The Prime Minister’s announcements solved the question that had been tormenting some Greeks for a long time. After almost 15 years of inactivity vis-a-vis weapon systems procurement, even after a period of extreme challenges on the part of Turkey, Greece seems to be waking up.
By Zacharias Michas*
Unfortunately, despite the dramatic warnings for a decade about the stupidity of the Greek political elites towards national defense, the same mistake that contributed to the outbreak of the Imia crisis was repeated. Fortunately, so far, among other things, thanks to the dynamic stance of the Armed Forces, Greece has not had to confront Turkey militarily. It is therefore worth commenting on the Prime Minister’s announcements in Thessaloniki.
Firstly, it is extremely important to start the process of selecting four frigates. By referring to “multi-role” frigates, Mitsotakis left the final configuration up to the user, as is the right thing to do. However, we are a long way from where the ships will start becoming operational. Information indicates that the interim reinforcement is a priority for the General Staff of the Navy.
Second, the reference to anti-tank weapons, heavy-duty torpedoes and guided missiles for the Air Force is perhaps the strongest indication that the government listened carefully to the military leadership. Unarmed platforms are only for parades. The opponent must know that you can effectively hit him from distances now allowed by technology. These weapons are force multipliers.
Third, with regard to the recruitment of 15,000 men and women into the Armed Forces, it is certain that – as the military leadership has explained – as the years go by, combat capability decreases. The investment in new personnel must be made for combat positions, in which one can not stay long after turning forty. It must be clearly foreseen how the relationship of those recruited for the Armed Forces will evolve. Above all, however, we must avoid serious mistakes made in the past.
Fourth, the reference to the field of protection of the country from cyber attacks is a strong indication that the importance of the sector has now been realized. Without exaggeration, if there is no proper investment and organized effort in many sectors of the Greek state, in case of attack the country can lead to collapse without a shot being fired.
The big bet of the defense industry
Fifth, in the defense industry is the really big bet. The Prime Minister referred to the Elefsina and Scaramaga Shipyards, ELVO and HAI (EAB). However, in all these cases there are problems. At Elefsina Shipyards, the case really seems to have been resolved, with a real investor through the financial giant DFC, which changed its statute in order to be able to invest in Greece. Obviously the target is shipbuilding for the Hellenic Navy, with the needs thought to be much more than the four ships announced.
Let us not forget that the country, through the Elefsina Shipyards, maintains the possibility of building some more Super Vita fast missile attack craft, which have proven to be an excellent weapon system especially for the marine environment of the Aegean. It is a well-known, tried and tested solution compared to other shipbuilders. Various experiments can wait, as at this juncture every euro invested must have a clear return, defensive and industrial.
As for Scaramanga Shipyards, it has been announced that a strategic investor will be entering soon. We assume that the government has taken into account the pending settlements based on decisions of international courts that are not positive for Greece. Given the favorable situation, it is estimated that for the resurrection of the largest shipbuilding unit in the Mediterranean, the government has not shown the cross-party irresponsibility of the previous ones that led to the impasse.
ELVO and EAB
Reference was also made to the completion of the privatization of ELVO. It is necessary to create a company that can meet the military and civil needs for new vehicles, but also for the material support of the Greek ground forces. A basic condition is that no one imposes their product on the Armed Forces who will be forced to make operational compromises on specifications. Strategic alliances with countries such as France and Israel are rather diminished if the armed forces are held hostage to the choice of one or the other system.
Finally, for the EAB and the reorganization that was announced, it will not be judged by some changes in its management, although the presence of people with substantial knowledge of the defense industry and defense is a prerequisite for a successful term. Let’s not forget that its problems have already led to delays in the F-16 upgrade program.
EAB is of strategic importance for Greece and especially for the Air Force. It has to change the mentality of operation. To be able to hire the specialized staff needed with fast procedures and to reduce labor costs, enhancing its competitiveness internationally. In this way it will be able to claim additional work and not only from Lockheed Martin that is keeping it alive, as the cooperation of the two companies concerns more than 80% of the turnover.
What we heard nothing about
Indeed, the Air Force with the French Rafale / Mirage 2000-5 and the American F-16V is entering the path of creating a powerful air fleet. However, three decisions are missing:
• The first is the upgrade of the F-16 Block 50, as quantity has its own quality. There is also a more economical solution for the upgrade, by utilizing items that will result from the upgrade of 84 F-16s to the top “V” configuration.
• The second concerns investing in the human factor, which gives a strong advantage over opponents. The government needs to decide soon how to proceed with the Training Center in Kalamata. Emphasis should be placed on attracting foreign Air Forces to take advantage of the climatic conditions of our country and the unique experience of Greek pilots. This is an investment that can bring spectacular results and amortize some of the costs.
• The third point concerns the absence of any reference to the inclusion of Greece in the program of the 5th generation F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft. Of course not everything can be done at the same time. However, the report alone would send a political and industrial message, since it is also linked to the future of EAB.
Difficult but belated decision
It is a given that from a political point of view, Kyriakos Mitsotakis will be credited with the difficult decision of reinvesting in the Greek deterrent. He realized in practice that military power is perhaps the most powerful political tool and took corrective action on the country’s priorities in the most difficult economic times.
Having the precedent of the parallel purchase of French Mirage 2000 and American F-16 by Andreas Papandreou in the 1980s, Mitsotakis’ decision seems to close the debate on whether Greece should maintain two sources of aircraft supply to avoid unequivocal dependence, despite the additional cost.
At the same time, however, these decisions came with a significant delay even for the Mitsotakis’ government. Erdogan’s Turkey had to become a threat to such an extent that past Greek governments could not believe it would happen, in order to realize that a war is a completely realistic possibility.
Of course, these procurements will prove to be useful in Greece in the next Greek-Turkish crisis, with exceptions and provided that there will be no vertical escalation and confrontation in the coming months. Defensive capabilities are built consistently over time, while the opponent’s moods change overnight.
Finally, we must point out that the Prime Minister’s announcements lacked any reference to the strategic relationship with France and the extent which it will take on. It was something that was expected and no answer was given. This may be related to the prospect of exploratory talks with Turkey now that Oruc Reis has gone to Antalya for maintenance.
The content of the prime minister’s announcements showed that he listened to the military leadership. Although the (geo) political dimension is not lacking, especially in the Rafale decision, they are indeed targeted and aim to address weaknesses that have arisen over the years. Technology is evolving, while the lifespan of weapons is finite. That is why the most important lesson to be assimilated is that defense needs continuity and consistency.
*Zacharias Michas is the Director of Studies at the Intsitute for Security for Security and Defence Analysis based in Athens (ISDA)