France’s move to sell two FTI multi-mission frigates (Frégates de taille intermédiaire, or Belharra) armed with MdCN naval cruise missiles to Greece could irk Turkey, souring the relationship between the two countries.
The frigates in question are Naval Group-manufactured FTIs that have a displacement of about 4,000 tonnes. The vessels, each costing about €750 million ($824 million), will be put on the table before Athens next month when Nikos Panagiotopoulos, Greek Defense Minister, visits France.
In an interview with Greek newspaper earlier this week, Panagiotopoulos stated that “talks with Paris are still in the very early stages” and the only sure thing is that “France wants to sell and Greece wants to buy the frigates.”
“We’re also looking into the financial aspects of the deal. Even if the discussion proceeds and everything goes smoothly at every level on both sides, Greece would still not get delivery of the first frigate until 2024,” the minister said.
The medium-sized frigates come equipped with Thales SeaFire AESA radar. The boats can be deployed in missions such as anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, anti-aircraft warfare, patrol, maritime security, control of exclusive economic zone (EEZ), asymmetric warfare, and special forces activities.
According to some reports, Hellenic Navy will be allowed to join the French FTI program if the deal fructifies, similar to CAMO program where the Belgian Army joined a French Army program for armored combat vehicles once a corresponding contract was signed.
The French-Greek agreement could anger Turkey and strain Turkey-Greece relations even further. In July 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly stated that former Greek Prime Minister was ready to send frigates to patrol in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Cyprus has gas-rich fields in its EEZ, and where Turkey wants to initiate its own drilling.
Turkey, the only country to recognise the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, demands authority over and a share of revenue generating from the gas reserves for the Turkish Cypriots. On the other hand, Greece supports Republic of Cyprus, and insisted on Turkish Cypriots getting their share of the revenue only after the reunification of the island.
In addition, Athens blames Ankara for increase in the influx of undocumented migrants into its country, and is considering closing its border with Turkey to stem the migrants.