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Saturday, December 01, 2001


Greek Arms Purchases, the US, and the Greek American Community

Part 2: From Helicopters to Tanks

This is the second in a three-part series on the politics of Greek arms purchases.

The first part of this series examined the politics of arms sales to the Greek air force. This second part will move on to an array of other weapons systems.

The AGM-114M Hellfire
The US was very cooperative in supplying AH-64A+ Apache attack helicopters to the Greek army. Greece was the first NATO user of the equipment, after all, but the helicopter deal proved problematic in many respects, the least of which was its overpricing.

First, the self-protection suit of the helicopters was not complete and was very much delayed in becoming so. The US tried to deter any efforts by the Greek army to replace the most obsolete parts of this suit (such as the M-130 flare dispensers) with more modern, custom-made ones (AN/ALE-47), even though the US army had already done the same! Then, the Forward Looking Infra-Red sensors (a night-vision system) of the Apache Target Acquisition and Designation System (TADS) had only a fraction of the advertised performance over sea, which rendered them practically unusable for half of the Greek army’s envisioned missions. Third, the helicopters were supplied with a package of weaponry and ammunition that could not be less suited to Greek needs, namely, the AGM-114F Improved Hellfire antitank (AT) missile, 2.75” unguided rockets, and 30mm-cannon ammunition.

The supplied model of the antitank missile had the least range of any of its existing models for a slight increase in destructiveness (two unevenly sized High Explosive Anti-Tank [HEAT] warheads in tandem), as it was designed to strike Soviet tanks with reactive armor. For the Greeks, whose main armor targets – Turkish tanks – had no such protection, this was obviously overkill, which however decreased the launch range and made the launching helicopters more vulnerable to antiaircraft fire. The Greek preference would have been for the earlier AGM-114B/C models, with a simple HEAT warhead and an increase in range of one kilometer (to eight instead of seven for the “F” model), but this option was denied to Greece.

These older models were abundant in the depots of the US army, which had initiated the deal and was searching for ways to trade these missiles for newer AGM-114F models. Many saw this tactical dysfunctionality as an intentional effort by some US services to reduce the specific effectiveness of Greek Apaches against Turkish armor. The defects of the TADS had already done enough to reduce their usefulness against maritime targets. Moreover, the US refused to allow Greek production of parts for the requisite weaponry, although they were comparatively low-technology items of ammunition that are produced in more than a dozen countries (such as the 30mm shells and 2.75” unguided rockets).

The subsequent purchase of the (then newest) model AGM-114K, which was even more destructive but also incorporated increased range and great robustness against natural and man-made diversions of its targeting system, was duly channeled into the less capable AGM-114K2 model. While this was judged to be the best “exportable” missile for the Greek army, other Apache customers worldwide were given the true AGM-114K.

The coup de grace came in the mid-90s, when the US finally developed a version of the Hellfire missile (the AGM-114M) for use against naval targets, following the Swedish lead (with the RBS-17) by some 10 years. The Hellfire is the Apache’s main antitank weapon, but registers poor performance against sea targets, with a HEAT-type warhead that is adequate against tanks but ill-suited against ships. Once a shore-launched model of the missile was developed, the Greeks were quick to see its benefit for their shore defenses against Turkish landings. Later, the AGM-114M was fitted with a dedicated warhead against naval targets.

This weapon was developed primarily for the US navy’s SH-60R helicopters, and the Turkish navy was an early customer. The Greek navy was also interested in this weapon, to arm its own Aegean Hawk helicopters, as was the Greek army, for its Apaches and shore-defense squads. After two years of competition between Boeing and Lockheed-Martin for the Greek order, fueled by some US officials, the latter won. Boeing had proposed an earlier model, the AGM-114KBF, tipped with a blast-fragmentation warhead (hence “KBF”) developed by the Swedish firm Bofors for the RBS-17. Lockheed-Martin, on the other hand, offered the system of the US and Turkish navies, the AGM-114M, which was far more capable because of its newer BF warhead and state-of-the-art electronics. The US decided, however, that this weapon was too good for Greece, which had not been the case with Turkey, or with any other customer, since the technology involved was nothing special.

Needless to say, the Greeks were furious, and turned to the Russians, with whom they recently concluded a deal. But US methods succeeded in denying these weapons to Greece for more than five years (had these “obstacles” not been thrown up, the deal with the US firms would have produced the first systems for Greece within 2000 at the latest).

The TPQ-37 Firefinder
This example is mentioned only in order to indicate how the US treats Greece as a buyer of overpriced American weaponry. The Greek army had decided that in order to maximize the potential of its new artillery weapons (supplied mainly by the US at inflated prices), it needed suitable sensors, as is standard American (and, for that matter, global) practice. The most important of these sensors was a so-called “counter battery radar,” which can detect an enemy salvo from guns, mortars, or howitzers, and reverse-plot its trajectory to fix the location of the firing system. Such systems were used in the 1991 Gulf War with excellent results by US and allied forces.

The predominant US system was the TPQ-37 Firefinder radar. The Greek army, able to afford only a few of them, proved its good faith by sending its requirements to the US manufacturers for a direct purchase, instead of going through an international bidding process. This act – rightly – provoked a storm of reaction in Greece, as it was judged scandalous. Furthermore, it was one of a number of questionable purchases by the Greek army (to be specific, by its artillery arm), many of which were favorable to US firms.

