WASHINGTON — Talks between Lockheed Martin and the Greek Navy will continue, as the company has modified its pitch to secure a piece of the country’s surface fleet modernization program.
Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Navy together offered the official U.S. bid to the Hellenic Navy in December, in a letter of agreement that expired March 17.
Industry sources told Defense News the U.S. Navy has extended the LOA through Sept. 18, giving the U.S. team more time to talk with Greek officials and decide if the deal will go forward.
Greece originally laid out a multi-pronged approach to modernizing its surface fleet: buying new frigates and corvettes, upgrading its four Hydra-class MEKO frigates, and obtaining used surface ships to operate while the MEKOs are in their mid-life upgrade program.
The official U.S. pitch was for Lockheed Martin to upgrade the MEKOs with the company’s suite of products centered around the Aegis Combat System; the Hellenic Navy to buy some number of the company’s Hellenic Future Frigate, also centered around the Aegis system and designed specifically for Greece’s mission needs, the first of which would be built in the U.S. and later ships built in Greece; and the U.S. Navy to provide four decommissioned warships to serve as a temporary gap-filler.
Greece announced Sept. 28 it would buy three Belharra frigates from France, but Lockheed Martin Vice President and General Manager for Naval Combat and Missile Defense Systems Joe DePietro told Defense News his company is pitching the Hellenic Navy on buying additional new ships to round out the program.
DePietro said in a Feb. 17 interview Greece originally wanted as many as four to six frigates and four to six corvettes. Not only has Greece only inked a deal for three frigates — leaving the door open to buy more — but DePietro said Greece also made clear it wanted its domestic shipbuilding industry involved. Naval Group, which builds the Belharra frigates, will construct Greece’s ships on its production line in Lorient with its own predominantly French supply chain.
Lockheed Martin said it sees an opening to push for ship modernization and even ship construction with Greek shipbuilders and suppliers.
The crux of Lockheed Martin’s revised pitch is that it could sell Greece a slightly different surface combatant than the Hellenic Future Frigate — either the Freedom-variant littoral combat ship with lethality and survivability upgrades to fill the corvette piece of the plan, or the larger Multi-Mission Surface Combatant currently being built for Saudi Arabia that the HF2 design was derived from — and be ready to start production right away at the Hellenic Shipyard outside Athens.
DePietro acknowledged the LCS is larger than a typical corvette — about 3,300 metric tons, compared to a traditional corvette that might be 1,500 to 2,500 metric tons — but said the ship’s use of water jets instead of propellers allows the LCS to operate in shallower waters than European corvettes. While the price tag of about $400 million apiece is a bit more expensive than the other options, he said it comes with the training and spares support associated with a U.S. foreign military sales case.
On the MMSC option, Lockheed Martin said it could use the proven work instructions from the hot MMSC line at Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin and immediately bring them over to the Greek shipyard — whereas the original HF2 proposal was a related but distinct ship design and would be considered a new start. In that case, Lockheed Martin had originally proposed working out the kinks with its experienced workforce in Wisconsin on the first ship.
Lockheed said it has already had conversations with George Procopiou, who last year purchased the Hellenic Shipyard in Skaramagas, just west of Athens.
“We’ve met with him now five times, and we got to the point where, at the last sit-down, I was walking him through the module breakdown of the construction of an LCS or an MMSC, parts, material flows, what would be done in the yard and how we would like optimize the yard,” DePietro said, adding they talked through what buildings the yard would need to replicate the ship construction model at Marinette Marine.
“Mr. Procopiou is willing to make a significant investment like we did in Marinette to make that transformation,” DePietro said.
DePietro said Lockheed Martin hasn’t signed formal agreements with the shipyard, but the other shipyard in Greece — Elefsis Shipyard, just up the waterfront from Hellenic Shipyard — does not have a clear owner right now and is not in a position to have these detailed discussions.
Lockheed would likely do the MEKO repairs and modernization at the Hellenic Shipyard as well. This means the workforce there would be trained to do ship construction and repair to U.S. Navy standards.
The Navy this year will deploy its first Freedom-variant LCS from Florida to U.S. 6th Fleet in Europe and/or U.S. 5th Fleet in the Middle East, kicking off what’s expected to be a continuous LCS presence on the other side of the Atlantic. The Navy has a contract with Spanish contractor Navantia to conduct surface ship maintenance in Rota, Spain, but DePietro said the addition of LCSs to the region would require additional maintenance capacity.
The Hellenic Shipyard would have the facilities and the trained workforce to do these repairs, if the Navy opted to do use the yard as an Eastern Mediterranean maintenance hub to complement the work taking place just outside the Med in Rota.
It remains unclear if Greece is interested in Lockheed’s proposals, with talks being extended but no agreements reached.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.