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Thursday, November 15, 2001


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

Part 1: The Hellenic Air Force

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

One area in which the Greek American community could have made a serious contribution to Greece in the last decade is that of arms purchases. The few members of the community who have had, or continue to have, a role in Greek arms acquisitions, however, often occupy (sometimes influential) positions with, or are shareholders in, key US defense contractors. Consequently, they use their ethnicity to promote their respective companies’ interests, rather than to assist Greece.

While the US occasionally recognizes the Turkish threat to Greece, it will never ensure Greece’s safety despite the fact that the two countries are ostensibly NATO allies. Nothing can change this reality. In the event, since NATO does not provide it with any guarantees, Greece should at least demand (instead of asking for) the means with which to defend itself.

The one thing Greece cannot and must not tolerate is for the US to have anything to say about Greek defense needs. This particular point must be imprinted into the minds of the Greek American community. As a sovereign state, Greece cannot quietly accept any US ideas, thoughts, or opinions about its defense needs, as far as weapons, quantities, precise modes, and capabilities are concerned.

This point is more important than it seems. Once it was allowed to express opinions about Greek needs – national defense needs, that is, paid by national funds, not NATO obligations, some of which, in any case, are also paid for by the Greek treasury – the US started imposing systems of its own choice on the Greek military. These systems have generally been far less capable than those that Greeks have wanted – and have had access to from non-US manufacturers – and have also been inflated in price. These systems, however, have been frantically pushed onto Greece because it has been to the US’s economic or political interest to do so.

It is of no importance, by the way, whether the equipment offered is the best internationally or not. Since Greece is paying for it (sometimes through Foreign Military Assistance programs that entail higher interest, collected by the US government, than commercial loans), it is Greece’s decision as to what it needs – and how competitive it thinks the financial and industrial offset packages are. As for US objections to a certain system (which is hardly an acceptable allied attitude), they should never hinder Greek plans with delays or shadow-embargoes.

In 1992, for example, The Hellenic Air Force (HAF) asked for the direct purchase (no competition, that is, and little bargaining) of two US missile systems: the AIM-9M Sidewinder and the AGM-130 Ripper, by no means of unique capabilities worldwide. Both could have been provided in a matter of months. It took six years of negotiations, however, for Greece to learn that the US was not ready to allow the export of either one – something that US officials knew from day one. Nevertheless, when the HAF finally found and ordered an excellent alternative to the AIM-9M in the German AIM-9Li-1, the US instantly released its system and took considerable pains to persuade the HAF to adopt it. In a comparable case, any self-respecting negotiator would have either refused outright, or linked the two orders in order to get the second system as well. Unfortunately, the HAF did not, and found itself with the AIM-9M, which was no longer needed, but without the AGM-130, which is still needed today.

During the Cold War, it was a common US complaint that systems forwarded to Greece found their way to the Warsaw Pact. (The truth actually was that most high-tech leaks to the USSR were actually caused by US officials or trusted NATO members such as Britain and Germany). If the US remains uncertain about the security of its technology today, it should abstain from Greek contracts. Otherwise, it should not limit what is available for export to Greece, especially when the items are paid for by Greek funds.

F-16 Block 52+/F-15H
There have been many cases in the recent past of the US using minor excuses to hinder Greece’s military modernization. One example is the HAF’s choice of the German bid, over competing American and Israeli ones, to upgrade the venerable F-4 Phantom II fighter to the Peace Ikarus 2000 standard. Although both Greece and Germany operate the US AIM-120 AMRAAM missile, the US refused to release the software needed for integration to the specific aircraft to Greece in retaliation for it not selecting the US bid. Moreover, although an American-based system, the AFDS, was selected for air-to ground missions, the US continually hampered the integration by not providing Global Positioning System codes. These were classic examples of trade harassment, as there was no case for technology leak and protection since all the denied systems were already in Greek service.

