According to Lockheed Martin there are two main opportunities arising from the selection of the MMSC ships from Greece. The first is the industrial work that will be carried out from local shipyards and their supply chain, which will strengthen its economy while creating much needed work positions. The second opportunity will be for the Hellenic Navy (HN) which will benefit from the technical characteristics of the platform and the company’s long experience in the program, as Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) are still under production for the US Navy.
The Littoral Combat Ship program at this point is now is getting into its 17th year […] Some of the most capable ships are coming out today off the line hot and obviously the MMSC [ed. note: For Saudi Arabia] is already in production in Marinette with many modules of the first ship already built. This is a system that has evolved over time, its capability is increase. […]
I really look forward to go to Greece as soon as possible in order to see the shipyards and see the existing fleet and have those operational analysis discussions with the Hellenic Navy because I am just excited to deliver that capability as a US sailor who served on destroyers and cruisers and who has got many miles under my belt riding the Littoral Combat Ship. I really look forward to the partnership with the Hellenic Navy and the opportunity to build these ships in country if we were still fortunate to have it.
Lockheed Martin Vice President & General Manager
Small Combatants and Ship Systems
MMSC for Hellenic Navy
With regards to the design of the ship, Lockheed Martin stressed the fact that it is based on a modular concept which allows the company to reconfigure it depending on the end-user’s requirements. The design also offers a shallow draft, which could be an advantage for the Hellenic Navy operations in the Aegean Sea and its numerous islands, which the crews of the much smaller fast-attack craft use perfectly to hide from enemy electronic surveillance. The drawback however, is that such a shallow draft can impact the ship’ stability in bad weather conditions.
An important information that was revealed was the displacement of the vessels. While the Freedom-class LCS variant has a displacement of 3,500 tons, the MMSC displaces 4,200 tons (full load for both). The exact displacement of the HN vessels will be known once the final configuration is finalized.
The modularity of the vessels also extends to their weapons configuration. The end-user can select from a different set of weapons that may include a larger caliber gun, additional Mk41 vertical launch systems (VLS) and missiles of the customer’s choice that can include the Kongsberg NSM, the Raytheon Harpoon, the MBDA Exocet and even a vertically launched anti-submarine rockets (ASROC).
Lack of hull mounted sonar
The lack of a hull sonar might be a source of consideration for the HN. All of its main surface combatants currently in the fleet are equipped with such a system. Lockheed Martin firmly believes that the combination of the MMSC’s Variable-Depth Sonar (VDS) and the MH-60R helicopter’s dipping sonar has a lot more to offer in terms of capabilities. Naval News understands however that there are some drawbacks with this combination: Deploying those assets, especially in the Aegean environment of operations may pose a challenge depending on the weather conditions. The lack of a hull sonar also limits the ability to maintain a permanent (24/7) passive sonar watch while deployed.
In case that this is not a prohibiting factor and the HN decides to move forward with the MMSC, it would be a significant turning point on how the navy will conduct its operations in the future. At the same time, it raises some questions on whether the HN will try to compensate for the lack of a hull sonar in other ways, such as the use of Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV) with ASW capabilities or through combined operations with other types of platforms. That creates an opportunity for the selection of an additional type of frigate in the future.
Hellenic Navy needs
It is not clear yet what the HN is looking for in the new vessels, as it moved from the discussions for French FDI frigates to the MMSC, all under an urgent requirement for new units. The first one would address the need for an area air defense platform with secondary “strategic” land attack roles (thanks to MBDA’s Naval Cruise Missile). However, with the Greek Prime Minister’s announcements in September, the discussions moved to a multi-mission platform showing the underlying political drivers. Moreover, it is not clear whether the HN would be interested in creating a main surface units force structure that will combine platforms of different characteristics, besides the MEKO-200HN, or whether it would continue to invest in the MMSC design with additional orders.
When it comes to the urgency in the need to add new vessels in the current fleet, while withdrawing older ships, Naval News would expect to see it being addressed with the induction of two vessels that will form part of the interim solution. That is a topic currently under consideration between the two governments.
The Hellenic Navy is currently involved with an ambitious and wide ranging modernization plan. The plan, approved by the Greek parliament in May this year, consists in:
- The acquisition of four MH-60R maritime helicopters
- The upgrade of 3 existing S-70B helicopters
- The procurement of 36 heavyweight torpedoes
- The Mid-Life Update (MLU) the four MEKO 200HN frigates
- The Update of the four Type 214 submarine (with UGM-84 Sub-Harpoon missiles and torpedo decoys from Leonardo)
The plan is also set to include the procurement of 2 (+2 options) new generation frigates and possibly two additional Super Vita type FACM.
Regarding the new generation frigates, France and Greece were involved in exclusive negotiations for a while, for FDI type frigates. However, despite the signing of an LOI, it appears now that Greece is keeping its options open and is considering several designs. Local sources told us that the designs likely being considered are:
- Lockheed Martin with the MMSC
- Naval Group with the FDI
- TKMS with the MEKO A200
- Damen with an unspecified design
- Babcock with the Type 31
The procurement process doesn’t seem to be a “classic open tender” but rather government to government (G to G) discussions with each party. This was confirmed to Naval News this week from French sources familiar with the matter.
Advantages of the US proposal
As already mentioned, the offer from the US provides some additional advantages. Besides the co-production with a local shipyard which will be the focus of a Lockheed Martin delegation visiting Greece in the coming few weeks, it also offers an integrated upgrade suite for the MEKO-200HN frigates. What Lockheed Martin pointed out was that the program would deliver a ship that will have increased commonality and support economies of scale with the MMSC in terms of integrated systems, training and user experience.
Moreover, the MMSC can tackle cybersecurity threats. It is a trend followed by many modern naval forces where edge computing has to be protected from enemy cyberattacks. That will be a new operational concept for the HN which operates legacy platforms.
EU threats to go to court
The final outcome of the discussions remains to be seen. Despite the news on Greek Media, on the alleged German consideration of taking Greece to court for potentially violating the European Union’s competition laws, Lockheed Martin’s position is that the MMSC deal is an FMS discussion which would not create any issues. However, as the four ships will only allow for the withdrawal of almost half of the Standard (Elli-class) frigates, there seem to be plenty of future of opportunities for competitors.