Greece and Turkey, since the confirmation in 1973 of the existence of substantial seabed hydrocarbons under the Aegean Sea, have been engaged in a complex tussle, involving a complex web of maritime, airspace and offshore island sovereignty claims
The past two years have seen a marked escalation of the dispute, with confrontations, involving naval and paramilitary vessels, and warplanes. There have been four serious incidents reported this year – namely, a collision between coast guard patrol vessels (subsequently identified by Baird Maritime from media imagery as the Greek Gavdos and the Turkish Umut) , Greek ground forces firing on a Turkish helicopter, and the loss of Greek pilot, whose Mirage fighter jet crashed after a confrontation with Turkish Air Force planes.
Both countries ae vital pillars of NATO, so reports that Paris has seemingly decided to overtly back fellow EU member Greece, and is boosting that nation’s naval power, by leasing to Athens a pair of very modern FREMM multi-role frigates, namely Languedoc and Aquitaine, has surprised some analysts.
These 6,000-tonne, 27-knot warships pack a powerful armament which includes Aster 15 air defence, Exocet Block 3 anti-shipping, and Missiles de Croisière Naval land attack missiles, MU90 anti-submarine torpedoes, a 76mm gun and an NH 90 helicopter.
There is little doubt that the commissioning into Greek service of the very potent FREMM frigates would alter the balance of naval power. Both Greece and Turkey operate numerically large navies – the Greek order of battle includes 13 frigates and 11 submarines, Turkey has 16 frigates and 11 subs
Turkey’s major units are, for the most part, more modern, and a landing ship helicopter, based on the Royal Spanish Navy’s Juan Carlos, will be capable of supporting operations by F-35B strike fighters, is in build in Istanbul.
The French defence industry is traditionally very quick to develop new markets for its products, and it is widely anticipated that the lease of the FREMM warships will be a precursor to the sale to Greece by France of new-build warships.
Maritime security expert and columnist, Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police, Assistant Secretary for Security in the British Hong Kong Government Security Branch, and Intelligence Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defence. As an independent defence and security analyst he has had some 1,500 articles on maritime security, and geopolitical topics, published in a range of international journals and newspapers. He is an Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, and a past Vice-Chairman of the Institute’s Hong Kong branch.