Athens, Greece – Greek opposition events have joined the federal government in approving the nation’s largest naval modernisation in 20 years.
Over the subsequent 4 years, Greece will spend 2.26bn euros ($2.53bn) shopping for three Belharra frigates constructed by France’s Naval Group, thought-about cutting-edge within the Western arsenal.
Over the subsequent 12 months, Greece is predicted to extend the order to 4 frigates and 4 corvettes to accompany them.
Whereas the world’s consideration is targeted on the full-scale Russian invasion in Ukraine, the Greeks are nervous that one other battle could also be drawing shut within the Aegean.
Stress with Turkey has been rising over territorial waters and sovereign rights to mine undersea mineral wealth.
Turkey has a standing menace of battle in opposition to Greece, ought to it declare the complete 12 nautical miles of territorial water allowed underneath the United Nations Conference on the Legislation of the Sea. Due to Greece’s many islands, this could give Athens possession of 71.5 % of the Aegean.
Final 12 months, Turkish army vessels and jets carried out 2,085 violations of Greek territorial water and a couple of,459 violations of its nationwide airspace.
“Within the Aegean, ‘tongues’ are methodically being created, projections of Turkish naval energy, the place there are open areas between Greek islands,” mentioned opposition Syriza MP Sofia Sakorafa in parliament.
“Turkish air patrols alongside the twenty fifth meridian [in the middle of the Aegean] at the moment are common occurrences … Our nationwide airspace and territory have grow to be a area of hostile actions.”
Turkey additionally disagrees with the UN legislation on the rights of Greece’s islands to a sovereign exploration zone for oil and fuel.
Final 12 months, Turkey went a step additional, disputing Greece’s sovereignty over its islands within the east Aegean.
Turkey’s personal shipbuilding programme has alarmed the Greeks.
“Ankara has launched an bold programme to construct a blue water navy for projecting energy far-off from dwelling,” Dr Emmanuel Karagiannis, affiliate professor of worldwide safety, King’s Faculty London, advised Al Jazeera.
“Modelled after the Spanish ship Juan Carlos, the newly constructed amphibious assault ship Anadolu may conduct long-distance fight operations. The Turkish Navy has additionally designed and constructed 4 Istanbul-class frigates with multi-role fight capabilities,” he mentioned.
Ruling New Democracy MP Dora Bakoyannis, who’s prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s sister, mentioned, “Greece continues to face a constant and everlasting menace from Turkey.
“All of us agree about this in parliament. We additionally all know that efficient diplomacy requires that the nation is correctly defended.”
Parliament authorised the Belharra buy on February 15 by a majority of 189 MPs within the 300 seat chamber, with the primary opposition Syriza voting “current”.
The Belharra carry weaponry a technology forward of something at the moment fielded within the Aegean.
The Aster 30 surface-to-air missile with a variety of greater than 120 kilometres (74 miles) – 3 times the vary of present anti-air missiles within the Greek and Turkish arsenals, and way more correct – is designed to create an umbrella of air superiority 25,000 sq. kilometres (practically 10,000 sq. miles) round every ship.
“The essential factor the Belharra will supply the Greek armed forces is to interrupt Turkish numerical superiority within the air. It should clear the airspace and supply naval forces the chance to function,” a Greek naval officer advised Al Jazeera, on situation of anonymity.
The Belharra can even carry the most recent model of the Exocet, a 200km-range (124-mile) cruise anti-ship missile, and robust anti-submarine capabilities.
The federal government confronted criticism for not going additional and equipping the Belharra with 1,000km-range (621-mile) naval Scalp missiles – able to hanging Ankara from the Hellenic Navy’s dwelling port at Salamis.
“It’s a deterrent. If every frigate had, say, eight of them, any ship, even in port, may goal Turkey at any time,” says an air power officer on situation of anonymity.
“Our dogma stays defensive. We’re not going to occupy Turkey,” mentioned retired admiral Dionysis Hatzidakis, an MP for the ruling New Democracy get together who advises Mitsotakis on defence issues.
