Operational need for Mistral-class BPCs was defined during preparatory work and program design stages, in coherence with the new concept on the use of armed forces and the new National Concept for Amphibious Operations (CNOA). The principal missions reserved for the Nouveaux Transports de Chalands de Débarquement (NTCD) - New Landing-Craft Transports are varied: to take part in the execution of operations amphibians in accordance with the CNOA. The national Concept of the amphibian operations, adopted by the head of staff of the armies in June 1997, envisages projection by an amphibious fleet of the first level of a joint force ées on a lightly held hostile coast. This level, or embarked Grouping Interarmées (GIE), represents about 1,400 men and nearly 280 vehicles. With this unit are added a detachment of 20 helicopters, elements of the support health and, in the case of a national operation, the staff of the amphibious commander of the force (CATF). Within this framework, each NTCD must be able to project 450 men and the associated hardware including 60 vehicles.
There are amphibian operations lighter than the preceding ones and related to specific missions of the time of crisis (humanitarian or evacuation of nationals, for example). This type of limited operation is carried out starting from a NTCD embarking about sixty equipped commandos, or a company of infantry in adapted configuration, with 3 to 6 helicopters. To accomodate a headquarters of embarked operative level (known as PC NOE), the NTCD must be able to accomodate such a PC, which forms reduced of a theater PC, having to lead an operation of limited scope. A PC NOE includes approximately 150 people and requires on board a surface of about 800 m² to take part in the execution of an aéromobile operation starting from the sea, for an evacuation of nationals or a raid. This mission requires starting from the NTCD of helicopters of the type NH-90 and Tiger. To carry out an operational transport by sea, i.e. to project operational units (for example, a Leclerc squadron), preserves the ability of these units to be engaged in an operational mission as of their unloading. Other types of missions are of course possible, because of the versatility offered by the capacities of the ships.
With a tonnage of about 20,000 tons with full load, the NTCD have a maximum speed of 19 knots and have a crew with 160 men. They are able to embark 450 men and 60 vehicles. They are equipped with a continuous flight deck with 6 spots for NH90 and Tiger helicopters, and with a capacity to store 10 to 16 helicopters in a hangar. They are able to embark 4 barges of unloading or 2 American air cushion vehicles. The choice carried out is consistent with the national concept of the operations amphibians which gives the priority to the aeromobility of the troops transported thanks to helicopters. Vertical takeoff aircraft do not enter this concept. At the time of an amphibian operation, aerial cover and fire support are ensured by the planes embarked aboard an aircraft carrier. In the event of absence of the "Charles of Gaulle" this support would be provided, within the framework of a European operation, by allied aircraft carriers. A significant effort is in particular made on the transmission resources and the command and information systems for the needs for a interarmées PC of theatre and interallied of 150 workstations installed on board, extensible by addition of modules (shelters), supporting interworking with French allies.
Significant design evolution occurred compared to the TCD Siroco. The installations of setting the amphibious machines, the helicopters and the vehicles consist of a hangar for vehicles, a hangar for helicopters and two lifting platforms. The various hangars are served by one or two lifting platforms (1 for the hangar vehicles, 2 for the hangar helicopters). The access of the vehicles is carried out by a side carry-slope and a carry-slope foundation raft. The organization of the whole of the platform was the subject of studies where the architectural choices privilege the optimization of flows (vehicles, helicopters, personnel, casualties, food and ammunition) and take account of the needs increased for interworking (US hovercrafts LCAC, allied helicopters of which Super Stallion, convertible aircraft - with swinging rotors - V22 Osprey).
The versatility offered by the design allows the use of the building in various versions according to missions: mixed version (450 passengers / 60 vehicles / 6 helicopters), version building helicopter carrier (possible carrying to 16 helicopters), version transport (more than 230 vehicles), version building of command. The system of combat with which will be equipped the NTCD will make it possible to provide the functions of control of the operations, self-defence, command, internal and external communications to the building, and the functions transverse: navigation, network of the wind. The telecommunications part will be particularly developed, taking into account the requirements in a number of simultaneous connections and in flow imposed by the missions of command (PC NOE, PC ATF/LF (1)). This system will integrate a whole of capacities HF, VHF, UHF, SHF and the tactical data links, and will offer communications interior and external with services with strong added value (phone, data, images).
The NTCD have a tonnage about half that of Charles-de-Gaulle, that is to say over 20,000 tons. Each construction is half again larger than the previous TCD [Foudre and Sirocco]. This new type of construction was conceived to satisfy criteria of precisely defined projection, with the possibility of supporting a poste de commandement interarmée de théâtre (PCIAT) of 250 to 300 men. Moreover, one of the two NTCD will have to replace the Jeanne of Arc in her function of training ship. One of the principal characteristics of the NTCD is the very significant increase in the capacities of helicopter intervention, thanks to a possibility of supporting Army or Air Force forces: up to 20 helicopters of the Cougar types or Tiger or 10 to 12 NH-90 can be supported.
The length of the bridge and the number of landing spots confers on the NTCD aspects of a mini aircraft carrier. In the current state of their design, It was not envisaged to retain a capacity of supporting fixed-wing aircraft such as the Harrier [which equip three European navies with which the NTCD could be called to take part in common operations].
The NTCD also have an embarked hospital similar to that of the TCD Foudre with increase in possible capacity by the loading (in the hangar helicopters) of modular technical equipment (ETM) of the Health service of the Armies. Concerning the life on board, the function hotel trade of the building is based on the concept of modular cabins with integrated medical blocks, for the crew as for the passengers, for 1, 2, 4 or 6 people according to the ranks. This capacity makes it possible the NTCD to be adapted to all the contexts of operational use, to fulfill the requirements of feminization and professionnalisation of the armies and to guarantee a better evolutionarity. Interior installations will make it possible to gather the buildings life of the passengers who will have a rate/rhythm of life in conformity with their activities and not to that of the crew. The function restoration, established on a same bridge, is organized around a central single kitchen which serves several dining rooms mixed between the crew of the edge and the embarked passengers.
Maneuverability is a significant aspect of nautical qualities of any vessel. With ships having the mission to move by small amounts near the ground at the time of the loading or re-embarkation maneuvres, maneuver capacities at low speed are essential. These capacities, with the assistance of an engine at the stem, will be also very useful at the time of the maneuvers in port and at quay without external help. This is what resulted in choosing a propulsion by Pod (drive propulsion) and an architecture of an all electric ship (NTE), with the whole of the energy requirements being ensured by the same diesels alternators. The absence of apparatus to be controlled notably simplifies general architecture and the propelling apparatus, and brings a great flexibility. This flexibility is made to improve the conditions of maintenance of the compartments. In parallel, it results in a reduction from the number of the types of equipment and generators and, consequently, reduction of logistics and maintenance, as well as an improvement of the availability, thanks in particular to the reliability of the electric installations. The optimization of the number and the power of each diesel alternators makes it possible to limit the phenomena of clogging. The slight initial additional cost of acquisition related to concept NTE should quickly be offset by the reduction in the maintenance costs.
Lastly, to answer the voluntary policy of the French Navy in the field of the maritime environmental protection, the NTCD are "clean" ships, i.e. that they will not reject any waste with the sea.
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