Interview Of Defence Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos to “Alpha TV” Prime Time News, with Journalist Antonis Sroiter

January 26, 2021

ANTONIS SROITER: Going back to national matters, ladies and gentlemen, and matters concerning armaments. We shall now have a discussion with the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikos Panagiotopoulos, who is here in the studio with us.

Mister Minister, thank you for coming here. You took a Rapid Test in order to be with us today.

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Besides having also been injected with the vaccine’s second dose.

ANTONIS SROITER: You also took the vaccine’s second dose.

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Yes, but some days need to pass before obtaining immunity.

ANTONIS SROITER: Naturally, this is a procedure that needs to be fast, so that we will all achieve immunity it as soon as possible.

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Indeed, we need that, so as to return to the much desired normality.

ANTONIS SROITER: So, with your signature, Greece took a very important step towards armaments, after a very long time. It got the Rafale. I read, I hear, you saw it as well, that there is an intention, from the Air Force’s side, and provided that the financial situation will allow it, to proceed to a new order; Minister, I would like to ask if this perspective is on the table…

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Everything is on the table, in the context of a massive and organized plan to re-equip the Armed Forces.

We have designed this plan very attentively, setting priorities, ranking the needs, under the HNDGS’s coordination over the other General Staffs, yet of course with the needed contribution from the Army, Air Force and Navy General Staffs; we designed it, we submitted it for approval to the Prime Minister, who approved it, and we now proceed to its implementation. It is a very ambitious, long-term plan, it is not a sudden “armaments frenzy” taking over our country, it will progress over time and broadly cover all three Branches of the Armed Forces, including – other than the acquisition of new systems, e.g. the Rafale – the upgrade of existing systems, which is also very important. If we upgrade and bring back to full operability all that we already have, we will cover a large part of our needs; however we also need new ones.

In this context, we proceed to some acquirements, which make the biggest impression to the people, such as the 18 Rafales. Yesterday, we had the pleasure to sign with the French side.

To tell you the truth, only yesterday did I realise how content, but also surprised, was the French side, seeing that we proceeded with this contract in record time, within four months since the beginning of the negotiations, and in less than a year, something that is also unusual, at least for the Greek reality – but not only –, the first aircraft will be delivered to the Air Force this summer.

ANTONIS SROITER: Give us the story, if any. I was informed that, among the scenarios on the table (as I was looking for the infamous intermediary vessel, until receiving the frigates – and we shall refer later to the frigates), there was one saying that, instead of receiving an intermediary vessel, we would further enhance our Air Force with more Rafale, so as to fill the gap.

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Look, the aspiring plan of the so-called “Force Structure” provides for the acquirement of 40 new combat aircraft, in the long run. We got 18 Rafale. Obviously, we could acquire more, yet it is the Air Force, the General Staff, to advise us on what to do from now on. We take into consideration the experts’ proposals, and this is what we, as Political Leadership, try to implement.

Sooner or later, we shall discuss the acquirement of F-35. Now is not the time yet, but sooner or later we shall change to fifth generation aircraft. The basic 5th generation aircraft at NATO level now is the F-35. However, we could always discuss the issue of acquiring more Rafale.

This year, there is an ongoing upgrade programme for four F-16 Viper, which is currently the most advanced F-16 version globally. In a few days, the first Viper shall fly in America, so as to undergo the structural reforms, rather interventions, needed so as to be subsumed in the availabilities; then, we shall enter the production line, so as to produce from eight to twelve, based on this programme, for the next seven years.

ANTONIS SROITER: Minister, the Turks’ answer to all this is that, ok, maybe we can’t order any aircraft at the moment, we have been blocked by the US, yet we have the S-400, we have seen the tests they recently made, and their answer is that, whatever Greece acquires, the situation in the Aegean will be resolved with the S-400.

