France's decision to negotiate the sale of four Mistral-class Amphibious Transport Docks to Russia has been met with harsh criticism in the United States and among some NATO allies. Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili was particularly brutal, declaring of the sale, "It's not even appeasement of Russia. It's a reward for Russia."
There is no question that the acquisition of the four amphibious warships will substantially enhance Russia's power-projection capabilities. However, Russia is not the only state to have committed to the construction of large-deck amphibious warships. In fact, Moscow's purchase of the Mistrals comes in the context of a global "amphib" splurge. Big "amphibs" are trendy, and the Russians have simply decided to join the club.
Known as "gators" in the naval community, amphibious warships go by several different designations, depending on their specific characteristics and purpose. For example, the United States Navy operates LPDs (Landing Platform Dock), LHAs (Landing Helicopter Assault), LSDs (Dock Landing Ship) and LHDs (Landing Helicopter Dock). All, however, share a few important similarities. Amphibious warships usually carry a group of helicopters and have the capacity to quarter a significant number of troops. Almost all "amphibs" house the technical resources necessary to coordinate the deployment of troops onto land. The ultimate littoral command ship, "amphibs" have the dual capability to support operations on land and to maintain control of the sea.