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Greece Contemplates Upgrading Its Military
« on: December 01, 2008, 12:51:12 AM »
Greece Contemplates Upgrading Its Military
Nov 30, 2008

By Anthony L. Velocci, Jr.
At the height of the Cold War, Greece was an important ally of the U.S. in helping to check the Soviet Union's potential to threaten the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, the nation has remained a vital player in the region's security.

Along the way, that evolution has done little to suppress Greece's appetite for modern weapon systems, and today its shopping list may be valued at up to $12 billion over the next 10 years. Less clear is the source of those new armaments and how Athens might go about procuring them.

The Greek government makes no excuses for maintaining relationships with all equipment sources, including Russia. What troubles some U.S. defense contractors is not that they have competition, but that the rules don't always seem fair and balanced for all players - a situation that has been exacerbated by a procurement process whose clarity, while improving, still leaves much to be desired, they claim.

Evangelos V. Vasilakos, who oversees the purchase of all military equipment, bristles at any suggestions that U.S. military contractors have failed to capture their fair share of Greece's defense business. All you have to do is look at the platforms Greece has bought in the last decade, especially aircraft, and see that most of them came from U.S. factories, he points out. Lockheed Martin historically has been the principal supplier of fighters to the Greek air force. Vasilakos acknowledges that some weapons were acquired in an "unorthodox manner," but he says Greece has done more than any other country within the European Union to increase the openness of its procurement process.

For example, in February, Greece adopted a legislative framework that previously did not exist for buying armaments, he points out. But Vasilakos also is quick to add that Greece will do whatever is in the country's best interests, including using government-to-government purchase agreements.

All the same, U.S. Army Col. Steve G. Boukedes acknowledges that Greece has been attempting to be more open in how it buys military equipment. He is chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation-Greece and is the principal interface between U.S. defense contractors and the Greek military. "There seems to be less wheeling and dealing," he asserts.

Greece's defense spending amounted to about 2.4% of the country's gross national product in 2006, the last year for which there are complete figures, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' "Military Balance" assessment. That figure compares with about 1.7% for all European countries that belong to NATO.

There are a variety of reasons why Greece wants to maintain a robust program of defense modernization. In the Balkans, Greece helps to stabilize a region that has a history of turmoil, notes F. Stephen Larrabee, a European security specialist at the Rand Corp. "You can't dismiss the potential for outside powers to use age-old minority issues as a pretext for territorial claims."

Greece also participates in the global war on terrorism, as well as peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Moreover, the country is the "framework" nation in the EU Battle Group Helbroc - which includes Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus - and that, too, requires Greece to maintain a modern military.

Still, Larrabee questions why Greece thinks it needs such a relatively large defense budget, given the thaw between Athens and Ankara in recent years. The fact remains that Greece and Turkey have a very long history of troubled relations, with Turkey spending about as much as Greece on defense.

Whatever the lingering differences between the two countries, "territorial dispute" is a mis-characterization, according to Deputy Defense Minister Constantine Tassoulas. "A dispute is when I have some rights and you have some rights, and we go to court to see whose rights are heavier," he says. "If somebody claims that your house is his, this is not a dispute - this is an illegal claim." As recently as the late 1990s, the two countries routinely engaged in a game of brinkmanship, especially in the air.

"Greece's neighborhood is not what one would describe as tranquil," Vasilakos says. Deputy Defense Minister Ioannis Plakiotakis adds that the area isn't as volatile as it has been in the recent past, but it "remains fluid and therefore fragile."

Nevertheless, Turkey, more than anything else, is what drives Athens's desire to sustain a robust program of weapons modernization, according to civilian and government officials.

Tassoulas acknowledges that relations with Turkey have been improving, and the Greek government wants to keep that process moving forward, including supporting Turkey's adhesion to the European Union. But asked to prioritize the military threat that Turkey may pose compared with others, Tassoulas says: "When you don't face a threat, you have the luxury of creating levels of [danger] and giving them nice colors, because you have all the time and all the safety to imagine those threats as having colors. But if you face a threat, then the threat is the threat." As to whether Turkey is a higher defense priority than Greece's broader mission within NATO, he notes: "Our priority is always to be ready to confront the threat we face."

European defense analysts say the security situation between the two nations can change suddenly. "Even now, anything can be a flash point," an Athens-based analyst says.

