By Pierre Tran
Paris – France and Greece signed Sept. 28 a memorandum of understanding for the sale of three French frigates for defense and intervention (FDI), with an option for a fourth unit, in a deal worth some €3 billion ($3.5 billion), the armed forces ministry said.
“This Tuesday September 28, in the presence of the minister of the armed forces, the Greek defense minister signed with the executive chairmen of Naval Group and MBDA a memorandum of understanding, which envisages the acquisition by the Greek navy three frigates for defense and intervention built in France, with an option for a fourth, as well as their service and related weapons,” the ministry said in a statement.
Announcement of the prospective sale to Greece came almost two weeks after Australia cancelled a project to build 12 French designed conventional attack submarines, and switching to nuclear-powered submarines in a partnership with the UK and US, dubbed AUKUS.
Hervé Grandjean, spokesman for the ministry, said that Australian cancellation was the “exceptional rather than the rule,” when asked in a press conference on the timing of the announcement of the Greek deal.
The defense and foreign ministers of France and Greece also signed a strategic partnership agreement, which included a pledge of mutual assistance, the spokesman said.
Tension between Greece and Turkey has risen in recent years, with conflicting claims over territorial rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
The warship sale to Greece was worth around €3 billion, shared between Naval Group (NG) and MBDA, and included three years of service, the spokesman said. The weapons included Aster 30 and Exocet missiles, and MU 90 torpedo. There will not be naval cruise missiles on the warship.
Talks on the deal were due to run for some three months to allow a contract to be signed.
The spokesman declined to say how the overall €3 billion amount would be shared between Naval Group, a shipbuilder, and missile maker MBDA. Those companies declined to give the value of their shares of the deal.
Asked about the absence of the corvettes in the expected order, the spokesman said the Gowind could meet the requirements of the Greek navy, and although there was no announcement today, that did not rule out talks with the Greek client.
French and Greek media reports had reported before the official announcement the naval deal would include the FDI frigates and Gowind corvettes, boosting the value to some €5 billion.
The FDI was designed for the export market, and Greece will be its first foreign client, if Athens signs the order contract.
There will be no change for delivery of the first FDI for the French navy, which will receive the first of class warship in 2024.
The French navy will then wait for the following two ships, as both will be redirected to the Greek navy in 2025, with the third vessel delivered to Greece in 2026.
The priority for delivering to Greece meant the second and third FDI for the French navy will be a few months late, with delivery respectively in early 2026 and late 2027, the spokesman said.
The fourth and fifth FDI for the French navy will be delivered as scheduled in 2028 and 2029.
Steel has already been cut for what could be the first FDI for Greece.
Talks will open with the French navy and the Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office for the new delivery timetable, the spokesman said. A previously announced upgrade of the Lafayette stealth frigate will bridge the gap for the French navy until all the FDI are delivered.
The French navy is expected to sail 15 first rank warships by 2030.
All three FDI for the Greek navy would be built at Lorient, Brittany, northwest France, and Naval Group has held talks with Greek companies to act as local partners.
That shipbuilding in France differs from a previous plan NG set out in a May 28 statement with an Athens dateline. In that plan NG offered four FDI – with three of those built in Greece, two second hand French frigates as a gap filler, and modernization of the Greek navy’s fleet of Meko warships. Weapons offered on that batch of FDI included 21 rolling airframe missiles from the US. NG usually offers European missiles on its warships.
The offer of two used warships was later withdrawn as the French navy needed those vessels.
An upgrade of the Meko fleet would cost around €1 billion, while NG was offering the Gowind 2500 corvette at some €350 million per unit, Naval News website reported.
NG executive chairman Pierre Eric Pommellett went to Athens last week to make the latest offer, Challenges business magazine reported Sept. 27.
The Greek quest for new warships drew rival offers from Babcock, Damen, Fincantieri, Lockheed Martin, and TKMS. Lockheed Martin pitched its HF2, based on the Littoral Combat Ship, and that offer was reported in French media as a serious contender.
The potential warship deal with Greece reflects the rising importance of French arms export within Europe, with sales to European allies accounting for 25 percent of all foreign sales of weapons last year, compared to 10 percent in 2017.
Greece has ordered 18 Rafale fighters, 12 of which are second hand from the French air force and six are new aircraft, in a deal worth €2.5 billion. Greece has also said it would order a further six Rafale.
Greece would receive a 4,500 ton warship with the Thales Sea Fire radar, and MBDA 32 Aster 30 B1, and Exocet MM40 Block 3C missiles. There will also be an anti-torpedo decoy.
The warships will be interoperable with European and Nato allies, NG said.
Featured Photo: Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (left) shakes hands with French president Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/EPA
And according to the source cited above:
“The Greek navy, which had overseen the deal, had taken stock of tenders from countries that included France, the US and UK. Although the French bid was costlier, it was subsequently improved in the aftermath of the collapse of the submarine sale to Australia, according to Greek media, which reported that under the accord France had also agreed to offer military assistance if necessary.”