Chile's long flirtation with the French has finally come to fruition as the government finalized negotiations to purchase the amphibious landing ship Foudre. The ship could be in Chilean hands in the first half of 2012, the Navy confirmed, adding that the final contract will be signed in November. The cost reportedly was $80 million, according to reports, which sounds like a bargain for a ship of the Foudre's size and capability. Indeed, the acquisition represents a big leap in sealift and force projection power for Chile, which in January retired its 40-year-old Newport-class landing ship, the Valdivia. The Navy's sealift force was reduced to a pair of 1,400-ton landing ships and another two 770-ton vessels. The 12,000-ton Foudre can carry a batallion of 467 troops plus mechanized cavalry equipment, including as many as 100 vehicles and 22 Leopard II main battle tanks. Its deck and hangar can accomodate up to seven medium helicopters. The well dock can fit either 10 medium landing craft or one mechanised landing craft and four LCMs. In another important role, it can serve as the backbone of relief operations. The ship can squeeze as many as 1,600 people in disaster scenarios, and its hospital facilities include two operating rooms and 47 beds. The Foudre was commissioned in 1990, so it doesn't exactly have fresh sea legs. Still, sea transport is crucial for Chile to reach its island communities and isolated areas in a disaster, not to mention its peacekeeping force in Haiti. The massive 2010 earthquake and tsunami underscored the need for sea-based relief operations. For a couple of years, Chilean naval officers had expressed interest in the Foudre and similar ships that came on the market.