Indeed, one senior-level individual says Greece's fear of a Turkish invasion, warranted or not, dictates that Athens maintain a "Cold War [-style] heavy force oriented toward the East. "Their recent buy of 450 Russian BMP-3 tracked vehicles is an indication that, among other things, they still have first and foremost in their minds an imminent attack from Turkey," he says. "Their mind-set is not if but when Turkey will attack."

While tensions over Cyprus have eased markedly, other territorial issues haven't been resolved. Frequent airspace violations prompting a Greek response are not uncommon, according to observers.

Tassoulas says Greece is following not so much a defense doctrine, per se, but a "deterrent doctrine." To strengthen those elements in its defense posture that will meet its security concerns, the government would like more modern fighter aircraft - "the most advanced ones," says Tassoulas. It also is in the market for new training aircraft and search-and-rescue helicopters, as well as six new frigates, among other kinds of equipment. "We will exploit the widest range of choices," he says.

Aeronautics, particularly fighters, constitute the bulk of Greece's overall defense modernization program. The air force has a goal of 300 aircraft, compared with Turkey's 516. That's about a 6:10 ratio, versus the 7:10 the government is aiming for.

Greece expects to retire at least 40 aircraft (RF-4Es and A-7s) in the near- to mid-term. In addition, the air force needs to compensate for the attrition of another 20 aircraft. The RF-4Es provide some reconnaissance capability and are used to help pilots stay proficient. Replacement aircraft would enter service in the 2012-14 period.

The government also wants to begin introducing a fifth-generation fighter into its inventory. Likely contenders include the Eurofighter, Dassault Rafale, Sukhoi Su-35 and Lockheed Martin F-35. Among the enhanced capabilities sought by the air force are stealth, the ability to operate effectively in a network-centric environment and greater situational awareness.

If, in fact, politics plays no role in Greece's selection of a next-generation fighter, as Tassoulas argues, Lockheed Martin may have a competitive edge, mainly because Greece's fighter inventory currently consists of 170 F-16s. All were acquired under the Peace Xenia Foreign Military Sales program, with each succeeding lot significantly more capable operationally. The most recent purchase was in 2005, when the government acquired 30 Block 52+ F-16s.

Those particular aircraft are equipped with conformal fuel tanks, a joint helmet-mounted cueing system, Link-16 self-protection system and an active, electronically scanned array radar. Block 52+ F-16s also have the ability to deliver smart weapons such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition and the Joint Standoff Weapon. These aircraft will be delivered in 2009. The Greek air force intends to bring all of its F-16s up to the latest configuration.

The next logical move would be to choose a next-generation fighter such as the F-35. "Greece realizes it needs not just the most capable aircraft but also the most sustainable and cost-effective," says Dennys Plessas, Lockheed Martin's vice president of business development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "If the government wants to run a competition, we welcome it, since there the F-16 is a natural bridge to the Joint Strike Fighter in operational capability and support." The majority of JSF customers operate the F-16.

Regardless of what next-generation fighter is selected, Greek officials are adamant about wanting contractors and nations with which the defense ministry does business to share more technology - although there will always be limits, depending on the weapon system. The goals are two-fold: to benefit Greece's overall economy and to help strengthen Greece's domestic defense industry. "In a crisis, I may not have the luxury of being able to wait for spare parts from another part of the world," says Vasilako.

Much of that technology transfer, including the know-how for producing increasingly sophisticated military products, comes as a result of offset agreements. Lockheed Martin, for example, has an obligation to deliver offset credits equal to 120% of the value of F-16 contracts. For Xenia 2 through 4, those offsets are valued at about $3.5 billion, roughly a third of which is for coproduction of F-16s.

That work is being done by Hellenic Aerospace Industries, which manufactures aircraft inlets, aft fuselages, forward engine access doors, fuel tanks and side panels. (HAI recently reached agreement with Russia's Irkut aircraft maker to coproduce MS-21 medium-haul passenger aircraft and service Be-200 amphibious aircraft after sale.)

"We're getting products of the highest quality, and the work ethic is as good as we've seen anywhere," says Martin W. Foster, Lockheed Martin's on-site resident at HAI and program director-Greece, International Technical Assistance.

However, it's unclear whether Greece will be able to afford all of the weapon systems it would like to buy - regardless of the origin of the equipment. But that may not be the only obstacle to maintaining a strong modernization program.

As one insider points out: "The Greeks will modernize on the margins as best they can until a revolutionary mind-set change occurs with the government's leadership," he says. "Once they no longer perceive the Turkish threat, they will be able to implement the necessary changes to their military that will enable them to become a professional force, focused on regional security and support to the NATO alliance."



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