China — Japan included.

The Chinese already have the comparable Type 071 Yuzhao class,-four of them with two additional hulls being built. That would mean eventually six Yuzhaos in all.

Where the Mistral would score over Yuzhao in design its continuous flat flight deck that makes it far more aviation capable. So vertical envelopment in a standoff amphibious operation is far easier with  Mistral than Yuzhao. Refer a small table of comparison below. The major difference is the aviation wing!

The Mistral is designed for 15 medium or 35 light heptrs, whereas Yuzhao is designed for just 4. That’s the major difference.

The Mistral will require high aviation element, Russians could muster  KAMOVs, the Chinese could look at Super Frelon-Z8 s( again a French copter which was reverse engineered by China).

Yuzhao is a LPD class ship, which allows docking of assault crafts in its belly, which can swim out whereas, Mistral is an LHD class which adds considerable air element in addition to the swim out capability. Both are not dependent on beach gradient- a critical factor in amphibious ops, opening several options to any any navy and complicate issues to the defender!

So this offer would take the number of similar type of vessels to eight. Quantitatively, this is only an incremental accretion compared to Chinese capacity in ship building, but what it would actually provide is high-end design and technology on a platter. China will quickly reverse engineer these for the follow on class and plug its own gaps in design. Several NATO grade technologies will become available to China.

This ship will definitely pose an immediate and direct concern to Taiwan, Japan and other immediate neighbours with whom there are ongoing disputes. But the problem doesn’t end there.

A country like China with abysmal record of transfer of technologies to pariah regimes and rogue states around world should never be ‘gifted’  high-end technology by responsible states.

What in effect will happen is a trickle-down effect of transferred military technology.

China will like to keep a smart ship like the Mistral or a ship built  with technology drawn from this transfer and  her own home built Yuzhao ( which is her second largest ship after Liaoning…) will be downgraded and considered for transfer to her proxies like Pakistan.

Every smart inventory added to China will leave one ‘less smart’ inventory that China will readily spare to Pakistan/North Korea.

India and South Korea will eventually bear the brunt of such trickle down effect of ‘gifted’ technology by France.

France sitting far away in Europe would have solved a business problem, but South Korea, India US and Japan will face the brunt. Some directly and some indirectly.


Clearly this was a business risk that the French took against her allies in 2011 when she went ahead with the sale to Russia despite protests by her allies.

When there is even a remote likelihood of this landing up with the China with far poorer record than Russia, in proliferation and patronisation of proxy nations like North Korea and Pakistan we must raise concerns.

It is felt that not enough is being done to stop the proliferation of weapons by China to Pakistan, the least the Western Powers can do is not to transfer  first rate platforms to China.

The Mistral sale to Russia was a bad business risk that France took. But let that business risk not be converted to a security risk to Asia. Europe’s problem should not become Asia’s.


We elicit your response to the story. To read more about it kindly click at the following link.


1578 Total Views 1 Views Today