Greece is in the early stages of a potential acquisition of a pair of French-built warships. On October 10, Greek Defense Minister Niko Panagiotopoulos and French Defense Minister Florence Parly inked a letter of intent (LoI) regarding the purchase of two midsize, multimission Belharra-class frigates from France’ shipbuilding prime Naval Group.
Συνομιλίες, σήμερα, στο Υπουργείο Άμυνας της Γαλλικής Δημοκρατίας, με την ομόλογό μου Florence Parly, για μια σειρά ζητημάτων διμερούς και ευρωπαϊκού ενδιαφέροντος. pic.twitter.com/tejoc5e8PN
— N Panagiotopoulos (@npanagioto) October 10, 2019
A Greek purchase would make the country the first export customer for the warship, which was designed for the French Navy as the 4,000-ton Fregate de Defense et d’Intervention (FDI). France has ordered five of the future Belharra-class frigates with delivery of the lead-in ship scheduled for 2023. Powered by diesel engines, the frigates will have a speed of 27 knots with a 5,000-nautical-mile endurance.
— GICAN (@Gican_InduNav) October 11, 2019
The Belharra-class ships will be able to accommodate a helicopter and/or unmanned aerial vehicle. Armaments will include the MBDA ASTER 30 anti-air and Exocet anti-ship missile, an MU90 torpedo, and a 76mm cannon. Thales will supply its Sea Fire 500 digital radar, CAPTAS-4 towed-array sonar, Aquilon integrated naval communication system, and Sentinel Electronic Support Measures system for electronic warfare.
For Greece, the addition of the two Belharra-class frigates would mark a first step in the modernization of the Hellenic Navy.
Prior to the country’s sovereign debt crisis that erupted in 2009-2010, Greece’s Governmental Council on Foreign Affairs and National Defense (KYSEA) had outlined a requirement for four to six new multimission frigates (a firm order for four new ships, plus an option for two additional ones).
The sought-after frigates – ostensibly the FREMM (Frégate Européene Multimission) design from Naval Group – were slated as a replacement for the Hellenic Navy’s Elli-class frigates originally commissioned in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
However, the economic and financial fallout that Greece suffered during the sovereign debt crisis made this targeted acquisition impractical.
As Greece emerged from its bailout program in 2018, Hellenic Defense Ministry talks with France regarding the lease of two FREMM frigates or new-build construction in Greece of French-design warships deepened. The ongoing result is the LoI, which Greece hopes will lead to an agreement regarding a Hellenic Navy-customized Belharra-class design.
An order – if one follows – would amount to somewhere in the vicinity of €1.5 billion ($1.66 billion), or €750 million ($828 million) apiece.