Another warm summer in East Med – August update

Another warm summer in East Med – August update

by Kakaouskia for The Saker Blog

Greetings to the Saker community and readers.

This article is an update on the events described in the first article as the situation is evolving.

As Saker’s readers might recall, Greece and Turkey were locked into a cat and mouse game in the Eastern Mediterranean over their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundaries.

After the collision between F-451 Limnos (S class frigate) and F-247 TCG Kemalreis Turkey appears to have reinforced the flotilla surrounding their research vessel Oruç Reis by removing 2 of the – obsolete – corvettes and adding frigates.

On the other hand, the Hellenic navy released a photo of the Turkish frigate after the collision with Lemnos, showcasing the damage inflicted.

Kemalreis

(Image taken from https://marineschepen.nl/nieuws/images/beschadigd-turks-fregat.jpg Courtesy of Hellenic Navy)

In an unprecedented move Greece and France deployed fighters together in Cyprus; France deploed 3 Rafales and Greece a total of 8 F16s. These took part into a 3-day exercise (26th – 28th of August) between Cyprus, Greece, France and Italy which included naval and land assets as well. If one takes into account that Cyprus is not supposed to have any kind of access to NATO weaponry, having a dozen fighters for days on a Cypriot airbase must have annoyed certain circles in NATO.

The conmemorative foto of the exercise (image taken from https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EgZ6cloXsAA9y8j?format=jpg&name=large)

Coincidentally last week operation Allied Sky was conducted by NATO all over Europe. This is a typical operation where strategic bombers from USAF fly over the majority of European NATO members and the air force of each country is providing refuelling and escort services; the aim is to practice joint operations. This of course included Greece and Turkey. According to the Greek Ministry of Defence (in Greek), on Friday 28th of August during the hand over from Turkish air force to the Hellenic air force, the Turkish fighters refused to leave at the designated point (Turkey is disputing Greece’s air space since 1975) and were driven away by Greek fighters. While USA is keeping a middle ground for years as far as Greece and Turkey are concerned, I am sure it does not see kindly to USAF strategic assets being played to the benefit of others and by others; usually it is the other way around. Most likely there will not be any visible reprecaussions to Turkey but something will probably take place using back channels.

The B-52 NATO flight. (Image taken from https://www.ptisidiastima.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/B52-MT-15.jpg)

There was also another peculiar event that took place in 115 Combat Wing, Souda Bay on the 26th of August. An air detachment from the UAE arrived for joint training with Hellenic air force. This detachment included 3 F16s, 1 C-130 and 1 Airbus A332 MRTT for air refuelling and support. It also included 3 C-17 strategic transport aircraft, a very odd inclusion considering that the C-130 and the MRTT are more than enough to support 3 F-16s. These caused rumours to fly as Greece and the UAE share quite a few common weapon systems and ammunition. Greece announced on the 17th of August that it had signed a deal with UAE to purchase their stock of AH-64A Apache spare parts since UAE upgraded its fleet to the newer standard. Also, UAE has a stockpile of 600 Black Shaheen tactical strike missiles, the export version of the Scalp-EG Greece is using. No one is confirming what was in those C-17s – and for good reason – but all indications point to the fact that something was delivered.

Greece, effectivly having its armed forces on high alert for the past 30+ days realised the neglect caused by years of austerity and announced an emergency rearmament program valued at €3B. According to press reports in Greece, France is offering 18 Rafale fighters to replace the aging Mirage 2000s Greece has. Rumours have it that should Greece agree to the purchase France is ready to “hot transfer” part of the order from its own air force assets to assist Greece considering time is pressing. If this is true – note that France did the same with Mirage F1Cs ordered by Greece back in 1975 – it will indicate that France is de facto siding with Greece in this dispute with Turkey taking into account that not only Rafale is a generation newer than anything in current Greek inventory, it can also carry multiple Scalp-EG missiles instead of one which is the current limit of Mirge 2000-5s .Yes, Greek pilots and ground crews will need time to adapt to the new plane however current Mirage 2000-5s Greece has have the same computer as the Rafale plus can fire the same weapons, which already exist in Greece’s inventory. Truth be told, unless the US is willing to hot transfer F-16s and munitions there is no other way for Greece to increase its air capabilities in a few months instead of the typically couple of years the introduction of a new type requires.

Since the Hellenic navy is also in need to replace at a minimum its 9 aging firgates, a proposal was made to Greece regarding the availability of surplus Type-23 frigates from the UK. Recently UK is seriously downsizing its armed forces and the Royal Navy is no exception. Currently there are 16 Type-23s in service, with their age raging from 1990 to 2002 and the Royal Navy has a plan in place to upgrade some of the general-purpose Type-23s to ASW with new radar and sonar among other things. This is the sweetener in the proposal as Greece can opt to install the same upgrades should it purchase the ships – planned and tested upgrades are better than starting electromechanical and intergratin studies from scratch. The main factor is the cost; if one is to believe the numbers that are circulating Greece can purchase 4-5 of these ships and upgrade them with more or less the same cost of buing a couple of new frigates. True, the abilities will not be the same however the first Type-23 is scheduled to be mothballed in 2021; a new frigate will not arrive to Greece before 2024-2025. With 16 ships of the type in service with the Royal Navy there is room for negotiating the transfer of all to Greece as they are being replaced resulting in a steady stream of spare parts and components.

On the diplomatic front, the EU has scrambled to at least demonstrate that it can resolve a dispute and defend the rights of its member states however the results so far from the various meetings indicate a disagreement between North and South. France is the most vocal country against Turkey, so vocal in fact that Erdogan has characterised the leadership of France and Greece as greedy and incompetent. Greek government has announced its intention to expand its territorial waters to 12nm in the Ionian sea and south of Crete as a first step to which the Turkish government responded by repeating its threats that should Greece expand its territorial waters to 12nm in the Aegean sea it will be considered as casus belli. Germany, having the EU leadership at present announced an initiative to start a dialogue between the two countries in order to resolve the issue. Personally, I believe this has little chance of succeeding as dialogue implies good faith between the participants and certainly not threats of war.

In the meantime, both Greece and Turkey have issued Navtex notices for the East Med area, including notes of live fire exercises going well into September. Turkey also included areas north of Cyprus.

It appears that the tension in the area is not going away any time soon.

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