Saturday, July 31, 2010

Apache Accident Update: Technical Support

It appears that in the final two weeks leading up to yesterday’s accident the 2nd Attack Helicopter Battalion was left without technical support from Boeing, the helicopter’s manufacturer. Bureaucracy or irresponsibility by some in the Greek Ministry of Defence blocked the signing of a standard Technical Assistance Agreement with the US State Department. This agreement binds the client, in the case the Greek government, to confidentiality with regards to classified support procedures.

The Greek Ministry of Defence was approached several times by the US side to have this agreement signed, as foreseen by the acquisition agreement. The result was that a tree man support team, two from Boeing and one from General Electric, left teh country around the 20th of July, 12 days before the tragic accident. They were no longer allowed to stay at Megara base by the US State Department as the TAA was not signed.

The two companies had actually already extended the stay of the support team on their own account, as the timeframe for them to leave was the 30th of June. They did this as the equipment was very new to the Greek Army, combined with the fact that the most experienced technicians from the Greek side had recently retired due to the new Greek pension laws. The cost of the TAA was several hundreds of thousands of dollars, an amount that is easily justified by the task at hand.

The US side notified the Greek Ministry of Defence on the 15th of June, the 12th of July and the 29th of July of the need to sign the TAA. The first notice made clear that the stay of the support team would end would end on the 30th of June. The 12th of July the Greek side was notified that according to US law the support team was by now in Greece illegally and would have to leave the country. The last notice stated that the support team would have to leave immediately.

The absence of technical support by the manufacturer with such an advanced weapons system is a major problem when the equipment has been in the inventory for less than a year. There is no justification for not signing the TAA. Even if the Greek side had objections to some or the entire agreement there should have been a notification to the US side of these disagreements. This did not happen.

If in the course of the accident investigation it is discovered that the helicopter crashed due to mechanical failure for which Boeing is responsible the absence of the Technical Assistance Agreement absolves Boeing from any responsibility.

Possible Cause of the Accident

Currently the most possible scenario as to the cause of the accident is the loss of control by the crew during an autorotation exercise. It has been confirmed that the pilot had requested permission from the control tower at Megara to perform the manoeuvre and that this permission was given.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Greek Apache Accident Kills Two Crew

Tragedy struck the Hellenic Army Aviation Corps today when an AH-64DHA Apache attack helicopter crashed during what may have been a test flight. Details of the crash are still sketchy but the two crewmembers have been reported killed. A fire broke out immediately following the crash. The helicopter appears to have crashed within the military base perimeter of where it operated.

The helicopter belonged to the 2nd Attack Helicopter Battalion based in Megara, near Athens. This is the second accident involving the Apache helicopter. The first happened in 2008 to an older A+ model which also killed both crew. That accident took place during a night exercise simulating an attack on a battalion of Hawk SAM missiles.

Greece’s AH-64DHA helicopters only recently became operational after a three year delay in their acceptance by the Greek side.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Turkey exploits 'window of opportunity', moving rapidly to acquire nuclear weapons

By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, Global Information System

A quiet but intense debate is ongoing within senior circles of the governing Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice and Development Party: AKP) in Turkey over whether or not this is the time to proceed rapidly with the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons.

At stake is Turkey's strategic parity with other nuclear powers in the region: Russia, Israel, Pakistan, and Iran. Highly-placed sources indicate that Turkey has been deliberating the acquisition of military nuclear capability for some time, but has been constrained by its need to maintain good relations with the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO) partners generally, as well as the European Union (EU). The Turkish General Staff (Genelkurmay Baskanlari: GB) is also engaged in this debate, but, for the most part, this is a debate dominated by the civilian leadership.

Turkish acquisition of nuclear weapons would significantly transform the balance of power and the strategic dynamic of the Eastern Mediterranean, the Greater Black Sea Basin (GBSB), and the Caucasus, and would be the cornerstone of Turkey's ambitious program to restore what it sees as its historical pan-Turkist mission. Indeed, without nuclear weapons — at least as far as regional perception is concerned — Turkey could not compete against a nuclear Iran or be seen as an independent "great power" in the region.

