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Greek Military Acquisitions on the Rise

May 19, 2008

By Ioannis Michaletos in Athens

Greece and Turkey are historically known as traditional foes that accumulate vast military arsenals, preserving a delicate balance of power that breaks out occasionally with ‘hot’ incidents, inevitably involving the air force and the navy in the Eastern Aegean.

Over the recent period, Greece has proceeded in acquiring new weaponry from international producers, while Turkey continues to pressure Greece on a variety of issues. One item of note is the heightened role being played by France as an arms-producing nation in equipping the Greek armed forces for their next-generation needs.

The most recent reports out of Athens indicate that the incumbent government is going to procure some 40 4th generation fighter jets, with the Eurofighter Typhoon topping the list, and the French Rafale, manufactured by Dassault, also being looked at. Moreover, after 2012 Greece will order some 60 American Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) planes.

The total cost for the above is difficult to estimate due to the changing currency index and the variety of missiles and auxiliary systems that can be added; in total, however, costs should exceed 10 billion euro, a substantial amount that is more than the total defense budget of Greece for 2008.

Turkey, for its part, has already planned their procurement of 100 units of the superb F-35 Lighting II fighter jet from the US. This is in keeping with the strategic aim of the Turkish Air Force of becoming the strongest in the East Mediterranean region by 2020.

On the maritime front, the Greek Navy has ordered six frigates by autumn 2008, at a total cost of 2.8 billion euro. The French, according to all estimations, have gained the upper hand in offering the FREMM type vessel. The French are also likely to be commissioned for the modernization scheme of the Mirage-2000 fighter jets, costing probably in excess of 500 million euro, along with new weaponry such as precision guidance munitions and air-to-air missiles.

Greece already ordered 415 BMP-3 combat armored vehicles in early December 2007; they will be accompanied by another 81 as an offset, amounting to 1.3 billion euro. Most of these vehicles will arrive in Greece by early 2010. Moscow is also actively pursuing the sale to Greece of the BUK middle-range anti-aircraft system, at a cost of around 700 million euro. A decision on that is likely to be delayed until mid-2009, however.

An interesting aspect here is the willingness of the French to offer Greece the new Scalp-Naval surface-to-surface missiles with a maximum range of 1,000 kilometers, essentially a strategic weapon that will be deployed aboard the FREMM ships. In reality, this means that a Greek vessel could hit an enemy target in mainland Turkey while safely withdrawn in Southern Crete or even the Ionian Sea, far away from a potential theater of battle.

This particular weapon essentially replicates the abilities of the American-made Tomahawk missile, presently used only by the armed forces of the USA, UK and Israel. Already the Greek Air Force operates the Scalp Storm Shadow version with a 350km radius, which is classified as a sub-strategic weapon.

The main reason Paris is seeking to open up this export market, it seems, is the fierce antagonism between multiple high-tech weapons producers that have caused great losses to the French defense industry over the past decade. Greece, as a major European market, could assist the French into re-entering the market.

The French are also heavily promoting the Rafale fighter plane for export. Between the 12th and 16th of May, Greek and French pilots trained together with these fighters during the “Aegean Gust” exercise held in Greece. Five French planes faced five Greek F-16’s, engaging in battle simulation. The total French team sent to Greece numbered 45 personnel.

Officially, the exercise was a bilateral one conducted in order to further build bonds between the two nations; in reality, this was a high-level and high-cost marketing endeavor during which the Greek pilots and officers viewed under realistic conditions the real capabilities of the Rafale planes, and how they would operate under difficult circumstances against the American F-16’s, the main type of jet used by both Greeks and Turks at present.

In this light, it is not beyond the realm of speculation to conclude that, among other recent overtures, the French support for Greece during the controversial NATO Summit in April was meant to increase the likelihood of a sale that would be very lucrative for France.

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