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On September 12, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced a “robust” arms purchase program and an overhaul of the country’s military. This large-scale military modernization seems to be the largest in at least the last two decades. The information was released during an escalating standoff between Greece and Turkey over resources and naval influence in their coastal waters in the Mediterranean. The confrontation between the different actors in the area is depicting the accurate alliances, based on the ad hoc interests’ matches of different sides.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, speaking on September 12 in Thessaloniki, said that Greece would acquire 18 Dassault Rafale fighters, four frigates, four Sikorsky MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters, and increase the number of personnel of the armed forces by 15 thousand people.
The package of measures announced by the head of the Greek government also includes the modernization of four Hydra-type frigates of the Greek Navy (MEKO 200 project), the acquisition of new anti – tank and anti-aircraft missile systems, air-to-air missiles, as well as torpedoes for the country’s Navy, and the development of cyber-war capabilities.
“The time has come to reinforce the armed forces… these initiatives constitute a robust programme that will become a national shield,” Mitsotakis said in a keynote address in the northern city of Thessaloniki.
French company Dassault Aviation confirmed that it had reached an agreement to purchase 18 Rafale fighters to Greece.
Greece is acquiring French fighter jets manufactured by Dassault Aviation on a permanent basis, as part of a policy of diversifying sources of defense purchases. In 1974, Greece purchased 40 Mirage F. 1 fighters, in 1985, 40 Mirage 2000 fighters, and in 2000, 15 Mirage 2000-5 fighters.
Besides the fighter jets Greece announced the acquisition of four new frigates. Apparently, these are frigates of the BELH.RRA project, an export version of the new French frigates of the FDI type (Frégates de Défense et d’intervention, Amiral Ronarc’h type) produced by the French shipbuilding Association Naval Group. In October 2019, Greece has already signed a Memorandum of understanding with Naval Group regarding the acquisition of two frigates of this type.
Reports of negotiations between Greece and France regarding the acquisition of fighter jets are received periodically. At the moment, the terms of new agreement are not unveiled. Nevertheless, acording to the expert estimations, the transaction will involve a mixture of used and new aircraft, in order to not to exceed a price of 2 billion euros. A budget of approximately 1,8 billion would allow to acquire a dozen used and six new aircraft, or even a dozen of second – hand and 8 fighters of the latest generation
In the context of tensions with Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean and after cutting back on its spending for years, the Greek government is counting on the European plan for the economic recovery to be able to modernize its defense.
On the other hand, for Dassault, who had not landed new export orders since 2016 and who is actually facing the gradual decrease in orders, this Greek contract is falling. As of June 30, the Rafale order book was now only 68 aircraft, including 28 for France and 40 for export. Enough to keep production lines running until 2024.
“Without a new external order, we will have folded our order book and we will have nothing more to produce in 2025,” worried the manufacturer. The new contract with Greece brings to Dassault an additional respite of one year.
Eric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of the group, welcomed the choice of Athens:
“Greece reinforces the exceptional relationship we have had for almost half a century […] Dassault Aviation is fully mobilized to meet the operational needs expressed by the Greek Air Force, and thus contribute to ensuring the sovereignty of Greece and the security of the Greek people”.
Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, are riven over hydrocarbon deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean, in an area Athens believes falls under its sovereignty.
While Greece, with the support of France, launches a large-scale modernization of its defense, Turkey continues to strengthen its own forces. On August 23, Russia and Turkey announced of having signed a contract for the supply of the second regiment of S-400 Air Defense Systems. This was stated at the Army-2020 forum by Rosoboronexport CEO Alexander Mikheev.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry also started ‘live fire’ naval exercises, which run through the weekend in contested East Mediterranean waters. It came just after French President Emmanuel Macron claimed the EU was ready to impose sanctions on Turkey, following a key summit of six European countries, including Greece. Relations between France and Turkey remain very tense. This is largely due to the issue of resolving the crisis in Libya, where each side has its own interests.
Erdogan’s response to French President Emmanuel Macron was very clear : “Do not seek argue with the Turkish people, do not seek argue with Turkey ».
At the same time, France, Greece, and Turkey are bound by NATO membership. However, the growing contradictions between the parties represent one of the major threats to the Alliance’s effectiveness and even its existence.
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