“Our purpose is to destroy enemy floor ships with out turning into a strategic goal, and to cowl our airspace,” he advised Al Jazeera.
The Belharra will function together with Rafale and Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets.
These already carry 500km-range (310-mile)air-to-surface Scalp EG missiles, which retired air power wing commander Thanasis Papanikolaou describes as “the phobia of the Turkish armed forces”.
The Belharra and jets might be linked in actual time, sharing concentrating on methods and radar intelligence.
Naval sources have advised Al Jazeera the probably operational association is that three Belharra frigates would defend the Aegean islands, whereas a fourth would function within the Jap Mediterranean between Crete and Cyprus. That is the place the brand new methods can be notably essential.
“Within the Aegean, you may have a thousand islands and islets the place you possibly can conceal and do tactical manoeuvres. Within the east Mediterranean, you may have open sea, so that you want technological superiority,” says the naval officer.
Even within the Aegean, Papanikolaou believes Greece’s new arsenal will trigger a rethink of Turkish technique.
“They must convey their plane again and hold them throughout the protecting radius of the S-400 missiles. They may put the TB2 drones ahead and use these to violate Greek airspace,” he mentioned.
The air power officer agreed: “The Turkish aspect is aware of it’s at risk – not simply enemy fighter jets however refuelling tankers and airborne radar. By protecting the [Turkish air force] additional east, we power them to have a much less clear image.”
A tough selection
Greece has been mulling for years over replacements for its present fleet of 13 frigates, between 30 and 40 years outdated.
It was hamstrung by chapter in 2010, adopted by years of austerity, which halved its defence price range to $4.6bn by 2014.
The price range has inched up since then, in response to the Stockholm Worldwide Peace Analysis Institute.
In 2020, Greece spent $5.3bn on defence, however that is lower than a 3rd of Turkey’s $17.7bn.
Alarmed by souring relations with Turkey, Greece has dedicated 10.5bn euros ($11.4bn) prior to now 5 years to undertake a number of upgrades.
It’s within the means of changing 85 F-16 fighter jets to Viper degree, and has ordered six MH60 Romeo anti-submarine helicopters.
It has additionally taken possession of 4 German-designed Kind 214 diesel/electrical submarines, which might function noiselessly.
Throughout a 2020 disaster, when the whole Greek and Turkish navies deployed throughout the Aegean, certainly one of these submarines “entered the Gulf of Smyrna and unnoticed, photographed the whole Turkish fleet”, mentioned the naval officer.
The sting these submarines have given the Greeks at sea is coming to an finish, as Germany subsequently offered six of them to Turkey. The primary has already been delivered.
In searching for an answer to the nation’s ageing frigates, the Greeks sought a extra dependable ally. The chance for an inexpensive modernisation that places Greece technologically forward of Turkey got here from the US pivot to Asia.
Final September, a US supply to share nuclear submarine expertise with Australia successfully killed France’s makes an attempt to construct Australia a dozen superior typical submarines.
“The Naval Group wanted to win a contract. We took benefit of this second and succeeded in two issues – shopping for three Belharra [frigates] for the worth of two … and inducting these ships into the Hellenic Navy comparatively rapidly,” Mitsotakis advised parliament.
Greece additionally acquired one thing extra essential – a defensive alliance with France. It’s the first intra-NATO alliance that doesn’t particularly reference the NATO treaty, to which Turkey can be a celebration.
“France is essentially perceived by most Greeks as a dependable and reliable ally,” mentioned Karagiannis. “The clause on mutual defence help would give a much-needed reassurance to Athens.”
Time is of the essence. Greece gained’t have all 24 of its strategic Rafale plane till the tip of subsequent 12 months, and its frigates won’t be operational till 2026. It should additionally need to hold investing to remain forward.
“Turkey doesn’t but have the expertise of precision in reconnaissance and concentrating on, as a result of they’re utilizing Turkish-made methods on their ships,” mentioned the naval officer. “Once they purchase this precision we’ll have an even bigger downside.”