The primary reason Riyadh needs the warships is simple: the amphibious assault ships are ideal for unilateral power projection in littoral waters or as part of the joint Arab force project which Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi and Saudi Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced earlier this month.
My sense is the 2 formerly Russia-bound Mistral LHDs will end up with Saudi Arabia. Makes sense for Saudi on a lot of levels…— Craig Hooper (@NextNavy) 8 августа 2015
"There is definitely a requirement for Mistral-type ships in Riyadh's arsenal. The vessels, if correctly manned and equipped, would have been very useful in the Saudi-led coalition's operations in Yemen," US think tank Stratfor explained.
The months-long campaign is not the only example.
"The Saudis could also benefit from using the vessels in and around the Persian Gulf, especially close to the islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs islands," the intelligence firm added. The islands are currently under Iran's control but are contested by the UAE.
The oil kingdom has not confirmed the reports that it is interested and willing to buy the ships but Stratfor said that they were true citing its own sources. If Saudi Arabia confirms the rumors, it is likely to be the one to foot the bill but the warships will most probably be docked in Egypt.
"Assuming the Saudis fund the purchase, the Egyptians would benefit from the considerable prestige of maintaining one or both Mistral vessels within their own fleet. Furthermore, Egypt is involved in a number of regional conflicts where the deployment of a Mistral vessel might be useful, the Libyan conflict being the most obvious example," the Texas-based think tank asserted.
Should the purchase happen, Saudi Arabia and Egypt will have to tackle a number of challenges including the refurbishing of the Mistrals built specifically for Russia, training crews to operate the watercraft and obtaining helicopters customized for the amphibious assault ships.
The Vladivostok and the Sevastopol were built by France for the Russian Navy under a $1.3 billion deal inked in 2011. The agreement was suspended in late 2014 over Moscow's alleged involvement in the Ukrainian civil war. The contract was officially terminated in early August.
The two Mistrals await their fate docked at a shipyard in Saint-Nazaire.