Saturday, February 24, 2024

European Patrol Corvette: Greece in permanent structured cooperation?

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The Franco-Italian European Patrol Corvette received the approval of the European Council on November 12, 2019 and is therefore integrated into the third wave of Permanent Structured Cooperation (CSP or PERmanent Structured COoperation (PESCO) in English). Paris and Rome hope that one or more other member states will join. Due to the difficulties of rebuilding its surface fleet with respect to maintaining the format (13 frigates) to compare with Turkey (16), there is a rare opportunity for Athens to integrate a program benefiting the European military effort.

The needs for renewal of the Hellenic surface fleet

The surface fleet of the Hellenic Navy (Ελληνικό Πολεμικό Ναυτικό) is 32 units (13 frigates, 19 fast missile patrol boats), all of which are equipped with anti-ship missiles. Only 20 of these ships have anti-aircraft capabilities, while this number is limited to 11 ships with modern anti-aircraft missiles , and none of them have capabilities allowing the air defense of a group naval constituted. The 13 Greek frigates are divided between the Elli class (9) – Dutch Kortenaer class (7) plus a subclass (2) – and Hydra (4) which are out of age for the most part: 38.3 years for the Elli (9) and 22.75 years for the Hydra class (4).

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The 19 fast missile patrol boats are divided into the following classes:

  • Roussen (7) with an average age of 7.6 years;
  • Laskos (4) or La Combattante III with an average age of 41.75 years;
  • Votsis (3) or La Combattante IIIa with an average age of 45.6 years;
  • Kavaloudis (5) or La Combattante IIIb with an average age of 38.4 years.

As we can see, 21 out of 32 buildings have largely reached the reasonable age limit for a combat vessel. The Hydra (4) class frigates will soon benefit from a modernization program on the scale of a mid-life overhaul. While the introduction of 2 to 4 FDI will involve the replacement of the Elli (9), the Greek authorities hope to maintain the format of the Hellenic Navy at 12 frigates by 2030. Athens hopes, it seems, to bring the Roussen series of 7 to 10 units , but the fate of the other 9 missile patrol boats, assuming an identical renewal, has not yet been decided .

One of the geostrategic challenges for Greece is to support and maintain the comparison from a naval point of view with Turkey, whose surface fleet will be strong, at the end of the next decade, of 16 new or modernized frigates as well as 10 corvettes and 18 fast missile patrol boats, or 44 units . However, naval parity with Turkey cannot and will no longer be sustained beyond the 2030s due to the economic disparities between the two countries and the age of Greek ships. Consequently, it is very likely that Greece will evolve regarding the choices structuring its fleet due, for example, to the upcoming disconnect between the submarine weapons of the two countries (12 Turkish submarines against progressively 12 to 4 submarines Greeks, due to lack of new programs) could motivate a change in the format of the surface fleet.

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From the FDI program to the European Patrol Corvette

As part of the expressions of interest and then the Franco-Greek discussions around, successively, the FREMM (European Multi-Mission FREgates), the FTI (Intermediate Size Frigates) and finally the FDI (Defense and Intervention Frigates ) between 2005 and 2019, Paris thus offered the Gowind 2500 . On two other commercial approaches to Georgia and the United Arab Emirates, DCNS had proposed the FastWind , that is to say a Gowind 2500 type corvette capable of reaching more than 40 knots thanks to muscular propulsion and two hydrojets. .

This is why the question of the corvette has already arisen between Paris and Athens. It would be logical, even expected, for France to present – ​​if this has not already been done since 2018 – the European Patrol Corvette in Athens. The sooner Greece joins this permanent structured cooperation, the sooner it will be able to influence the definition of this naval platform, and therefore have an architecture as close as possible to Greek needs and requirements.

