Greece is to acquire two French FREMM-type navy frigates in the coming months, Kathimerini understands, with the vessels expected to be inducted into the Hellenic Navy by August, as part of efforts to boost the country’s military capabilities amid rising tensions with Turkey.
Updated on April 23:
A government-to-government leasing agreement for the frigates was concluded, Greek Alternate Defence Minister Fotis Kouvelis said Friday, adding that the frigates will be delivered and sailing in the Greek seas, fully equipped, by August, To Vima also reported April 20 naming its source.
However, also on Friday morning, French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly denied that an agreement had been concluded, and that two French Navy frigates would be leased to Greece.
"This is not on the agenda," she said during an April 20 radio interview, while French defense officials briefed several media explaining that the French Navy had no frigates to spare, as it is already three ships short of its operational requirements.
The issue was further complicated when on Friday evening a senior Greek defense official expressed surprise at Parly's comments, insisting that Greek premier Alexis Tsipras had given the go-ahead on Thursday evening for Kouvelis to talk about the deal.
This imbroglio may indicate that the deal -- which in various forms has been under negotiation since 2011 -- was announced by the Greek side before France was ready to make it public.
Kouvelis said that at a later date Greece will acquire a super-advanced technology Belh@rra frigate, which is suitable for air, sea, submarine, and asymmetrical warfare operations.
The acquisition of the frigates – probably the Languedoc and the Aquitaine – was confirmed after letters were exchanged between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and French President Emmanuel Macron and at the top level of the two countries’ militaries.
The decision by France to give Greece the two vessels on a five-year lease is seen as a firm message of support from a country with one of the most capable military forces in Europe. Earlier this week, Macron told the European Parliament that France would protect “any member-country whose sovereignty is being attacked.” “It is a position we always have toward Greece regarding the threats in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said.
Defense cooperation between Greece and France was one of the top topics discussed by Tsipras and Macron during the latter’s visit to Athens last September.
Hellenic Navy officers are to board the FREMM frigates once Greece takes delivery of them in the summer with the aim of getting them operational as soon as possible, Kathimerini understands. The frigates will be fully equipped with high-accuracy anti-aircraft systems.
At the end of the five-year lease for the FREMM, Greece is to take delivery of its first Belh@rra frigate. Greece has been in talks with France for four months for the purchase of between two and four Belh@arra frigates.
The French have also committed to supply Greece with Exocet anti-ship missiles until its existing supply has been renewed, Kathimerini understands.
Defense and government sources in Greece interpret France’s willingness to lease Greece the FREMM frigates in the first instance as a recognition of the urgent need of the Hellenic Navy to maintain its operational capabilities not only in the Aegean but also in the Eastern Mediterranean.
-- April 23 at 18:00 GMT: added italicized Update with French denial and Greek confirmation.