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: I don’t believe that this is their view on things. The Turks realise that Greece is enforced, and it does so in a fast and decisive way. I believe that acquiring the Rafale will restore the power balance, if you may, in favour of the Greek side, it will weight the scales in our favour, as it is not only a matter of aircraft, it is also a matter of the weapons they carry.

Such weapons are not possessed by the other side; they are strategic weapons, capable of launching decisive strikes to the other side, if needed, and we all hope that it will not be needed; however, enhancing our Armed Forces with advanced weapon systems, and platforms, i.e. aircraft – because this is an important chapter a well – finally enhances the Armed Forces’ deterrence impression. And we can all understand that deterrence is crucial, as it goes hand in hand with diplomacy. There is no diplomacy without deterrence; deterrence follows the diplomatic efforts.

ANTONIS SROITER: Deterrence also produces respect, in the context of negotiations. There is also another open issue, the enhancement of the Navy. Let us please watch together this video regarding the frigates, and then we can comment on it.

ANTONIS SROITER: Going back to the Minister of National Defence, I am going to make a very simple question: How close are we to these state-of-art French Belharra frigates. What change are we waiting for in their proposal, so as to respond positively?

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: The decision will be taken within this year’s first semester, following a specific procedure. Mr. Sarikas, always properly informed, updated us on what we might see in the next days. Ms. Florence Parly, the French Minister of Defence, did not come yesterday in Athens bringing a proposal for the frigates, yet she ensured us that such a proposal is approaching.

Currently, we have the, pleasant if I may, problem of choosing between several interesting proposals. We have four or five so far: the French one we are expecting, an American, a British, a German, a Spanish, among others, a Dutch.

ANTONIS SROITER: As long as we have money available for purchases, isn’t that right?

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Obviously, as you know, it is important for the Defence Industry at global level, when a country proceeds at constructing four new ships, at difficult times such as the ones we are living.

Other than that, so as to end with this issue, what we are mostly looking for, is a package proposal, I mean that, besides the construction of those four vessels, the acquisition of four new-type frigates, we also need to ensure that some of these vessels will be constructed in Greek shipyards, which means domestic involvement of shipbuilding; 6-7 years are needed until their construction, we will not have them in a period of eight months to two years, like the Rafale.

The ones to take the job will provide an “interim solution”, which means two vessels, used but at good condition, possibly upgraded, as we have heard described in the French proposal to come, regarding “Lafayette” frigates, which are of older type, yet upgraded. We shall see, we are expecting specific proposals.

ANTONIS SROITER: Besides the vessels, I want to add one more thing so as to conclude the conversation, personnel will also be needed in the Armed Forces, so as to operate the vessels, support the aircraft and be at the frontier line. An increase of the service time has been decided. We have heard bellyaching, from the Army in particular, that this increase is small, because you also had to count in the political cost of such a decision.

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: That is not true; had we included the political cost, we wouldn’t have decided on increasing the service time. What I have to say to this fair point you have presented, is that, in order to reinforce the Armed Forces with personnel, we first have to launch the enlistment of professionals, either by increasing the number of cadets to enter the Military Academies, Officers and NCOs of all three Branches, as they will be the future pilots of the new aircraft, the future captains of the new frigates, the personnel that will be qualified with specialized technical knowledge.

In addition, we have also initiated the enlistment of 15 thousand Short Term Re-enlisting Privates, which are privates and Professional Conscripts, who will staff the Armed Forces in absolute need of extra and younger personnel; and, of course, we have also made the increase at the service time. Listen, we have to do all this gradually, we couldn’t suddenly make a big increase. We also have to co-calculate many other factors, such as the cost; in any case, I believe that the idea we are based on, the planning we are doing, i.e. to go to a 3-month increase, giving at the same time the choice of serving for seven months to those who want to serve in border units, and the rest can serve for twelve months, will reinforce the staffing of the Units at the borders in particular, which is our immediate interest. However, the upgrade will come by hiring professionals and experts.

ANTONIS SROITER: Let’s hope that all that will only be needed for deterrence. Mister Minister, thank you very much.