Athens, Greece – Greek opposition events have joined the federal government in approving the nation’s greatest naval modernisation in 20 years.
Over the following 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 following yr, 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 frightened that one other battle could also be drawing shut within the Aegean.
Rigidity with Turkey has been rising over territorial waters and sovereign rights to mine undersea mineral wealth.
Turkey has a standing menace of battle towards Greece, ought to it declare the complete 12 nautical miles of territorial water allowed underneath the United Nations Conference on the Regulation of the Sea. Due to Greece’s many islands, this might give Athens possession of 71.5 p.c of the Aegean.
Final yr, Turkish navy vessels and jets carried out 2,085 violations of Greek territorial water and a pair 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,” stated 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 develop into a area of hostile actions.”
Turkey additionally disagrees with the UN regulation on the rights of Greece’s islands to a sovereign exploration zone for oil and gasoline.
Final yr, 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 formidable programme to construct a blue water navy for projecting energy distant from house,” Dr Emmanuel Karagiannis, affiliate professor of worldwide safety, King’s Faculty London, informed 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 stated.
Ruling New Democracy MP Dora Bakoyannis, who’s prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s sister, stated, “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 accepted 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 era forward of something presently fielded within the Aegean.
The Aster 30 surface-to-air missile with a variety of greater than 120 kilometres (74 miles) – thrice the vary of present anti-air missiles within the Greek and Turkish arsenals, and much 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 provide the Greek armed forces is to interrupt Turkish numerical superiority within the air. It’ll clear the airspace and provide naval forces the chance to function,” a Greek naval officer informed Al Jazeera, on situation of anonymity.
The Belharra will 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 putting Ankara from the Hellenic Navy’s house 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,” stated retired admiral Dionysis Hatzidakis, an MP for the ruling New Democracy get together who advises Mitsotakis on defence issues.
“Our intention is to destroy enemy floor ships with out changing into a strategic goal, and to cowl our airspace,” he informed 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 fear of the Turkish armed forces”.
The Belharra and jets can be linked in actual time, sharing concentrating on techniques and radar intelligence.
Naval sources have informed Al Jazeera the seemingly operational association is that three Belharra frigates would defend the Aegean islands, whereas a fourth would function within the Japanese Mediterranean between Crete and Cyprus. That is the place the brand new techniques can be significantly vital.
“Within the Aegean, you could have a thousand islands and islets the place you may disguise and do tactical manoeuvres. Within the east Mediterranean, you could 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 carry their plane again and maintain 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 stated.
The air power officer agreed: “The Turkish aspect is aware of it’s in peril – 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 troublesome 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 finances to $4.6bn by 2014.
The finances has inched up since then, based on 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) previously 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 complete Greek and Turkish navies deployed throughout the Aegean, one in all these submarines “entered the Gulf of Smyrna and unnoticed, photographed the complete Turkish fleet”, stated the naval officer.
The sting these submarines have given the Greeks at sea is coming to an finish, as Germany subsequently bought 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 reasonably priced modernisation that places Greece technologically forward of Turkey got here from the US pivot to Asia.
Final September, a US provide to share nuclear submarine know-how with Australia successfully killed France’s makes an attempt to construct Australia a dozen superior standard 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 informed parliament.
Greece additionally obtained one thing extra vital – a defensive alliance with France. It’s the first intra-NATO alliance that doesn’t particularly reference the NATO treaty, to which Turkey can also be a celebration.
“France is essentially perceived by most Greeks as a dependable and reliable ally,” stated Karagiannis. “The clause on mutual defence help would give a much-needed reassurance to Athens.”
Time is of the essence. Greece received’t have all 24 of its strategic Rafale plane till the top of subsequent yr, and its frigates won’t be operational till 2026. It’ll additionally must maintain investing to remain forward.
“Turkey doesn’t but have the know-how of precision in reconnaissance and concentrating on, as a result of they’re utilizing Turkish-made techniques on their ships,” stated the naval officer. “After they purchase this precision we’ll have an even bigger drawback.”