The government’s rumoured intentions to buy the Belharra frigates, if confirmed, will change the game in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The capabilities of the Belharra are based on the sensors and weapons it can carry.
With these frigates the Navy will now be able to exercise an area of air defence, satisfying a long-standing need.
Since nothing is certain yet, much less the armament configurations of the frigates offered to Greece, we are obliged to judge based on their announced capabilities.
The Belharras carry the digital control system, the 4A FF AESA multi-role radar, the Aster 30 anti-aircraft missiles and possibly SCALP Navale surface-to-surface missiles.
With this data, the new frigates could be the nucleus of a very powerful strike force, which can claim dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The integration of all four frigates will become a chain of strong naval points, which can guarantee smooth naval and air communication between Greece and Cyprus for the defence of islands and the protection of the Exclusive Economic Zone.
The solution of the first Belharra
As the construction of the first Belharra frigate has not yet begun, it is unlikely that we will see Belharra in the Greek fleet in the near future.
It may be included in the agreement that France will give Greece the second frigate under construction, at the earliest in 2023.
This would upset the French Navy, but it is a political decision.
There is, of course, the transitional solution to use two modernised La Fayette frigates, which, however, do not cover the requirement of the Greek Navy for air defence which it is seriously lagging in.
They are valuable ships if they are covered by anti-aircraft from other units.
They cannot, however, ensure the stable presence of the Greek Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Instead, a first operational Belharra could be the core of a task force that, framed by other units (submarines, older frigates, rocket launchers, artillery and support ships), can sail safely towards the Turkish air force and fight an even a larger Turkish fleet.
Anti-aircraft protection shield
The Belharra will extend an anti-aircraft shield of more than 100 km around it.
Within this radius, the other frigates at some distance from the Belharra, can create a second perimeter air defence with a radius of more than 50 km because of ESSM missiles.
Rockets and lighter boats will be able to play the role of terminal defence with RAM systems.
Within this grid will also be the Rapid 76mm and Phalanx 20mm anti-aircraft fire systems.
Such a device also makes it possible to deal with a saturation of attacks from surface-to-surface missiles.
Belharra with these features can neutralise enemy anti-submarine helicopters at these distances.
This means that in a maritime area of more than 100 km, Greek submarines can secure the area from oncoming enemy naval forces.
Within the same limits, F-16 or Rafale fighter jet groups can be rotated inside the umbrella to provide additional coverage.
At the same time, the strike team can also escort in case the transfer of military personnel and weapons to Cyprus is deemed necessary.
Why four Belharras?
The need for four new frigates is not arbitrary.
By reverently following the specifications, four Balharras means that you have at your disposal at any time immediately, two frigates, one in reconstruction-repair-upgrade and one in rest.
All this is provided that none of these ships will be sent to any mission outside the Mediterranean as part of a NATO or UN mission.
If this is observed, then in an emergency the three, maybe all four frigates, will be available.
The past, however, has shown that the political leadership has not allowed the Navy to make the right choices.
For reasons that are not present, business needs are dangerously distorted by political expediencies that lead to dependent relations, that is, not even politically-diplomatically justified.
The integration of four Belharras can transform the Greek Navy into a Blue Water Navy, which means that it will be able to have a continuous presence in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Only the geostrategic composition of such new data changes and allows Greece to defend its rights on the ground, forcing Turkey to respect its sovereign rights and not beg third parties to intervene in its favor.
With four Belharras, creating an impact team is just one option.
Up to four such fleets can now be created, or alternatively up to four overlapping areas can be created, which ensure navigation and sea routes to and from Cyprus, among which the other units of the Navy can operate.
As the distance between Rhodes and Cyprus is a little more than 100 km, in a state of emergency, these four ships close this area to Turkish Air Force operations.
Cyprus will no longer be far away
It should be noted that Limassol at the southern tip of Cyprus is less than 150 km from the Turkish coast and about 300 km from the port of Attaleia (Ἀττάλεια, Turkish: Antalya).
This practically means that a Belharra on the southern coast of Cyprus can provide anti-aircraft cover to the National Guard, preventing Turkish air supremacy, which has somehow sealed its operations there.
This umbrella will allow the Greek Air Force to conduct operations over Cyprus.
Given that the Exocet MM40 Block3 missiles used by the Belharra have a range of up to 140 km and given that the distance from Larnaca to the north coast of the island is about 70 km, Turkish ships carrying reinforcements or supplies is practically blocked.
The existence of additional such arrays in the hands of the National Guard means that a naval blockade of the occupied territories can be practically imposed.
If we take it for granted that Greece will buy SCALP Navale missiles, which have a range much larger than 400 km (analysts raise it to 1000 km), then Turkey’s naval bases in the Eastern Mediterranean can be hit from the sea area south of Cyprus by Belharra frigates.
This would destroy facilities and supply stocks. This could make the Turkish naval presence in the wider region at least insecure.
The “window” of opportunity
It is impossible for all this to escape Turkish military heads.
If Greece proceeds with the purchase, for Turkey the “window” of opportunity for military operations against Greece that exists today, will gradually close.
If Turkey wants to clash with Greece from a relative position of power (and this is questionable in the current state of the Turkish Armed Forces), it must do so before the plans to acquire Rafale fighters, upgraded F-16 jets, Belharras, etc., are implemented.
It is a fact that we are entering another era for the Navy and for the Greek Armed Forces as a whole.
We have, however, entered a geopolitically fluid period, where the Erdoğan regime is practically promoting the vision of neo-Ottomanism, even though it is being challenged from outside and inside.
This means that it continues to be a tangible threat.
If Ankara believes that it will lose the “window” of opportunity to impose the doctrine of the “Blue Homeland” and its other grandiose plans, it may make spasmodic moves.
The times do not only require equipment, they also require vigilance, but also a more general revision of the Greek defence doctrine based on new data.