PARIS — On the first day of the biennial Euronaval trade conference here last month, France’s new defense minister Sebastien Lecornu made sure to meet with Greece’s vice defense minister, Nikolaus Hardalias, at the Hellenic pavilion.
There was a reason for the special attention. Paris has aggressively pursued increased ties to Athens’ military in recent years, including signing a strategic partnership in 2021, and it succeeded in netting a contract in March to build three new frigates for the Hellenic navy. But other nations, including the United States, United Kingdom, and others are also building new partnerships with Greece, and companies at Euronaval showed concerted interest in courting the nation for shipyard partnerships.
A major program to recapitalize Greece’s corvette fleet has recently stalled, Defense News has learned. But that hasn’t stopped the competitors from signing new contracts with local suppliers to shore up support once the program moves forward.
France’s Naval Group, the Netherlands’ Damen, the UK’s Babcock, Italy’s Fincantieri, and the United States’ Lockheed Martin have all thrown their hats into the ring for the corvette replacement effort. But the Greek navy has for now put the program on pause, Jonathan Walton, Babcock’s vice president of business development for marine and technology at Babcock International Group, told Defense News Oct. 20 at the company’s booth at Euronaval.
Babcock had proposed its Arrowhead 140 frigate — the basis for the Royal Navy’s Type 31 frigates currently in construction — for Greece’s frigate replacement program, initially, and now the corvette replacement. The British shipyard had also initiated agreements “in principle” with local suppliers in Greece to sweeten the deal, said Walton.
Requests for comment to the Greek Ministry of Defense on the status of the corvette program were not returned before publication.
France’s Naval Group has proposed its GoWind 2500 multipurpose corvette for the Hellenic Navy. The company is slated to build three new Belharra-class FDI HN (frégates de défense et d’intervention for the Hellenic Navy) frigates and an optional fourth, out of its shipyards in Lorient in the north of France, due for delivery in 2025 and 2026. The company announced Oct. 21 the first FDI HN block was laid down in dry dock, launching the assembly phase.
Since the FDI HN program launched in March, Naval Group has signed about 20 contracts to reinforce relations with Greek shipbuilding industry partners, including seven at Euronaval during the meeting between the two defense ministers. Those agreements extend to efforts outside of the FDI program as well as future projects, and include on-site job training as well, the company said.
Italy, the United States, and the Netherlands are also working to woo the Greeks.
Lockheed Martin vied for the frigate construction program alongside Naval Group, and for a time was pursuing options to nab a contract to build several additional ships. That letter of agreement has since expired, company officials told reporters Oct. 19 at the Euronaval conference.
The company is continuing to make inroads with the Hellenic shipbuilding industry to develop “an indigenous design for a smaller vessel, Corvette sized,” as well as an integrated combat system, said Joe DiPietro, vice president and general manager for naval combat and missile defense systems.
Meanwhile, Lockheed is continuing to pursue a contract to upgrade Greece’s four Hydra-class MEKO frigates, said Dawn Brenner, business development director for small combatants and ship systems. The U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin offered a bid in December 2021 that was due to expire the following March. The offer was extended to September, however, and has since been extended a second time, to December, at the request of the Hellenic Navy, she said.
This letter of agreement would involve the integration of Lockheed Martin’s suite of products centered around the Aegis combat management system (CMS), namely putting the COMBATSS-21 CMS on the MEKO frigates, alongside Lockheed’s Mark 41 vertical launching system and Sikorsky’s MH-60 Seahawk helicopters. Greece has committed to buying seven MH-60 aircraft, with deliveries scheduled to begin at the end of 2023, according to Mark Zavack, head of Sikorsky international business development.
The company has had regular meetings with Hellenic Shipyard, and would likely modernize the MEKO frigates on site there, DiPietro previously told Defense News.
Babcock has also submitted a proposal to upgrade the MEKO frigates, highlighting their experience modernizing such ships for the Australia and New Zealand’s navies, Walton said.
Fincantieri announced Oct. 12 it had signed several memorandums of understanding with “a selection of new suppliers” at the Italian Embassy in Athens. The agreements would serve the Greek Navy’s program to build four new corvettes with a lighter version of its Doha-class light frigate.
“Fincantieri has carried out scouting activities in Greece in order to identify suppliers to start potential collaborations with reference to the existing Greek program or any new naval vessels program, with the main goal of strengthening the Group’s cooperation with Hellenic companies,” the company said in a release.
Damen Shipyards has offered its SIGMA 10514 vessel, recently selected by the Colombian navy for its frigate replacement program, and has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Hellenic Marine Equipment Manufacturers & Exporters group to work with over 60 local suppliers, should the company win the contract, a spokesperson said in an email to Defense News.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.