FDI procurement will bring challenges: Which ones and how will the Hellenic Navy overcome them?
By Dimitris Mitsopoulos and Theodoros Bazinis*
On the eve of Greek Independence Day on March 24, 2022, on the deck of the legendary armored cruiser Georgios Averof (permanently docked as a museum ship at Paleo Faliro) and in a celebratory atmosphere, Greek officials signed a contract with French manufacturers Naval Group, MBDA and Thales, for the procurement of three (plus one optional) Frégate de Défense et d’Intervention or FDI (Defense and Intervention Frigates) in their Hellenic Navy (HN) configuration (FDI HN), along with their weapons load and integrated logistics support (ILS). The option for the fourth FDI HN with related weapons load and ILS expires on June 30, 2023 under the terms and conditions of the contract.
The FDI HN will be one of the most powerful surface combatants for its size and one of the most sophisticated designs, worldwide. Bringing together the best of French naval technologies on a compact platform, the 4,550-ton FDI HN is a powerful, multipurpose and innovative frigate with the highest degrees of automation and control, designed to meet the evolution of threats.
FDI HN embodies full multi-mission warfighting capabilities including anti-air warfare (AAW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and special operations forces (SOF) missions. For these purposes the ship is equipped with a multitude of cutting-edge technology sensors and weapons of the French defense industry, capable of supporting all the range of modern naval operations. The Greek warships will be equipped with the best that the French defense industry has to offer today from companies such as Naval Group, Thales, MBDA, Lacroix and Safran.
These multi-mission front line combatants will be known as the Kimon-class and will carry the names of famous Greek admirals, Kimon, Nearhos and Phormion. The three vessels will be handed over to the Greece in 2025-26. Τhe entry into service of the Kimon in 2025 will mark the beginning of a new era for Greece’s naval capabilities as several characteristics of the new frigate are introduced for the first time in the HN. Kimon will be the first Greek surface combatant that will feature:
- Digital architecture that will allow her continuous adaptation to technological and operational evolutions.
- Protection against cyber threats thanks to its Cybersecurity Management System (CyMS), with two data centers virtually accommodating a great part of the ship applications.
- Inverted bow. There is only one warship class today in active service with inverted bow: the new high-tech Zumwalt-class stealth guided missile destroyer of the United States Navy.
- Low observable (stealth) technology.
- Long range anti-aircraft warfare (AAW) capabilities thanks to the 32 MBDA ASTER 30 Block 1 surface-to-air missiles (SAM) in four quadruple Naval Group SYLVER A50 vertical launching systems (VLS).
- Remote Weapon Stations (RWS); two Nexter NARWHAL 20B 20mm RWS will equip the ship.
- New generation decoys including CANTO anti-torpedo decoys.
- Organic Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) with separate hangar; the Navy is about to procure four UAS probably Schiebel CAMCOPTER S-100 or Airbus Helicopters VSR700 to equip the 3 (+1) FDI HN.
- Automatic helicopter handling system.
- Integrated mast; it will contain the Thales SEAFIRE fully digital 4D active electronically scanned array (AESA) S-band solid-state gallium nitride (GaN) multi-function radar (MFR) equipped with four fixed (4FF) panels, alongside the Thales BLUEGATE (TSA6000 E-scan IFF) combined interrogator/transponder Mode 5/S equipped also with 4FF.
- Planning room designed to embark a mission command staff for flagship duties.
- Dedicated asymmetric warfare CIC, the Digital Combat Bridge (DCB) linked to SETIS CMS.
- Fully integrated digital communications system.
- Laser Electronic Support Measures (L-ESM) system.
- Cooperative warfare capabilities which will enable net-centric operations.
- Anti-ballistic capabilities; the ships have the potential to carry the MBDA ASTER Block 1NT SAM when they become available.
The acquisition of the new FDI HN frigates will mark a milestone as after about three decades, since the four Hydra-class (MEKO 200HN) frigates entered service, Greece will finally acquire modern main surface units. Furthermore, it has been about two decades since the decommissioning of the last of the four obsolete former United States Navy C.F. Adams-class destroyers, armed with 40km-range Standard Missile (SM)-1 SAM, the only ships that could provide a large defensive umbrella over a fleet operating in hostile areas (HN currently has only ESSM and NSSM in its inventory). However, this is just the dawning of an ambitious program by the Greek Government that aims to have renewed completely the Hellenic Navy inventory by 2034.
