199 meters long with a meter beam (largest width) of 32 meters, the PHA Mistral are the most imposing combat ships in the French Navy with the exception of the nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. If the replacement of the latter by the PANG is already underway, the successor to the three Mistrals, which entered service between 2005 and 2012, has not yet been started.
However, recent technological and capacity developments make it possible to envisage the design of ships going well beyond the mission of the PHAs today, in particular to make it possible to overcome the handicaps caused by the only French aircraft carrier, while significantly reducing the constraints that a second aircraft carrier would impose on the French Navy.
The PHA Mistral, these doubles of the PAN Charles de Gaulle for the French Navy
Since their arrival in the French Navy, the Mistral PHAs have, on numerous occasions, served as an operational backup to the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, when the latter was unavailable.
Whether off the coast of Libya in 2011, or the Gazelle and Tiger helicopters of the ALAT deployed aboard the BPC Tonnerre (Projection and Command Building, former name of the PHA), carried out numerous night attacks against the forces regular Libyan troops during Operation Harmattan, or during the deployment of the Tonnerre, again, in the eastern Mediterranean in 2020 to contain Turkish aspirations, while the Charles de Gaulle was in IPER, the Mistrals regularly took over from the the only French nuclear aircraft carrier.
Obviously, the operational capabilities offered by the Mistral differ considerably from those of the aircraft carrier. Thus, the ship does not have a fixed-wing aircraft, and is currently limited to the use of helicopters and drones.
As a result, it is not able to deploy a combat patrol to ensure air superiority around its naval group, nor to carry out heavy strikes towards the adversary, particularly in its depth.
It was not designed, moreover, to operate directly in the engagement zone, as evidenced by its weak self-defense capabilities limited to CIWS SIMBAD systems armed with Mistral missiles.
On the other hand, due to its dimensions, its crew and its means of command, it most often operates as a flagship of the French or international flotilla, the famous Capital Ships.
If the Charles de Gaulle entered service in 2001, and must be replaced by the PANG in 2038, the Mistral, head of the series of the eponymous class, entered service in 2005. From then on, it will have to also, be replaced around 2040.
Drone carrier, light aircraft carrier… What alternatives for the successor to the Mistrals?
For the moment, work to design the successor to the Mistral class has not started. However, much more than the Charles de Gaulle and its successor, the PANG, the technological and doctrinal evolution surrounding large amphibious assault ships is considerably more important than those of aircraft carriers.
Thus, the rapid progress made in the field of drones gave rise to a new concept of ship, the drone carrier. Whether or not it is coupled with amphibious capabilities, the drone carrier uses fixed-wing combat drones, capable of carrying out certain missions replacing those of on-board hunting.
TDG Anadolu, Ivan Rogoff, Type 76: The concept of combat drone carriers is becoming more popular around the world
Several countries have already moved in this direction. This is the case of Turkey with the TCG Anadolu. Initially intended to operate American F-35Bs, the flagship of the Turkish fleet, which entered service in April 2023, was transformed to accommodate and deploy fixed-wing drones when Washington ejected Ankara from the JSF program.
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