Greece Alters Its Defense Spending Priorities, Plans
Greece made an about face on half of its future fighter order, switching from a EUR 4.9 billion contract (about $5.8 billion) for 60 EADS Eurofighters to a roughly $2 billion contract for 30 F-16C/D Block 50/52s as a partial replacement for its old A-7 Corsair and F-4/RF-4 Phantom jets. Even so, defense ministry spokesman Stefanos Gikas has said that their “…next order [in 2009] for fourth-generation jets will be reviewed by another military council meeting. It does not exclude any company from Europe or the U.S.” Possible contenders like Dassault (Rafale), EADS (Eurofighter), Lockheed (F-35 Lightning II), and Saab/BAE (JAS-39 Gripen) were all looking forward to that next phase.
Exactly when those jets might arrive is a subject of some debate, because Greece’s plans seem appear to be vacillating. By July 2006, with orders for new F-16s and Leopard tanks in hand, Greece’s Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence (KYSEA) approved a EUR 11.39 billion procurement program for 2006-2010… and new fighters aren’t on the list. Or weren’t. Could that be changing, now that Turkey has committed to 100 F-35s? And what about the rest of Greece’s aviation and modernization plans?
In July 2006, Defense-Aerospace.com reported that the new equipment approved for purchase during 2006-2010 included:
- 20 transport helicopters (likely to be more NH90s),
- 6 frigates (rumored to be the French-Italian FREMM design)
- 5 maritime patrol aircraft
- 400 armored troop transport vehicles (Contract issued, Russian BMP-3s won)
Reports indicate that these orders will consume EUR 2.9 billion, while EUR 8.43 billion euros will go to pay for equipment ordered by the previous government. That doesn’t quite add, with notional FREMM frigate prices hovering in the $400-500 million per ship range and 20 NH90s likely to cost about EUR 1 billion, thus breaking the declared procurement budget all by themselves.
What is clear is that the next-tranche purchase of fourth generation fighter jets is postponed until the 2011-2015 armament program, which projects a funding increase to about EUR 15 billion. DID should note that planning forecasts of future defense budget increases from future political administrations rarely arrive anywhere; they are usually either wishful military thinking, or a politician’s trick. An aging population and correspondingly rising social welfare concerns makes such increases especially unlikely to arrive in European countries.
Turkey would begin receiving F-35A Lightnings as of about 2015 if it remains in the program, which will add some pressure to the Greek political equation after that date. Note, however, that this makes it easy for a future administration to put off the next-tranche fighter purchase again in the 2011-2015 plan.
When that fighter purchase does occur, competitors are likely to include Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornet, Dassault’s Rafale, EADS’ Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin’s advanced F-16 variants and/or the F-35A/B Lightning II, and Saab’s JAS-39NG Gripen. Greece also buys Russian equipment with some regularity, but it has never bought fighters. Russian fighters offer an especially wide range of technical challenges, if they are to achieve NATO compatibility and use weapon from Greece’s existing inventory. Retrofit and integration programs are possible, but such extensive programs are costly, time-consuming, and somewhat risky.
Ultimately, however, the question is how much modernization Greece’s military can afford, given the steep decline projected in its budgets and the recent global downturn. On the other hand, Turkey’s own spending acts as a consistent, and insistent, political prod.
June 3/10: An AP report quotes Greek Defense Minister Panos Beglitis, who is in charge of military procurement, as saying that the FREMM frigate negotiations are essentially on hold, that fighter procurement plans are not even at the internal government discussion stage, and that the deal with Russia for hundreds of BMP-3 armored personnel carriers will be re-negotiated “from a zero basis”. As for linkages between bailout aid and defense, and Greece’s plans:
“Neither directly nor indirectly was there such a connection… We couldn’t do it. Because the Greek people will rise up. They will react. We are obliged, because of Turkey, to spend large amounts over the last 35 years for the country’s defense… We all realize, because of the effect of the financial and fiscal crisis, that this situation cannot continue. We must reduce the defense ministry’s budget, both for operational costs and for procurement.”
The country’s military budget for 2010 stands was EUR 5.73 billion/ 2.48% GDP, compared to EUR 6.582 billion/ 2.73% GDP in 2009. BusinessWeek.
May 12/10: Aegean rivals Greece, Turkey sign a number of deals – but not on proposed defense cuts. This is not unexpected, and EU Parliamentarian Daniel Cohn-Bendit repeats his allegations that maintaining French & German arms deals was an unwritten condition of the bailout.
March 10/09: Boeing announces that it will promote the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block II as Greece’s next-generation fighter option. Their configuration would be similar to the Super Hornets that Australia is buying, including the APG-79 AESA radar.
Oct 15/08: Flight International files a series of reports concerning Greece’s air programs. Their purchase of 30 new F-16C/Ds is on track, but the next tranche purchase of another 30+ fighters is facing delays, despite the priority placed on A-7 Corsair and F-4 Phantom II fighter replacement by the HAF. A potential change of government if elections are held in 2009 adds further uncertainty.
Replacement of Greece’s ancient T-2 Buckeye advanced jet trainers, which made their very last US Navy flight in 2008, is also on hold and has reportedly dropped in priority. Greece flies modern T-6B Texan II turboprop trainers, which can be armed and used for weapons training as well as intermediate to advanced flight training. Even so, they are not full lead-in fighter trainers like the Aermacchi M346, BAE Hawk Mk 128, or KAI/Lockheed T-50 jets. The question is how long the T-2s can be kept flying, and whether the HAF will end up having to use its 2-seat F-16Ds and Mirage 2000BGs as final trainers beyond its T-6Bs.
New multi-role maritime patrol aircraft will also be needed to replace Greece’s 4 serving P-3B Orions, with reports of EUR 250 million allocated as a high priority item, and an RFP expected in 2009.
On the rotary end, limited funds have been released to bring Greece’s CH-47D heavy transport helicopters to CH-47F standard, and replacement for Greece’s old H-1 Huey and AS332/532 Puma family transport helicopters is also reportedly on request. More NIH NH90s, AgustaWestland’s EH101, and Sikorsky’s H-92 Superhawk are all listed as potential candidates, though the NH90 would be the expected favorite due to commonality and industrial opportunities. Greece is also being pushed to make a decision regarding its 20 AH-64A Apache attack helicopters, and to commit to modernizing them to the AH-64D Block II standard at least. Flight International adds, cryptically:
“The Greek army is awaiting the availability of 12 new AH-64D Apache Longbows that have been shipped to the country, but are the subject of an ongoing procedural problem. Boeing declines to provide further details.”
See: Budgetary crisis hampers Greek fighter, trainer deals | Greece urged to commit to Apache upgrade, as air force eyes new utility model | [DID] Greece’s Maritime Patrol Aircraft Competition.
May 28/08: Analyst Ioannis Michaletos claims that Greece may increase spending in the wake of Turkey’s decision to buy 100 F-35s, and buy its air force 4+ generation fighter jets after all. France is courting Greece heavily as a potential Rafale customer:
“The most recent reports out of Athens indicate that the incumbent government is going to procure some 40 4th generation fighter jets, with the Eurofighter Typhoon topping the list, and the French Rafale, manufactured by Dassault, also being looked at. Moreover, after 2012 Greece will order some 60 American Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) planes.”
Buying 100 jets could easily amount to a $10 billion purchase. Time will tell.