Sunday, October 18, 2009

Challenges Facing the Hellenic Armed Forces - Part I

Consecutive Greek governments set up and try to implement so called five year plans aimed at modernizing the Armed Forces. These plans often contain unrealistic budgets for procurements, are delayed to an unacceptable degree or are simply rolled over into subsequent five year plans. In this article we’ll explore some of the issues facing the Hellenic Armed Forces, especially in relation to ongoing procurement issues, and their effect on the military’s operational abilities.

Hellenic Navy

The Hellenic Navy has a rich history behind it. Whether you look at ancient history or to more recent times you will find volumes of accomplishments. The debt to history is heavy and the men and women serving in the Navy today must carry on the tradition of their ancestors. In many ways, today’s Greek Navy is in a relatively good state compared to the other points in history. However, this should always be compared with the threat faced from Turkey. In the last few decades the Greek Navy has managed to keep an edge over its Turkish counterpart in terms of quality and operational ability. There was a strong reliance on quality over quantity and the Greek Navy led the way in the region with the introduction of new technologies and operational abilities. This edge was mostly down to proper planning by the Greek Navy’s leadership. Right now this edge is in danger of being lost due to politics.

Submarine Procurement

As mentioned in other posts in this blog, there is a long standing dispute between Greece and German shipbuilder HDW about the acceptance of four new Type 214 submarines. The first submarine, Papanikolis, was plagued with a list of technical issues. This was the first sub of the type to be launched and in many ways can be seen as a prototype. The remaining three subs were built in Greece and are practically ready.

There has been so much wrangling back and forth between Greece and HDW that currently there are four subs more or less ready and not operational. This is upsetting the Navy’s plans for modernisation of the submarine fleet and in general upsets the balance of power with Turkey. The Type 214 subs would have been, or should have been, one more example of new technology being introduced by the Greek Navy ahead of its rival.

Ta Nea reported yesterday that the government is close to a solution by accepting the three subs built in Greece and the construction of another two Type 209 subs. These last two subs will be newly constructed instead of modernizing two older subs currently in service. The first type 214 sub, the Papanikolis, will not be accepted into service. The entire plan obviously hinges on acceptance by HDW although for the most part the plan is based on an offer HDW has made in the past.

Maritime Patrol Aircraft

A few weeks ago the last remaining operational P-3B Orion of the Greek Navy made its last operational flight leaving the Navy without any active Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA). These aircraft have an important role to play in anti-submarine warfare, maritime surveillance and many more roles. Greece also has NATO obligations in which these aircraft were crucial. As part of procurement planning Greece initially sought to acquire 5 new Maritime Patrol Aircraft. The tender was unrealistic and eventually came to nothing. It also managed to harm the image the Greek Ministry of Defence has with various manufacturers.

In the meantime the US has offered Greece 6 surplus P-3C Orion aircraft, which are more modern versions of the ones the Greek Navy just retired. So far there has been no public decision made on this offer.

One option that has not been explored is the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to undertake some of the tasks previously carried out by the Orions. The German Navy ordered a batch of 5 RQ-4 Global Hawks outfitted with an EADS sensor suite. These drones have been dubbed Euro Hawks and will be delivered in 2010. The procurement cost was €430 million but the advantage is that the ongoing operational cost of using drones will be a fraction of using a four engine manned aircraft. The US Navy is moving in a similar direction with Northrop Grumman being awarded a contract of over a billion dollars for the RQ-4N.

New Frigate and Current Frigate MLU

The previous conservative government made a preliminary decision to purchase the French FREMM frigate. The FREMM is a multipurpose design that can be adopted to the end user’s needs. With the recent change in government it is very likely that this decision will be reviewed and that a new tender will be issued. Although the previous decision on the FREMMs was mainly a political one nobody can deny the many advantages of this particular design and the advantages it would bring to the Navy.

The decision on a new frigate will have to be made soon. The need is for 6 ships with an initial order of 4 and a option for a further 2. The ships would have to be built in Greece so as to aid the local ship building industry.

Greece currently has 14 frigates in its inventory of which 4 are of the German Meko 200 class and 10 are of the Dutch Standard (Kortenaer) class. Of the latter a batch of 6 ships is undergoing a modernization program. The ships that will not undergo the modernization programme are set to be replaced when the new frigate enters service. A Mid Life Update programme for the Meko 200 class is now becoming urgent as these ships are nearing 20 years in service on average.

Part II to come next - Army

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