The case of the new fighter aircraft to be chosen for the Hellenic Air Force was a clear example of US unreliability. It was understood from the outset that the two US bidders, the F-16C Block 50/52+ and the F-15H, were best suited for Greek specifications. This did not mean that the US did not exercise pressure, however, which every bidder did. Truly, the best choice was the Russian aircraft, while the worst one was the French. For a variety of reasons (sometimes ill-founded), the Russian choice was excluded, and the US was favored. But when Greeks asked for guarantees that the export would be allowed, they were denied. On top of that, Greece was accused of leaking US radar technology by specifying radar frequencies to be jammed by a Russian jamming system. Mutual recriminations ensued, as the “leaked” technology was anything but “leaked” (since the Russians already knew about it from other available sources). Nevertheless, US officials demanded cancellation of the Greek-Russian deal.

That was one side of the coin. The other was that US sources insisted (rather arrogantly) that the bidding process not be decided until the embargo was officially lifted, so as not to have the American fighters excluded as practically unavailable! Many Greek air force officials were more than outraged by this policy, in which a bidder demands compliance so as to be in a position to demand selection of its own products. This was simply unheard of. Nevertheless, the Greek government complied.

Thus, the F-16 was chosen. The US government supported both American entries, but not equally. The US air force ordered surplus F-15s in order to keep Boeing’s production line working and the company competitive. In Greece, the support was even less evenhanded. The American ambassador in Athens treated the two companies quite differently, with Boeing having the advantage. The truth is that for a variety of obscure reasons (many of them unrelated to defense), the Greek defense ministry and the HAF favored the F-15, but the intervention of the Greek prime minister tipped the scales.

The US and many Greek officials wanted the F-16 contract signed as soon as possible, with decisions about specific subsystems (such as engines, radar, electronic-warfare devices, and weaponry) to be included in separate addenda. Other Greek officials balked, however, having had bitter experience with the US dictating Greek arms choices by refusing to sell certain subsystems. So they demanded one contract, to ensure that Greece would receive the aircraft it needed. After months of negotiations, at the very last moment, the US simply denied improved engines (either the F-110-GE132 or the F-100-PW-232 made by General Electric and Pratt & Whitney, respectively). More problems followed with the radar. The Greek defense minister tried to have his US counterpart intervene, but to no avail. The Greeks gave some thought to scrapping the deal; in the end, however, the political leadership intervened and accepted it grudgingly, with many HAF officials (whose service emphatically favored the scrapping) telling the press that the older F-110-GE-129 and F-100-PW-229 engines were, after all, what was originally asked for.

After this experience, the Greeks decided that their next fighter would not be American, so they selected the Typhoon, made by a European consortium. The US was not happy about this for a variety of reasons. First, the Greeks were buying non-American, with their money going to other countries. Second, this purchase enhanced the export potential of the Typhoon and made it a significant competitor in the international arena. Third, the US lost the capacity to influence the precise specifications of Greek fighters, since they would carry no American parts. Fourth, Greece would possess fourth-generation fighters long before any such Turkish purchase, which could conceivably tip the scales in the Aegean – and deprive the US of its favorite tactic of extortion in favor of Turkey. Fifth, this could lead Turkey to seek another, non-American supplier for a better-equipped fourth-generation fighter. And, finally, the US would lose Greece as a co-funder of its Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project.

The HAF preferred the European option for exactly the opposite reasons, namely: the JSF would not be available until much later; it would be offered to Greece in a degraded model (that is, at current “standards”); and, of course, it could be canceled by the American services at any time. The US armed forces have been plagued with cancellations for years, with the result being that many billions of dollars in purchase monies are, for all intents and purposes, lost. Finally, the JSF is a fighter designed for strike/ground-attack missions. The Greeks want an aircraft designed for air superiority. The US has such an aircraft, the F-22, with a comparable cost to the Eurofighter/Typhoon (and just a little above the price of the obsolete F-15H); it is a much more capable aircraft and ready to fly far earlier than the JSF. But it has not been offered to Greece (even in a degraded model). This makes Greeks suspicious that the final goal is not only to have their money channeled according to US trade interests, but also – and mainly – to deny them the possibility of regaining air supremacy over the Aegean.

