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Greece

Capital Athens
Time Zone EET (GMT+2)
Country Code 30
Mobile Codes 690,693,694,695,697,698,699
ccTLD .gr
Currency Euro
Land Area 131,990 sq km
Population 11.3 million
Language Greek
Major Religion Orthodox Christianity

Greece and Turkey: Offensive and Defensive Balance of Naval Power in 2012

By Ioannis Michaletos

Balkanalysis.com Editor’s note: readers interested in this article will also want to see a recent article by the same author, Greece and Turkey: Offensive and Defensive Balance of Air Power in 2012.

The Greek and Turkish naval forces are two of NATO’s strongest and most experienced. The chronic antagonism between the two neighboring states has meant that their naval crews and officer corps have been trained and simulated wartime situations. The Greek Navy in particular has a longer tradition in maritime affairs due to the prevalence of a merchant marine culture and the numerous Islands, archipelagos and long stretches of coastline.

While Turkey also has a considerable coastline on three sides, it has traditionally had a much more continental orientation whereas Greece has traditionally looked to the sea. For example, during the rule of the Ottoman Turks, it was noted that the majority of their navy was manned by Greeks, while Turkish officers and soldiers were more effective serving in the land forces.

The following detailed report breaks down the inventory of these rival-but-allied naval forces for the year 2012. It also reveals that equilibrium of power has been established; the two countries have, both in quantitative and qualitative terms, reached an equal projection of naval power, something that partly depends on the threat perceptions military planners have regarding different fronts.

We expect this dynamic to remain as it is, at least for the mid-term, though pending acquisitions by Turkey could affect the balance in future. On the Aegean Sea front in particular, Greece for the time being enjoys a small level of superiority, since the Turkish Navy has obligations in the Black Sea as well, and it is considered that these forces would not be able to reach the Aegean in case of war, due to the difficulty in passing through the Bosporus Straits and Hellespontos without risking heavy casualties from the Greek air force, not to mention slowdowns due to the heavy presence of international maritime shipping in the Straits.

All data presented below derives from official information gathered from the Greek and Turkish Naval inventories, available in the archives of their respective military staffs and defense ministries.

History of Engagements and Balance of Power

The Greek Navy has a long tradition and, according to this, it has never been defeated in combat. Judging by its size, inventory and training it can be said that Greece’s navy is one of the most important world naval powers today. The Turkish Navy has traditionally had a more inward outlook and has been given a lower profile in the general heriarchy of the Turkish armed forces, where the Army and the Air Force had always had a much more important impact. However, the size and NATO-standard training of Turkey’s navy makes it one of the largest in the world.

The other top naval forces in the world today are the USA, UK, France, Russia, China, Japan, Australia, Italy, Germany and India.

The Greek Navy has a long history of battle experience and engagement, which has (as said), always tended to end victoriously. Since the establishment of the modern Greek state in 1830, there were war deployments in the Cretan War (1866-69), Greek-Turkish War (1897), the First and Second Balkan Wars (1912-13), and soon after in the First World War (1916-18). The navy was also used in Ukraine in 1919 and then in the spillover conflict with Turkey- the Asia Minor conflict (1920-22), which was in fact lost by the land forces in Anatolia.

The navy was again deployed in the Second World War (1940-1944) and in the domestic continuation of that conflict, the Greek Civil War (1946-1949). Moreover Greek Navy participated in the Cyprus armed conflicts between 1963, 64 and 1974. It is important to remember too that in several of these conflicts, such as WWII, Greek resistance utilized the local knowledge of fishermen and islanders, or particular related talents (such as the extraordinary ability of the sponge divers of Kalymnos to hold their breath for long periods underwater) to obtain a tactical advantage over numerically superior forces. (For a “true fiction” account of this sort of evasive action, see the literary memoir of Alexis Ladas, Falconera, published by Lycabettus Press in Athens).

While the Ottoman Navy’s most famous naval endeavors in Greek waters ended up in catastrophic defeat – such as the 1571 Battle of Lepanto, against the Holy League, and the 1827 Battle of Navarino, against the combined forces of France, Britain and Russia – the Turkish Navy is considered to have started from the time when modern Turkey became a state, in 1923.

Since Turkey was neutral in WWII, it was only employed in the Cyprus invasion (1974). However, as has been noted, both Greece and Turkey have (since 1974 and especially since the mid-1980s) been engaging in certain naval incidents that spill over into crises as was the case in 1976, 1987 and 1996, maritime showdowns that mostly involved the navies and coast guards of both countries. Some interesting insights on the maritime engagements of 1987 and 1996, and the military intelligence factors that influenced them, can be gleaned from Panagiotis Dimitrakis’ Greek Military Intelligence and the Crescent (reviewed by Balkanalysis.com here).