Nuclear weapons research has long been underway, under conditions of extreme secrecy, in Turkey, and the AKP leadership is aware that it is probable that this will become public knowledge as the effort becomes more intense.
It is not totally dependent on, but benefits from, the acquisition by Turkey of uranium-based nuclear power reactors, which will ultimately provide a base of fissionable materials to sustain an indigenous nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, however, nuclear weapons research — which requires only a minimal amount of fissionable material, obtainable on the world market — can continue separately. There is no doubt that Turkey's growing relationships with Iran, Brazil, and Pakistan have been — as far as the Turkish leadership is concerned — with the military nuclear program partially in mind.
As far back as 1998, Turkish media reports indicated that then-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had offered Turkey cooperation in the development of nuclear weapons.1 [Significantly, Nawaz Sharif is poised to make a political comeback in Pakistan in the next general elections.] The dramatic lowering of leverage which the U.S. and EU have over Turkish strategic direction over the past 18 months, coupled with the growing separation with Israel at the behest of the AKP as a means of reducing the domestic Turkish political influence of the General Staff, along with the perceived need to firmly establish a stronger measure of Turkish independence from Russia, are all contributory factors in the Turkish Government's moves to press ahead as rapidly as possible with the nuclear weapons and nuclear power programs....

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Military Duty: Serving on the Border

It was a long train journey from Athens up to the land border between Greece and Turkey. It seemed to never end. All of us on board had recently become corporals or sergeants and now we were on our way to serve the compulsory 9 months at a front line unit. The total length of service was 18 months back then, 18 months which went by slowly, very slowly.

When we arrived at the station we were picked up by a truck and dropped off at our battalion, which would be home for the next 9 months. It was already late so they put us up in first company for the night. The next morning we had to report to HQ where we were assigned to individual companies. I was the only one to be placed in the Support Company, the company that handles heavy weapons, recon and such. At the time I didn’t know whether that would be good or bad for me. The group broke up and we all walked down to the different buildings separately.

Welcome to Evros – Air Force Style

While I was walking down I started hearing a familiar noise far in the distance, behind me. It only took me a second to realise that it was the sound of a jet aircraft engine (being an airplane nut and all). It also took about one second for that distant sound to turn into the loudest noise I ever heard. I instinctively ducked as a huge shadow passed over my head, so fast I could barely make it out. What just happened? I had no time to think and it happened again! This time 2 more shadows rushed by followed by another 2 a second apart! My eye caught a glimpse of the so familiar silhouette of an F-4 Phantom blasting by in what must have been nearly the speed of sound.

It must have been about ten seconds since all this had happened and I was still awestruck and probably looking like the newby I really was. Then another round followed of more fighters dashing by left and right, so low it felt like they were flying between the trees! What a sight.

When the show was finally over another sergeant walking by smiled at me and said “you’ll get used to it, happens all the time”.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Peace Xenia IV

By Eric Hehs

Five new Fighting Falcons touched down for the first time at Araxos AB in Greece on 28 January 2010. The Block 52+ F-16s, painted in unique light blue and gray camouflage schemes, constitute the last of thirty F-16s the Hellenic Air Force is receiving as part of the Peace Xenia IV program.

This most recent Peace Xenia program, which covers the fourth purchase of F-16s by Greece, began in December 2005 when the Greek government signed an agreement for the delivery of thirty aircraft with an option for ten more. (The option for additional aircraft was not exercised.) The purchase consists of twenty single-seat F-16C models and ten two-seat F-16D models. All are powered by Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engines.

The new aircraft will populate two squadrons of 116 Combat Wing at Araxos—the 335 Tiger Squadron and a second squadron to be designated either 334 or 342. Both squadrons will be operational in 2010. A third squadron at Araxos, 336 Olympus Squadron, flies A-7E Corsairs. The A-7s are expected to remain in operation for at least two more years. Col. Kostas Vouzios, commander of 116 CW since June 2008, has overseen the transition to the new F-16s. “Araxos was not the high priority for our air force before the F-16s arrived,” he says. “Now it is. My job is to make sure the transition goes smoothly.”