An outright cancellation of the Typhoon project was not in the interest of the US as much as a postponement of three to five years was. That would have allowed the JSF to a reach a more mature and safe development stage (and thus induce Greek participation with higher hopes of success), and also give Turkey enough time for a countermove so as to maintain the existing (im)balance over the Aegean (largely an American achievement). To ensure this, the US found two sources of help. One was the Greek government itself. The other, unexpectedly, was France, which wanted the deal canceled in order to enter its own fighter, the Rafale Mk 2, into the bidding, although it was neither ready at the time nor deemed suitable for export to Greece. (Indeed, the much inferior Mirage 2000-5 was pushed fervently and gained a token order thanks to some “personal contacts” of French officials in the Greek defense ministry). In the end, therefore, it came as little surprise that, after long and hard negotiations, the Typhoon deal was canceled.

T-6A Texan II
The purchase of a basic flight trainer had been a standing need of the Greek air force since the mid-Eighties. In 1998, the Raytheon T-6A Texan II was selected. In fierce competition, it fought off two definitely better and proven designs: the Tucano of the Brazilian company Embraer (selected by the RAF and the French air force) and the venerable PC-9 of the Swiss company Pilatus. Compared to the impressive export record of the competition, the T-6A had only two advantages: the commitment of the US air force and navy to purchase 700 to 800 units and the fact that its manufacturer was…Raytheon. It has struck many that Raytheon has won every single bid it has made to the Greek armed forces (and especially the air force), and that procurements suspended for more than a decade have been resumed only in cases of the aforementioned manufacturer (such as the AGM-65G Maverick missiles). It almost goes without saying at this point that, once again, the bid was not competitive (in the event, the thunder struck when it was time for the signatures).

Even the HAF, which has a “soft spot” for Raytheon, could not swallow what happened. The HAF wanted a specific set of capabilities, features, and qualities in the aircraft, which vastly exceeded the needs of the US services. Specifically, it needed the ability to perform weapons training, as well as an introduction to a modern cockpit environment. This is definitely what many air forces around the globe need as well, and thus the competing designs, both export-successful, have offered these features. It was well-known that the US services had no such needs, and thus the approximately 780 aircraft for the domestic market would not include them.

During the competition, Raytheon officials kept saying that the aircraft “could easily” have the required extra features added on. Unfortunately, only after the selection of the winner did it become obvious that “could” did not mean “readily.” The design could incorporate these features, but with added costs and development. It was not that the design already included these extra features and the US services simply did not want them. The fact was that since the US services did not need them, the aircraft did not embody them. It could only do so with a disproportionate increase in costs. The competing designs, however, offered these features at a cost less than the T-6A without them.

The HAF’s fury was such that it was the first recorded case in which it almost voided the results and re-launched the competition after a US firm had won the bid. Even the “political supervisor” of the Greek armed forces, generally very loath to reconsider his decisions, saw the unsolvable problem. But there was a catch: The US services would get their 780 units at a standard price only if the aircraft succeeded in selling approximately 3,000 units internationally; otherwise, the per-unit cost would be higher. Greece was the first export customer, and moreover a NATO country with a very respectable air force (the Brazilian Tucano had taken all of the alliance’s business to that point). So it was both in the corporate interests and the national interest of the US not to have the contract canceled.

Unprecedented direct intervention, especially from (but not restricted to) the US embassy in Athens, was targeted to make the HAF accept an aircraft in a form it never bargained for and at a cost never thought to be a bargain. US government intervention allowed Raytheon to adopt a hard negotiating stance. After extremely heated discussions in Athens, and despite the rage of the press, the HAF agreed to the entire number of aircraft, but only half of them with the specified Greek standards (without any drop in price). This made many people even more furious, as it was clear that Greek specifications were not to be taken seriously – or at least that the actual implementation of the specifications could be bent and avoided once a choice had been made. The result was not only to undermine the prestige of the Greek armed forces as a serious buyer on the international market. In addition, the operational planning of the Greek air force’s training had to be reconsidered to fit the new planes, instead of the – normal and logical – opposite.

Part 2: From Helicopters to Tanks

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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