Four Defense and Intervention Frigates for Greece?

On October 10, 2019, Athens and Paris signed a letter of intent for the purchase of two buildings from the Frigate Defense and Intervention (FDI) program. during the visit of the Minister of National Defense Mr. Nikos Panagiotopoulos to the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly. This signature commits the renewal of the “frigate framework” of the Hellenic Navy.

To understand the Greek naval need, it is necessary to place it in the context of the confrontation between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea. From the perspective of the Turkish surface fleet, the program MİLli GEMi (MİLGEM) – national combat ship – produces its full useful effect. 4 of the 8 so-called » MİLGEM corvettes (Ada class (4) + a class of 4 units remaining to be built) are in service.

The 1st of the 4 frigates of the Istanbul class (or TF-100 for its programmatic name) has been laid down. The program for 8 air defense frigates remains to be launched when one of the two preliminary projects (TF-2000 or TF-4500) is selected. In addition, the MEKO 200 TN I (Yavuz class (4), TN II Track A (Barbaros class (2)) and TN II Track B (Salihreìs class (2) frigates are to be modernized. The format of the Turkish surface fleet at by the beginning of the 2030s should be 8 corvettes and 16 frigates. In contrast, the "frigate framework" of the Greek navy is aging. This involves providing for the replacement of the ten Elli class vessels and the four frigates of the class Hydra (MEKO 200 HN).

The first two Elli-class frigates – Elli (1981) et Limnos (1982) – were sold to Greece while still under construction in the Netherlands. The next eight frigates belonged to the S-class or Kortenaer-class frigates and were transferred to Ahtenes (Aigaion (1993) adrias (1993) Navarinon (1995) Kountouriotis (1997) Bouboulina (2001) Kanaris (2002) Themistocles (2002) et Nikiforos Phokas (2003). They benefited from a modernization in 2009. The Bouboulina was withdrawn from service in 2013. The four Hydra-class frigates (Hydra (1992) Spetses (1996) Psara (1998) et Salamis (1998) result from a contract signed in 1988. The first building was built by Blohm + Voss in Germany while all the others were built in Greece within Hellenic Shipyards. They benefited from a light modernization program in 2008 to enable the four buildings to be able to implement the ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile) thanks to the replacement of the fire control.

There remains the question of the mid-life modernization program discussed since 2018. With a budget of around 150 million euros, it should make it possible to integrate a new combat system, a new three-dimensional radar as well as modernize ten other major systems. The frigates would be modernized between 2020 and 2024. This format of 14 frigates fell to only 13 with the disarmament of one of the Elli class frigates in 2013. The remaining frigates are old: 22,75 years for the Hydra class (4 ) and 38,3 years for the Elli (9). It is for the replacement of these last frigates is considered urgent because it is a question of avoiding a collapse of the format by repeated damage and breakages due to the canonical age of the buildings. For political reasons, in particular because of the bilateral ties between Athens and Paris, the Greek preference was quickly decided for the heritage acquisition of 6 FREMM (European Multi-Mission FRegates), the majority of which would have been assembled in Greece. Discussions on this format lasted between 2005 and 2013.

Franco-Greek discussions since 2013 have focused on a “2 + 2 plan”, i.e. two FREMMs built in France for two laid down in Greece. It was only from 2018 that the FTI (Intermediate-Size Frigates) – renamed FDI (Defense and Intervention Frigate) by the Marine Information File of January 1, 2019 – supplanted the FREMM in the discussions. The current phase of discussions begins withsending of a letter of intent by Athens to Paris on June 5, 2019. This letter was signed on October 10, 2019 by the Greek Minister of National Defense Mr. Nikos Panagiotopoulos and the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly. Letter which is not binding but which constitutes a formal commitment allowing France to seek a financing solution for which Paris will act as guarantor.

A deal and following the best practices to bring the sale of two frigates from the FDI program, that is to say the National Navy version, to Greece will have to be signed. The DGA is urging the Greek side to sign this agreement before January 31, 2020 according to several Greek newspapers in order to conclude the supply contracts and leave the possibility for Athens to be able to launch the second FDI in Greece. The two frigates will be built in Lorient for delivery in 2024 and 2026.

Le 2 + 2 plan would still be relevant because the Greek government would still have to arbitrate regarding two additional IDFs which will either be built in Greece or built by Naval group in Lorient. This program will allow, at best, the replacement of 4 of the 13 frigates of the Hellenic Navy which still maintains the ambition of being on par with Turkey (16 frigates) at the beginning of the 2030s. Greek perspectives in order to continue the renewal is based on:

But these two routes only maintain a format of twelve frigates, not sixteen. And it will be said that the two FDIs of the Greek Navy (2024 and 2026) will become, with their fully digitized flat-faced radar, the best air defense units in the entire Aegean Sea, far ahead of all the other frigates, in particular Turkish. Enough to stimulate the Turkish political decision to launch the air defense frigate program.

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