Other (Recent) Peacekeeping or Non-Hostile Engagements

It should be remembered that as NATO allies, both Turkey and Greece have a history of participating in NATO and UN peacekeeping missions. Furthermore, Greece hosts an important naval NATO base, at Souda Bay in northwestern Crete. This base and its Maritime Interdiction Center are regularly used for multinational training exercises, as well as for allied operations (for example, in summer 2011 Souda Bay was used as a base for aerial assaults on Gaddafi’s Libya by foreign pilots). At about the same time, training activities at the Interdiction Center could be interpreted to tell which North African governments would survive the “Arab Spring”- for example, the presence of Morocco in training exercises during the Libya campaign indicated that the kingdom’s leadership would escape the fates of Egyptian, Tunisian and Libyan regimes.

Notable peacekeeping missions in which the Greek Navy has participated occurred in areas such as the Indian Ocean, Adriatic Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, and near specific countries such as Lebanon, Cyprus, Albania, Somalia and Mauritania. For its part, Turkey has also contributed naval support to most of the same places.

Navy Standing Personnel

The Greek Navy has 12,800 officers and petty officers; 2,400 professional mates, 3,000 national service mates and 10,000 reserves. Turkey has larger human capacities, with 20,000 officers and petty officers; 35,000 national service mates and 55,000 reserves.

Although Turkish naval personnel numbers are higher, the two countries differ in terms of their composition of privates. Greece has historically invested in recruiting professional personnel, while Turkey relies more on conscripts. In terms of naval training, both navies are NATO-trained but Greece enjoys the advantage of having an ideal sea region in which to exercise (the Aegean and Ionian Seas), which offer substantial training advantages due to the changing weather conditions, the thousands of islands and islets and the proximity with the mainland where multiple battle scenarios can be drafted and then tested. By contrast, Turkey’s Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea regions are largely bereft of islands, while their room to maneuver in the Aegean is severely constrained due to the proximity of Greek territory up and down much of the Anatolian coast.

The Greek Navy occasionally trains alongside those of the USA, UK, Israel, Holland and France. Such partners also view the Greek seas as good training regions. Lastly, it has to be noted than in case of war, all merchant and transportation vessels operating in Greek seas (ships which number in the thousands) would be compulsorily employed by the Navy’s General Staff, mostly for transportation and logistic purposes.

Submarine Fleets

The total number of (all types of) submarines possessed by the two countries is roughly equivalent. Greece owns nine submarines, and expects another three, while Turkey has 14.

The subs currently on delivery for Greece are of the newer, 214 type, which are manufactured by the German company HDW. The rest are of the 209/1100 and 209/1200 types. Turkey also uses the 209/1400 and 209/1200 types.

Due to Greece’s current economic woes, it is likely that the country will not procure additional submarines until 2015 at least. It is more likely that it will either buy used 209 models, or continue an upgrade program. Economically booming Turkey, on the other hand, has made plans for a massive procurement of up to six 214-type submarines, which will certainly affect the maritime balance of power in this sector.

The Greek Navy is oriented almost exclusively towards Turkey. The Turkish Navy, on the other hand, has to patrol the Black Sea and the East Mediterranean. Thus in practical terms, both countries tend to retain a balance of power, with the Greek Navy having the advantage of hundreds of submarine ‘hideouts’ within the multitude of natural underwater caves in many Greek Aegean islands. Greece was the first country worldwide that used a submarine in war, and that was in 1912. In WWII, Greek submarines fought across the Mediterranean, sinking a considerable number of Italian and German ships.

Naval Air Power

The Greek and Turkish navies also have their own tactical aircraft supporting their respective missions. Although Greece boasts a much larger navy, in terms of navy-owned planes, it lacks an advantage here due to the urgent need to replace its P-3B fleet. It is likely, according to all available information, that Greece will procure additional naval aircraft within the coming two years to attempt to redress the balance, or acquire used US Navy ones, probably of the S-3 Viking type.

In terms of naval helicopters, both countries use much of the same models and have a roughly equal balance of power, with the navy of Turkey owning six helicopters more than does Greece.

Helicopters in the navy play an important and varied role in tasks such as anti-submarine warfare, reconnaissance, military intelligence, seek-and-destroy missions against naval installations and small-mid-sized vessels, as well as Special Forces transportation.

Planes

Greece: P-3B: 6 planes

Turkey: CN-235: 6 planes; also 10 ATR ASW on order

Helicopters

 

Greece: S-70B, AB 212 ASW/EW, and SA Alouette III: 23 helicopters

Turkey: S-70B, AB 212 ASW/EW, AB 204, and Socata TB20: 29 helicopters

Main Battle Vessels

Greece uses 14 frigates and Turkey 17. Also, Turkey has 7 corvettes, while Greece has none. Lastly, Turkey has 27 fast attack boats, while Greece has 20, and also has 10 gunboats.

