Procurement: Preferable Versus Affordable

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January 12, 2022: The United States has approved the potential sale to Greece of four new Hellenic Future Frigates to augment and eventually replace four older Meko-200HN Class Frigates that entered service in the 1990s. The U.S. will also provide upgrades for the Meko-200HNs and help with paying for the $9.4 billion cost of the new frigates and upgrades of the older ones. The upgraded Mekos will be good for another ten or twenty years of service.

There is competition and while Greece prefers the American supplier, Lockheed, there are cheaper and equally attractive offers from European competitors. The Meko frigates are a successful German design that is still being built. Meko was designed to be easily adapted to the particular needs of each nation buying, and often building them. So far 25 Meko class ships are in service with seven countries. Egypt is planning to buy six Meko-200s.

The first Mekos entered service in the late 1980s. Greece planned to buy six Meko-200HNs but ran out of money and only acquired four. The Greek Mekos were 4,000-ton ships with a top speed of 57 kilometers an hour and crew of 173. Armament consisted of one five-inch (127mm) gun, two 20mm autocannon Phalanx for missile defense and four Harpoon anti-ship missiles. There were 16 ESSM anti-aircraft missiles and four anti-submarine torpedoes and a hangar for a 10-ton helicopter. Electronics and fire control systems are all of 1980s and early 1990s design and the proposed Lockheed upgrade costs $625 million per ship and most of that will go to new electronics and weapons. This will include an Aegis radar and communications system which will give the upgraded Meko-200s superior capabilities to most other NATO frigates.

The Lockheed proposal for Hellenic Future Frigates will cost $1.7 billion each and is based on work Lockheed did on the failed LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) design. The U.S. Navy is abandoning the LCS and replacing it with European FREMMs frigates. At least twenty of these will be built in the United States as the 7,200-ton Constellation-class FFG (guided missile frigate) with the first one in service by 2026. Each will cost about $800 million, which is what each of the less capable and reliable LCS vessels ended up costing. That was twice what the LCS was supposed to cost, before all the problems appeared and cost a lot of money to deal with. The new FFG contract was a major win for the French-Italian FREMM concept of an easily adaptable basic design able to appeal to many foreign navies with each having slightly different needs. In general, this concept has long been used by European builders, who found that just building ships for their own navy was not enough to make those ships affordable. One of the European proposals for the Hellenic Future Frigate is based on FREMM. While Lockheed is the favorite, it is also the most expensive and the United States will have to find some way to lessen the financial burden of the Lockheed offer otherwise the Hellenic Navy, like the U.S. Navy, will turn to the more reliable and affordable FREMM for a new frigate. Other European proposals included the new Meko-300 or used, but upgraded, Meko-200s. In the end you get what you need and can afford, not what you wish for.

 


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