Vouzios brings strong F-16 credentials to the task. Besides having more than 2,000 hours of flying time in the F-16, he was the former commander of 347 Squadron at Nea Anchialos AB, where he oversaw the HAF transition to Block 50 F-16s during the Peace Xenia II program. Vouzios’ experience at Nea Anchialos was further supplemented by his responsibilities in the planning and operations at HAF Tactical Air Force command during the Peace Xenia III program, which involved establishing the first Block 52+ F-16 squadrons for the HAF at Souda Bay AB on Crete.

“Our air force has accumulated a lot of experience through the years with several versions of the F-16,” Vouzios says. “We are using what we have learned to benefit the Peace Xenia IV program here at Araxos.”

Modern Facilities

Araxos is about a thirty-minute drive west along the northern Peloponnese coast from Patra, which is Greece’s third-largest city. Construction of the base began around 1958, and it became operational in 1962. The 336, the first squadron operating out of the base, began with the F-84F and later switched to the F-104G. The 335 was established on the base in 1977, also flying F-104Gs. The F-104s were replaced with A-7Es beginning in 1992. The 335 began receiving Block 52+ F-16s in May 2009.

Araxos was chosen as the newest F-16 base for both strategic and available space reasons. Another factor taken into account was the additional space that will open up when the A-7s retire from the HAF fleet. A sign just inside the front gate offers the first hint that new facilities are accompanying the new aircraft. The sign shows the Lockheed Martin logo.

Aside from producing the aircraft and providing technical assistance, the company functions as a general contractor for many of the infrastructure improvements associated with the F-16 as part of an offset program. The new facilities include two squadron hangars, two squadron operations buildings, and an engine maintenance building. The two squadrons also share a f light simulator building.

“We have the best aircraft facilities in our air force. They are above our expectations,” Vouzios says. “The new hangars are designed to be maintenance friendly, which they are. A new mentality comes with the new facilities.” The new mentality at Araxos can be viewed as a shift into the digital age. “Our most important improvement is a fiber optic network,” Vouzios continues. “We hope to have a paperless operational system fully functioning by the end of 2010. The network will link all activities at the base—logistics, base operations, and maintenance. Even our security and ground-based air defense units will be attached to the network.”

335 Squadron

The 335 Squadron functions as an elemental node on that network. “As of November 2009, we have only two network terminals—one at our operations desk and another in the maintenance squadron—so we use the radio a lot and do a lot on paper,” notes Lt. Col. Evangelos Tzikas, commander of 335 Squadron. “But that situation will change quickly in the coming months as we incorporate more terminals in the squadron.” Half of the thirty F-16s and forty-five or so F-16 pilots at Araxos are assigned to 335 Squadron....

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Cherry on Top, More Airspace Violations

As of today there are two Turkish research vessels searching for oil in the Aegean, in areas which Greece considers fall within its EEZ. To complete the picture, 4 Turkish F-16s flew over Agathonisi Island today. The 4 aircraft were part of a formation of 8 F-16s which entered the Aegean this afternoon between Chios and Samos Islands. 4 aircraft broke off from the formation and flew over Agathonisi at an altitude of 3,200 metres.

The Turkish aircraft were intercepted by Greek alert fighters.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Israeli Exercise in the Aegean

Israel will conduct a large scale aerial refuelling exercise over the Aegean between the 18th and 19th of July. The exercise was agreed between the Greek and Israeli governments. It is the first time that such manoeuvres take place which seem to be aimed at practising Combat Search And Rescue far behind enemy lines. The exercise could also be aimed at transporting Special Forces far into enemy territory to act as target designators. The target, obviously, seems to be Iran.

Greek Forces will have no direct involvement with the exercise. The exercise itself will involve C-130 aircraft configured as tankers and CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters as the transports. The entire exercise is veiled in secrecy on the one hand due to the recent events with the Gaza aid flotilla as well as due to its special nature. The route the aircraft will likely take extends from the Athens – Nicosia FIR boundaries via the northwest of Karpathos and from there northeast Aghion Oros.

According to Defence Ministry sources there is also a preliminary agreement to repeat the recent Minos 2010 exercise between Greece and Israel which was interrupted last May due to the events surrounding the Gaza aid flotilla. This is pending approval from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Turkey Set on Raising Tension in the Aegean

After a few days on cat and mouse games where Turkey would stage accidents at sea in order to contest Greek jurisdiction on Search And Rescue areas Turkey returned to its old ways of airspace violations and over flights of Greek sovereign space.

