PARIS --- France and Greece are discussing a major arms package but no deal has been concluded, a senior French government official said Sept. 1. The package could initially include two frigates, Rafale combat aircraft and other weapons, including air-launched missiles, according to reliable sources.
The talks received a new impulse after French President Emmanuel Macron in mid-August publicly stated his support for Greece’s position in the increasingly tense situation with Turkey over drilling rights and territorial waters in the Eastern Mediterranean. France also deployed two Rafale fighters and a frigate to Cyprus in a show of support for Greece.
Greece is looking for ways to quickly boost its military capabilities, and according to some local reports is expecting the French side to present formal offer in the coming weeks for the delivery of two frigates and 12 to 18 Rafales. Greece was discussing a Rafale buy in 2008, but dropped that plan in the wake of the 2007 financial crisis.
The French official would not comment media reports that Greece has already received a proposal for the sale of Rafales, and that a more detailed offer was expected by the end of September as part of a wider, ‘strategic partnership’ agreement.
“There is no agreement as reported in the Greek press. We are discussing several subjects, and we will make an announcement when we have something to say,” the French official said in a Sept. 1 telephone interview.
Naval Group video.
The official would also not confirm talks on the sale of two Naval Group frigates, which Greece was ready to order in early July before it suspended talks after receiving a US offer four Littoral Combat Ships at a comparable price.
“We are in talks with France, and not only with France, in order to increase our country’s defense potential,” Reuters reported Tuesday quoting a Greek government official. “Within this framework, there is a discussion which includes the purchase of aircraft,” adding that no final decisions had been made.
According to sources, a major element in the package being discussed are long-range, stand-off cruise missiles like the ship-launched MdcN/Naval Strike Missiles as well as additional air-launched Scalp cruise missiles, to reinforce Greece’s strategically important attack capability. Both missiles are made by MBDA, as are other weapons that Greece would like to acquire, including ground-based air defense and modern air-to-air missiles like the new-generation MICA-NG. The company would not confirm a report that a sales team is due to visit Greece this week to discuss the sale of missiles.
Greece also wants to buy at least two frigates, but with a heavier weapon suite than that proposed by Naval Group for its new FDI-class frigates. Greece wants MdCN cruise missiles and Aster air-defense missiles, which with other systems would boost their cost to over 2 billion euros when training and infrastructure costs are added, according to Greek media.
No early version Rafales
Reports claiming that France would supply a dozen second-hand Rafale F.1 and F.2 standard aircraft are clearly wrong, however, as all Rafale aircraft in French service have been upgraded to F.3 standard, and are in the process of being further upgraded to the most recent F3-R standard.
But a sale of new-build Rafales to Greece would nicely fill a production gap for Dassault Aviation, the Rafale prime contractor, as its current order book is projected to run out in late 2024. At that time, Dassault will have completed deliveries to Qatar, India and the French Air Force, which has 28 aircraft remaining from its last order.
Dassault has asked the French Armed Forces Ministry to bring forward to 2025 the delivery of its fifth and final Rafale production batch, currently planned for 2027, to fill this gap, which a sale to Greece would partially close.
To meet the apparent urgency of Greece’s request, one option would be for the French Air Force to lease or sell some of its existing Rafale fleet to Greece, and replace them with new-build aircraft tacked on to the final 28 remaining to be delivered. These aircraft could then be funded by Greek payments, as part of a larger package that could include the frigates and other weapons, and be at least partially funded or guaranteed by France.
Greek media have also reported that France would buy back some of the Mirage 2000-5 fighters currently operated by the Greek Air Force.
-- Sept. 02 @ 17:00 GMT: deleted final sentence about Greek intentions regarding their Mirage 2000 fleet, which remain unclear.
-- Sept. 05 @ 07:00 GMT: amended fifth paragraph from bottom to reflect correct status of F-3R standard aircraft.