Facing Turkish Threats, Greece Eyes Upgrading Military Might

Αssociated Press

FILE- Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos at a trilateral meeting of the defense ministers of Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt, in Athens, on Nov. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS - With Turkey regularly violating Greece's airspace and seas and planning to drill for oil and gas off Crete, the government is planning to boost its defenses and working with its ally France to buy two state-of-the-art Belharra frigates.

Purchasing the warships was announced in October, 2019 when Defense News said that Defense Minister Niko Panagiotopoulos and French defense chief Florence Parly signed a letter of intent for the ships at a cost of 750 million euros ($857.21 million.)

Speaking to the media in Paris, Panagiotopoulos said there was still “a long way to go” before the configuration of the frigates for Greece was agreed, indicating they won't be the same as those built France’s Naval Group for the French navy.

The Belharra was designed for the French sea service, which has ordered five copies. The steel cut for the first of the five ships will take place on Oct. 23 with delivery of the first scheduled for 2023, the site said.

That's at least two to three years off and now, said Kathimerini, the cost would be 3 billion euros ($3.43 billion,) four times what the cost was reported initially, which could be prohibitive as Greece's economy sinks again because of the crushing cost of dealing with COVID-19 and a long lockdown closing many businesses for good.

Greece, the paper said, wants 10 years to repay the cost of of purchasing the ships at an annual rate of 300 million euros ($342.88 million) but it wasn't reported if this was accept to the French government.

The advantages of the French vessels are the technological superiority they would give Greece over countries, including Turkey which is claiming waters off Greek islands under a maritime deal signed with Libya dividing the waters between them.

To deal with the current tension, Greece wants to make sure its Air Force and Navy is ready to deal with any likelihood of a conflict with fears that shooting could start accidentally and ratchet up into war.

The defense budget hit had by austerity measures during a near decade-long economic crisis, the government is looking to buy more missiles and deals are in the works for the support of weapons systems for fighter jets and helicopters as also drones.

Another priority for the Hellenic Navy is upgrading four MEKO-type frigates, with the United States interested in selling, as well asupgrade of the four frigates by Lockheed Martin and construction of four new MMCS frigates by 2025.

That could lead to the work being done at Greece’s Elefsina Shipyards at a cost of 4 billion euros ($4.57 billion) with a second phase to perhaps acquire four Israeli-designed corvettes in cooperation with Syros Shipyards.