Yesterday 8 Turkish Air Force fighters, 4 F-16s and 4 F-4s, entered the Athens FIR unannounced north of Samos Island at 15:59. On their way out of Aegean airspace the Turkish fighters overflew the Greek island of Agathonisi, as has been done numerous times in the past.

Due to the recent restrictions imposed on the Greek Ministry of Defence with regards to informing the public it is unclear whether the Turkish aircraft were successfully intercepted or not. It has ben reported that the Turkish aircraft overflew Agathonisi Island after ben intercepted by Greek fighters but also that Greek fighters did not make it to the area in time for an interception.

Regardless of Turkish provocations, Greek PM Papandreou continues his insistence on secret diplomacy with Turkey where only Greek sovereign rights are at stake without the slightest hint of informing the Greek public.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Search And Rescue Games

An incident took place yesterday during which Greek and Turkish Search And Rescue assets became entangled around the Greek islet of Kalogeri, near Andros Island. The Turkish side mounted a SAR operation in the area after supposedly receiving a distress call from an aircraft which witnessed a surface vessel in distress. The aircraft which made this report was none other than a Turkish Air Force F-16 which at that moment was flying in the area. The Turkish aircraft was part of a flight of 4 aircraft which had entered the area without submitting flight plans. Greek Mirage 2000 interceptors which had taken off to identify the intruding aircraft reported that there was no surface vessel to be seen in the area.

Regardless, Greek SAR assets including a Navy frigate and also a FRONTEX vessel, arrived in the area to conduct a search. Turkish helicopters also arrived on the scene, with “cover” provided by yet another formation of Turkish F-16s.

The whole incident appears to have been a hoax by the Turkish side to once more lay claim on having Search And Rescue rights to vast areas of the Aegean which fall within Greek jurisdiction.

The Greek side responded with a large array of assets to aid in the search, at considerable cost, which was most likely meant to show that Greece will not resign itself to Turkish claims to the area. After the Turkish helicopters and ships left the area the Greek frigate also left.

So far there have been no reports of any vessels missing in the area, which underlines the fact that this was most likely another Turkish attempt to create tension in the area.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Greece to Upgrade 12 AH-64A+ Apache Attack Helicopters

The Greek Army seems to have decided to upgrade its older AH-64A+ Apache attack helicopters in order to bring them to the same standards of the latest batch of 12 AH-64D helicopters. Unfortunately only 12 helicopters will be upgraded from the 19 older models currently in service. The result will be a force of 24 AH-64D helicopters with an additional 7 older models remaining. The remaining 7 could be upgraded at a later date but this remains to be seen.

The smaller number of helicopters that will undergo an upgrade has to do with the current financial situation in Greece. The previous budget of €650 million will now most likely be slashed to €300-€400 million. The fact that there will be an upgrade at all is the result of the insistence of the Hellenic Army Chief of Staff who recognises the importance of this particular weapon.

The upgrade is also necessary from a logistical and support prospective as the older A models will soon no longer be supported as the model disappears from US service.

Hellenic Defence News note: It is a widely known that the Greek Army’s operational needs are for at least 2 full attack helicopter battalions of 24 aircraft each. With this current upgrade only one battalion will be available with a further 7 older aircraft of questionable readiness due to lack of support. Having served on the border in Greece and having participated in various exercises I know one thing. I would rather have a friendly Apace overhead and sit in an antiquated M-113 instead of no Apache overhead and sit in a BMP-3, Bradley or Marder. There’s nothing like having the world’s most powerful gunship at your side.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Olympic Airways Aircraft Harassed

En Kripto blog reports that yesterday an Olympic Airways flight from Athens to Rhodes Island received was harassed by messages from a Turkish Navy warship. As the aircraft was on nearing its final approach it received two messages from the Turkish Frigate Gokceada which was in the wider area but within Turkish territorial waters. This happened at 10:15

The Turkish warship referred to the Olympic Airways aircraft as an unknown aircraft flying in a “hostile” fashion and ordered the aircraft to leave the area. An hour later, at 11:18, the Turkish warship made 3 more similar calls but there were no aircraft in the area at the time.