HN modernization program comes with the procurement of a vast number of new ships, weapons and systems. The introduction into service of three former Platform Support Vessels (PSV) in 2019-2021, relieved partially the significant needs of modern logistic support to the Fleet that relies on the sole Etna-class replenishment ship and two obsolete Lüneburg-class ships of which the one was retired immediately afterwards. In 2020-22 also, the last two of the total seven Roussen-class (Super Vita) FACM joined the Navy. The previous year nine special operations craft (SOC) and RIB joined the Navy; four Mark V and four 11m NSW RIB from the United States plus the first Greek indigenously designed and built SOC Agenor. The first UAS to equip frigates were acquired also. The next years will see second vessels such as minehunters (Alkmaar-class from the Netherlands) and coastal patrol vessels (Island-class from the United States Coast Guard) entering the Fleet, modernization and upgrades of a significant number of vessels and aircraft, new multi-role helicopters (MH60R), new warships including corvettes, submarines and frigates.
While these developments are associated with a reasonable atmosphere of euphoria, nobody should ignore the challenges that the new capabilities will pose to the Hellenic Navy. An attempt to acknowledge these challenges should scrutinize the new capabilities through the lens of DOTMLPFI (Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership and education, Personnel, and Facilities) spectrum.
- New capabilities put in question both existing doctrines and the operational culture. A thorough refinement and probably readjustment of the doctrine is needed. In any case a balance should be established between the operational and tactical methods that are well established in the organization through the longstanding consolidated experience and on what new technologies provide.
- Current organizational structure should be evaluating to ascertain its sufficiency to absorb the new capabilities in HN. In this context some aspects of command-and-control processes should re-examined.
- To fully exert the potentials and get the maximum effects that new capabilities offer, a timely, consistent, and well-organized training system should be established.
- Leadership should also come by a new way of thinking that will contribute to embody the new potentials as factors in the decision-making process.
- A logistic support plan should be elaborated, to accomplish the proper maintenance as well continuous support through the Life Cycle of the ships.
- Finally, interoperability should be accomplished both in procedural and technical level with the legacy systems in HN and other branches of Hellenic Armed Forces.
Even if these requirements seem to be too demanding for a small to medium scale navy, a thorough retrospective since the constitution of Greek modern state can provide a historical background adequate to convince us that “Greeks’’ will rise to the occasion.
It’s not the first time that HN has launched such an extended modernization program. At least five times in the past in 1880, 1910, 1970-1980, 1990-2000, HN managed the circumstances and success never slip through their fingers. In all these cases innovative and adjustment spirit proved to be well established in Greek mentality as several accomplishments demonstrate, like:
- The extended modernization program that was undertaken successfully by Hellenic Navy in the period 1881-1885. This program transformed HN from a constabulary force to a reliable warfighting navy. Despite of platform procurements what is of high memorability, is the training / educational program as well the making of facilities that held during this period. Among them the most noticeable the establishment of Hellenic Naval Academy and the Naval Base of Salamis.
- Use of airplanes in Maritime Operations during the Balkan Wars (1912-1913). Even if limited to surveillance operations, the early achieving of the capability highlights the innovative spirit and culture of Greeks.
- The same period the Navy was among the first ones to fire a torpedo from submarine against enemy fleet.
- Incorporation of new platforms in the fleet. HN rapidly brought forward in full operational mode the newly built armored cruiser HS Georgios Averof (1910), which constituted one of the basic factors to prevail in Aegean Sea during the Balkan Wars (1912-1913).
- Commissioning of destroyers provided by Royal Navy during the WWII which provide Greek government the means to continue at sea the war against the axis.
- Adoption of the fleet balance in 1970s, taking into consideration the Lessons Learnt from the Arab-Israeli wars and Indo-Pakistan conflict. Thus, they procured several FACM (Combattante III-class) from France to ensure dominance in the littoral environment of Aegean Sea.
All the above are very encouraging indicators that HN will get it round one more time and will achieve to transform the Fleet into a modern green water navy that will deliver the strategic message of being ready to accomplish national interests, to align with the national level of ambition and fulfill its international commitments.
Moreover, as Greece is committed to the rules based international order, a modern Navy constitutes the perfect tool to support this strategic orientation. HN beyond ensuring national rights and interests should contribute to regional Maritime Security, stability, and peace by participating, establishing, and leading maritime multinational initiatives with every part that shares the same values.
*Theodoros Bazinis is a researcher in seapower strategy and maritime affairs.