Athens, Greece – Greece announced an agreement for the purchase of six to eight French-built warships accompanied by a strategic defense partnership with France, a move that the Greek Prime Minister called “the first step towards autonomy of European defense ”.
Alongside French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace, Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Tuesday: “We have a common vision of a capacity to respond autonomously to the challenges facing Europe”.
The $ 5 billion deal will provide Athens with three state-of-the-art Belharra frigates and three Gowind corvettes, with an option for one more of each.
According to local information, the ships would be delivered by 2026, with the first frigate arriving as early as 2024.
The French naval group and US defense contractor Lockheed Martin had been in fierce competition for the contract since Mitsotakis announced Greece would purchase new frigates in September 2019.
For Macron, it was a well-deserved victory after Australia reneged on a $ 66 billion deal to buy French diesel submarines earlier this month, announcing plans to build nuclear submarines. using technology provided by the United States instead as part of the Aukus Agreement, a trilateral security treaty. between Australia, UK and US.
Macron stressed that the Greek agreement reinforced his vision of European strategic autonomy.
“We are committed to the independence of Europe,” he said. “This is part of the common struggles we have undertaken in Europe – technological independence, European defense and combat readiness.”
The two leaders mentioned the Sahel, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the Balkans as areas of European interest where joint military action could take place.
Greece and France have come closer in recent years, against the backdrop of deteriorating relations with Turkey.
Last year, Greece and Turkey were on the brink of war when Ankara sent investigative vessels to search for submarine oil and gas in what Greece considers its maritime jurisdiction.
France sent naval forces to help Greece’s aging fleet of 11 frigates patrol its sea areas and the two countries have since held joint and multilateral air and sea exercises in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean.
Last year Greece announced the purchase of 18 fourth-generation Rafale fighter jets for $ 2.5 billion. Mitsotakis increased the number of jets to 24 this month.
“It’s not a simple arms sale. It is a strategic agreement that changes the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, ”said professor of international relations Dimitris Kairidis of the naval agreement.
“France is filling a security vacuum in the region. There is a mutual defense agreement, so if we face any problems, we have a nuclear power and a permanent member of the Security Council by our side. “
The 2020 crisis follows the biggest economic recession on record in Greece following the post-2008 global financial collapse. Greece has halved its defense spending.
“There was no purchase of spare parts, there were operational problems, there were frigates which could not navigate and planes which could not fly,” the professor of international relations told Al Jazeera. at the American College of Greece Konstantinos Filis.
In 2018, Greece signed a $ 1.3 billion deal with the US Lockheed Martin to upgrade 85 of its F-16 fighter jets to Viper level, installing radar and systems on board. advanced weapons.
The Rafale and the Viper will both outclass Turkey’s permanent fleet by approximately 236 aging F-16s.
“With the modernization of the F-16s, the purchase of Rafale and the purchase of frigates, Greece is covering some of the lost ground,” Filis said. “Because all these years Turkey has significantly strengthened its defense industry. In a very short time, more than 70% of its systems are made at home. “
Turkish drones Bayraktar TB2, which are capable of weaponry, turned the tide of wars in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh last year and could pose a formidable threat in the Aegean Sea.
Mitsotakis struck a conciliatory note on the eve of the chord.
“I have no desire to enter an arms race with Turkey – it is not my intention,” he told public broadcaster ERT on Monday evening.
This month, he told the 76th United Nations General Assembly: “I have a vision for the Eastern Mediterranean. Instead of fighting the battles of the last century over hydrocarbons, a declining commodity, we must join forces to cooperate against new common enemies – the climate crisis which affects our two countries equally, but also the threat of migration. illegal.
But the massive modernization of Greece’s armaments, even though its national debt has reached almost double the gross domestic product (GDP), is clearly due to Turkey.
“Let’s face it, Greece is doing all of this because of its problems with Turkey,” Filis said. “If we had Switzerland’s neighbors, things would be much simpler and the money would go to education, health and the welfare state.
Greece was also keen not to give the impression that its deal with France was damaging its key relationship with the United States.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias is visiting Washington on October 14 to sign a new mutual defense cooperation agreement aimed at strengthening cooperation.
Not just a renewal but an upgrade
Military sources say the Belharra increases Greek capabilities in the eastern Mediterranean.
“The Belharra… form a single aircraft unit with the Rafale… these systems work much better in a network, and their missiles project power into the air because they have a very long range and are very capable,” Konstantinos Grivas said. , who teaches weapons systems at the Hellenic Army Academy.
The Belharra frigates will carry Aster-30 hypersonic surface-to-air missiles, capable of traveling at four and a half times the speed of sound and striking guided ballistic missiles. The Rafales carry Meteor air-to-air missiles. Both systems have a range of over 100 km (62 miles) and are supported by sophisticated radar systems.
“These are state of the art weapons,” Grivas told Al Jazeera. “They are at the top of their category among the Eastern and Western systems. We are entering the group of states that can strike targets at great distances.
Admiral Stelios Fenekos agrees that the Belharra are a game-changer.
“They cover areas where we have had limited capacity so far. The frigates can easily span the full breadth of the Eastern Mediterranean and increase the country’s international presence.
He underlined their ability to establish air and naval control over a large area.
“An enemy pilot should think very carefully before approaching within 200 km of these ships,” Fenekos said.
Importantly for Greece, these are not systems that France is offering to Turkey.
This contrasts with Germany’s decision to sell its sophisticated Type 214 submarines purchased by Greece to Turkey in 2000.
“It’s a strategic choice of the French since they sold Mirage fighters to Greece [in the 1980s]”Filis said.” They are not selling Turkey the same weapons.