Athens could thus begin the replacement of the 9 oldest fast missile patrol boats of the Laskos (4) and Kavaloudis (5) classes, vessels which would not be affected by an additional order for Roussen class units. This programmatic evolution, by introducing corvettes instead of fast missile-launching patrol boats, would also make it possible to have additional anti-submarine warfare vessels, likely to compensate for the future disparity between Greek and Turkish submarines, and therefore to complete the 4 Hydra class frigates and the 2 to 4 FDI . The existence of the FastWind shows that it is possible to obtain a vessel capable of sustaining high speeds from an existing corvette, and therefore to ensure with the same ship, the missions of fast missile patrol boats, and those of the ASM combat corvettes.

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In addition, Greece has particular industrial skills to bring to bear in this area to join Paris and Rome. Between 2009 and 2015, the Hellenic Shipyards shipyard, associated with the ALS Naval Ship Designs design offices, worked on a family of surface ships ranging from the fast missile patrol boat to the air defense frigate, in the optical to offer them to the Hellenic Navy (the Class 100 Littoral Combat Ship serves as an illustration for this brief). If no budget allowed the slightest start of work, this exercise nevertheless had the merit of maintaining skills.

Extensive political, economic and operational interests

The introduction of a naval platform resulting from this permanent structured cooperation would present two political-strategic advantages which deserve to be considered:

Firstly, a program carried out in this framework would receive a more favorable political reception than in the framework of a traditional acquisition, because it would involve participating in the strengthening of European military capabilities while rationalizing and optimizing the efforts produced by all. In fact, the acquisition of additional combat vessels by Greece would be partially watered down by the positive nature of the approach, despite the country's economic and financial upheavals. On a strategic level, this change in the perception of Greek defense programs would be far from negligible with a view to ensuring naval parity with Turkey.

The second political-strategic advantage indirectly affects the Future Anti-Ship Missile / Future Cruise Missile (FMAN/FMC) or Future Cruise and Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW) program in English. By admitting French and then Franco-Italian naval platforms into service, Athens' steps to acquire these future anti-ship missiles (supersonic and maneuverable (Mach 3+) would be greatly simplified. Turkey does not yet have a prospect of Admitting a comparable weapon system to service, Greece would gain a decisive strategic advantage for many years.

Furthermore, a rapid Greek decision on the subject of the European Patrol Corvette would broaden the framework of Franco-Greek decisions carried out until January 31, 2020 to define the Greek version of the two IDFs ordered by Athens. If the probable hypothesis of a request by the Hellenic admiralty to increase the number of on-board missiles were proven, it would then be easy to propose the development of the SYLVER A35 in order to accommodate VL-MICA missiles for the IDF as well as for the European Patrol Corvettes , or to study the development of siloing by two, or even three, VL-MICA missiles within SYLVER A50. This latest launcher would also make it possible to equip corvettes with ASTER 15 missiles and therefore extend the scope of the threats dealt with by these ships. The corvettes thus equipped could, thus, join the IDF in the form of an extended cooperative engagement capability, so as to take full advantage of the detection performance of the SeaFire 500 radar.

Note also that the calendar of the European Patrol Corvette corresponds to that of the MICA-NG program (2026 – 2031) which offers material developments that could distinguish it very significantly from the Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESSM) such as, for example, a car -director with an AESA radar, a double-impulse thruster making it possible to pursue a very maneuverable target at the end of its course, the possibility for the missile to transmit information from its director via a data link to the platform having fired, as well as a more extended range. Athens would thus equip itself with a missile with much higher performance than comparable systems in service, at that time, in the Turkish Navy.

Conclusion

The European Patrol Corvette therefore appears to be a strategic opportunity for Greece to seize in order to accelerate the renewal of its surface fleet, while dispensing with criticism of its military spending in a difficult period. These naval platforms, complementary to the IDF , would facilitate the process of equipping the latter with missiles that could make a difference with Turkey on a strategic level. It is also a rare opportunity for European manufacturers to offer alternatives to Greece, whose navy is today a captive market with regard to anti-aircraft missiles, all American made. In fact, initiating the renewal of fast missile patrol vessels in conjunction with the FDI would open up, for Greece as for the Europeans, the possibility of renewing the entire air defense of the Greek fleet.

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Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolfhttps://meta-defense.fr/fabrice-wolf/
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the Meta-defense.fr site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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