While most pundits referring to the Hellenic Navy’s need for new frigates talk about France and the proposed BELH@RRA class, the Americans are also quietly moving in this program. As the author revealed in the ALMANAC DOUREIOS IPPOS 2017-2018 last March, US firm Lockheed Martin has already submitted a proposal for the Greek program.
by Savvas D. Vlassis
On August 6, a letter was received from Lockheed Martin, at the office of Defence Minister N. Panagiotopoulos and at the General Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ office, in which the company makes known that the Greek program can be funded under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program and requests a meeting of the two parties. for further contacts. The US proposal relates to the Littoral Combat Ship deployed with the US Navy, known as the FREEDOM class.
Certainly, this class in US service is a surface unit with less capable weapon systems for the size of the class, because the initial perception was that it was to be a cheap frigate to deal mainly with small naval threats, which were expected to operate in a littoral rather than blue-water environment. These frigates will precede the larger units precisely to face any threats and reduce the risks to the main task force.
Of course, this is not of interest to the Hellenic Navy, and Lockheed Martin, therefore, proposes a heavier-equipped configuration that will better meet Greek needs. So the base unit offered is the version of the Multi-Mission Surface Combatant designed to meet the needs of Saudi Arabia, which ordered 4 such warships.
The MMSC is larger in displacement than the FREEDOM class – over 4,000 tonnes – and is 3 meters longer, a total of 118 meters because it has additional equipment to be able to perform both Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and Anti-Aircraft Warfare (AAW) missions.
The frigate carries Lockheed Martin’s COMBATSS-21 Battle Suite, German Hensoldt AESA TRS-4D surveillance and acquisition radar (formerly Airbus D&S) and a towed sonar array, which according to information is Thales CAPTAS.
Lockheed Martin has already presented its proposal for the LCS / MMSC to the Hellenic Navy since early 2019; however, the final decisions of the Saudis have modified the discussed weapon system composition. As a result, while they were interested in installing two Mk41 Vertical Launcher Systems of 8 rocket launchers, they were ultimately confined to one behind the bow cannon and only for RIM-162 ESSM missiles. In addition, instead of the 76mm cannon on the bow, they preferred the 57mm that is in US service.
Other features include 8 Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles, SeaRAM proximity protection system, and two 20mm gun-mounted Nexter Narwhal armored stations.
The Americans argue that on this platform, a version can be built that meets the needs of the Hellenic Navy, with limited interventions, in order not to incur additional costs. However, Greek officials raise their own issues, objections, and preferences.
For example, while the warship is capable of a maximum speed of 30 knots, they show 27 as adequate, a clear indication of compromise due to previous political pressures for the French FREMMs and now BELH@RRAs (max speeed 27 knots) to “cover” their deficiencies in speed. Another point is the crew, for which the Hellenic Navy requires a total of 130 men while the manufacturer stresses that this can be limited to about 100 people.
But there are three points where strong reservations arise.
The main issue is the absence of fixed hull sonar. The US military is confined to a towed sonar system. Of course, anti-submarine research requires a drastic reduction in cruising speed and no change in course, which seriously exposes warships to submarine attacks. On the other hand, since the Hellenic Navy prioritizes the AAW requirement, the lack of a fixed hull sonar can be justified, also reducing the cost.
Second, is propulsion, which does not include a conventional propeller but a hydrojet. It is not so much a question of reliability as the requirement for much more regular cleaning, at least once a year, because the hydrojet outlet device is more prone to damage from barnacles and microorganisms that stick to hulls.
The third point is that the main anti-aircraft weapon is limited to the SM-2MR and not the ER, due to the performance of the TRS-4D. Of course, ranges around 60-70 nm. are quite satisfactory for Area Air Defense and coincide with the performance of French Aster, therefore there is no significant difference. At this point, the Americans are also proposing the Process of Cooperative Engagement (CEC) through collaboration with ASEPE.
Obviously, the first two are issues that can be changed at the customer’s request, but the overall cost is burdened by development costs. The same is true for the main radar, but on a much larger scale, because a longer ship length is required.
Overall, the US proposal is less costly, with an acceptable level of operational capability compromises, which would, in any case, be greatly upgraded compared to today’s AAW capability. The American ships are cheaper in procurement and maintenance costs, while the Americans’ “strategic weapon” over the French is FMS financing.
We would say that, in view of the talks with the US on a new agreement concerning Souda, the Greek side can comfortably seek free aid precisely to finance a program of new frigates.
It should be clarified at this point that contacts with both the Americans and the French do not in any way entail any Greek commitment. It is still in the exploratory phase. This is emphasized, because the picture that incorrectly prevails in Greece is that the program is almost a “closed deal” with France.
Of course, the French have moved fast, because they know very well that time is running out for them and have shown great interest in meeting the Greek demand for as much involvement as possible for the Greek Defense Industry.
In short, in two very serious respects, the US proposal is more attractive: first, there is a funding mechanism while, contrary to the general feeling prevailing, if one of the two proposals is, so to speak, ‘on paper’, this is the French proposal.