What really infuriated critics, however, was the result of the field tests of the first system. Nineteen ninety-eight was not 1991. The system failed miserably in every category; after hours of effort by US personnel supervising the tests, it was able to meet a mere 67 percent of the original requirements. Of course, the officers of the Greek artillery asked for the cancellation of the deal (comprising two systems) and a turn to the international market, where more advanced systems could be found (namely the Swedish ARTHUR and the multinational European COBRA systems). They were both some decades younger than the ’60s-vintage TPQ-37, and offered excellent performance and reduced support at a competitive price, coupled with very substantial industrial participation programs/offsets (which the US deal did not have) and, for the COBRA, an excellent delivery schedule.

In the end, the Greek army’s leadership chose the US systems, despite the obvious problems they posed. Nevertheless, it suspended its option for three more systems. Immediately, American services and individuals, some high-ranking (not to mention the US embassy), began pressing Greece to rescind its suspension. As a result, the order for 3 more radars was firmed up – with all of the existing problems, inflated prices, lack of offsets, and, worst of all, the system failing to meet approximately 33 percent of specified capabilities.

One last detail: the US army was at the time developing a much more capable version of the TPQ-37, the TPQ-37 block 2, now known as the TPQ-47 Firefinder 2. Although this latter system fulfilled all the Greek criteria, it was never offered to Greece. The official excuse was that it could not be delivered when it was needed although the US had shown remarkable agility in the past in comparable cases, offering intermediate systems with the prospect of upgrades. In this case, since the TPQ-47 was an upgrade of the TPQ-37, this was not only feasible, but also technically easy, especially since the company that produced the system stressed ease of upgrade. Mysteriously, however, there was no such option for the Greeks.

M-1A2 Abrams
The US entry for the new tank competition of the Greek army is the M-1A2. The M-1 Abrams tank, once developed into its configuration with the M-256 120mm/44 caliber main gun (M-1A1), was the most advanced tank worldwide. It had an excellent Fire Control System (FCS) and was armed with a version of the German smoothbore L44 gun of 120 mm caliber and 44-caliber barrel length, which fired the most advanced ammunition of its time, the family of M-829 and M-830. It had excellent mobility and, most important, its armor was reinforced by depleted uranium, rendering it practically invincible.

Many years have passed, however. The Allison AGT-1500 turboengine has proven expensive to maintain and run, and is very fuel-inefficient, so much so that the US army is thinking of replacing it fleetwide with a new-technology turbine (the GE/Honeywell LV100-5). This new engine, which would solve many existing problems, is not being offered to Greece, however, even as an option. Whether this new engine technology is considered “too good” for the Greeks, or someone just wants to pass on the US fleet’s replaced/used engines as “spares” to a naïve customer – and thus partially fund the US upgrade – is unknown. A third possibility is that the US wants to help Allison keep open an expensive and lucrative – though now outdated – product line, which it can continue to produce and sell at an excellent profit.

Many other tanks have as efficient an FCS as the newest M-1A2 model, and sometimes better overall communications and navigation packages, fully integrated into the vectronics package. The US tank is extremely heavy and bulky. This makes it a large target for a more lethal new generation of antitank missiles and other smart weapons, and also mandates an extensive and expensive infrastructure to keep it running (new civil and military bridges and bridgelayers, reinforced roadbeds, new tank carriers, etc). It is also the least well-armed tank of its generation. The French Leclerc has a longer smoothbore gun of the same caliber, which permits more efficient use of existing ammunition and, moreover, is fed by an autoloader, reducing its crew to three and its size and weight by something like 10 tons.

The British Challenger-2 has an even longer gun, albeit rifled, which in principle permits greater accuracy. It also has more ammunition options, and, more important, its ammo is of the “separate case” type, making it much easier and faster for the loader to manipulate than the heavy American/German “unicase” ammunition. The German Leo-2A6 is now offered with improved protection and a more powerful gun of the same caliber, but 10 percent longer. This permits more efficient firing of existing – and enables the use of new, much more lethal – ammunition. The Germans have also developed more, some of them “smart,” ammunition types.

The US entry cannot counter these features. The adoption of the longer, M-281 gun is a long way off, and the excellent ammunition developed for the US army’s use of the M-256 gun will not be offered to Greece. Moreover, the main advantage remaining, the excellent armor, has also been denied to Greece, which has to settle for a less advanced armor package whose effectiveness is unknown. Finally, the efficient and relatively cheap APFS-DS-T (Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized/Discarding Sabot/Tracer) ammunition, with depleted uranium (DU) rods, is also not available for export to Greece, which must trade for tungsten-cored rounds that are far more expensive and less powerful. (That is also the case with all other DU ammunition manufacturers, including the French and British; only the Germans provide the ammunition they use themselves because their environmental restrictions preclude DU for any application.)

As a whole, the US tank is the biggest, heaviest, and most expensive to operate, with far reduced armor protection (compared to the US model) and gun efficiency (compared to the international competition). Nevertheless, the Greek American community has exerted tremendous pressure on Greece to conclude the deal as a “bargain” that cannot be rejected. The truth is that the Greek army (and especially its directorate of armor) has largely phased out US-made equipment for the sake of European-made systems. In part, this is a result of anger at the methods of some US officials to pass off disproportionately high numbers of obsolete M-60A1s to Greece (compared with the numbers for Turkey) during the redistribution of surplus NATO materiel about a decade ago according to the South Region Amendment (SRA).

Part 3: Arming the Greek navy

Manousos E. Kambouris is is currently pursuing a doctorate in biology. He is a frequent contributor to numerous Greek defense-related publications, focusing on front-line hardware and tactical missiles.
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