Frigates

Greece: MEKO 200, S-Kortenaer types: 14 plus 10 gunboats

Turkey: PERRY, MEKO 200 types: 17 plus 7 corvettes (D’Estienne D’Orves type)

Fast Attack Boats

Greece: Super Vita, Combatane III types: 20 plus 1 on order

Turkey: KILIC, DOGAN, KARTAL types: 27

Other Types of Vessels

Other types of vessels possessed by the two navies include patrol boats, coastal defense ships, coast guard vessels, landing craft and mine-hunting boats, hovercrafts, logistics and training boats, and so on.

Greece: 186 vessels, out of which six are coastal defense, 95 coast guard, eight patrol boats, three hovercrafts, five marine troop transportation vessels, 15 landing attack vessels, 10 mine-hunting vessels, three petrol fuel vessels and 41 others.

Turkey: 219 vessels- basically, in the same proportions as the Greek ones, with the exception of the hovercraft.

Coast Guard Air Forces

The coast guards of both countries play a vital role in not only military options, but also in humanitarian rescue operations such as the frequent interception of ships containing illegal immigrants in Greek waters, sent from Turkey, the Middle East or North Africa. They are typically on the ‘front lines’ due to the long and complicated coastlines separating the two countries, and thus see plenty of activity.

Greece: F-406, Cessna, AS 365 airplane types: 13 units; AS Super Puma helicopter type: 4 units

Turkey: CN-235 airplane type: 3 units; AB 412 helicopter type: 16 units

Coastal Defense Aircraft and Missile Systems

Coastal defense is of key concern to both countries, as large populated areas as well as vital military defenses are located virtually opposite one another up and down the shared Aegean frontier.

At times, the obsession with gaining intelligence on the whereabouts and identities of air defense systems has had spectacular and deadly results- as in the fatal collision between aircraft near Karpathos in the summer of 2006. As Balkanalysis.com noted in 2007, this collision occurred after a Turkish aircraft deep in Greek airspace clipped a Greek plane, killing its pilot. The Turkish intention seems to have been to gain intelligence on the placement of Russian-made mobile anti-aircraft missile systems in the Lassithi prefecture of eastern Crete.

Greece: MM40 Exocet missile systems: (an estimated 40 missiles), plus Crotale NG anti-aircraft: two systems along with 180 anti-aircraft artillery units

Turkey: 11 Stinger missile systems

The main missile systems used by Greek vessels are Exocet, Harpoon, RAM and Penguin missiles. The Greek Navy’s imminent procurement programme involves the acquisition of French Scalp NAVAL missiles, which have a range up to 800 km. To illustrate the significance of this upgrade, we should consider that currently the longest-range missile in the Greek arsenal is 180 km. The Turkish Navy, for its part, mostly uses Harpoon missiles.

Naval Special Forces

Both countries have special SEALs that are specialized in naval and coastal warfare. These units comprise only a few hundred men, each of whom is equipped with state-of-the-art armaments and transportation means. In case of any conflict, these elite forces would be activated first, undertaking missions of naval sabotage, attacks against command-and-control installations and targeted assassinations of officers.

It has also to be noted that both countries operate (and especially Greece) with an extensive maritime patrol observation-monitoring and targeting network of stations and bases that, through the use of technological means and human resources, constantly check the movements of the maritime adversary. It is assumed that both countries also operate spy vessels that travel as commercial or fishing boats, and that are used for telecommunications surveillance.

Appendix: Cyprus

Since the 1974 invasion of Cyprus and division of the island, Turkey has supported the development of offensive and defensive installations on the northern third of the island, the non-recognized ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.’

However, both countries have historically had direct involvement and devised long-term contingency plans for any possible future showdown that would require their participation. Greece and Turkey, should they go to war because of Cyprus, would most probably provide naval support, in addition to other military support needed.

The Republic of Cyprus has the definitive advantage, possessing a fleet of 15 patrol boats and three Exocet systems with 24 missiles. The Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus possesses one patrol boat.

In a hypothetical Cypriot Sea battle, the submarine fleets of Greece and Turkey would play an important role, with each one trying to disrupt the troop transportation lines of the other from the mainland to the Island. Moreover, the air forces of both countries would play a similar role in preventing the operations of the navies.

Finally, we should note that the current developments in Syria – where Turkish support for the rebellion has been noted, angering the Assad regime – and the breakdown of Turkish-Israeli relations has prompted new strategic questions for Turkish naval planners and strained the Turkish Navy’s capacities in the Eastern Mediterranean, which may be an emerging front for potential conflict.

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