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Greece in the Red Sea: Why Athens Needs to Participate in Operation Prosperity Guardian 



The Greek frigate Hydra has been selected as the warship to participate in Operation Prosperity Guardian, the US-led operation determined to protect freedom of navigation (FON) in the Red Sea. Also expected to join a potential EU mission in the region, Hydra is set to depart in mid-February.


Due to a prior lack of advanced modern anti-drone self-protection systems, the frigate has only recently been equipped with Greek-made anti-drone capabilities – although these have not been officially outlined yet.


What we do know – from what has recently been reported – is that the warship is now equipped with “soft kill” countermeasures capable of jamming or spoofing small quadcopter drones within a radius of 2km. Additional hard and soft kill counter-UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) may have also been fitted to protect against MALE UAVs (Medium Altitude and Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), which the Houthis possess a considerable number of. At least nine types of Houthi UAVs have been identified thus far and include, among others, a variant of the notorious Iranian Shahed-136 suicide UAV that has been supplied to Russia and used ruthlessly against Ukrainian cities and infrastructure. 


Nevertheless, despite the lack of journalistic coverage and open-source intelligence data (for obvious reasons) over Hydra’s upgraded arsenal, surprises might reveal themselves in due course. 


Reports have suggested that Hydra has been equipped with a Swedish-made counter-UAS platform produced by Saab that provides intelligence-gathering (ELINT) and threat-identification capabilities across the electronic warfare domain.

The Greek Defence Minister, Nikos Dendias, announced the decision stating that “Greece, the country with the largest naval fleet, has a primary interest in preserving the freedom of the sea lanes and the protection of seafarers’ lives. It goes without saying that the frigate, which will participate in the operation, has the necessary means of self-protection”.


Now, regarding matters of political substance, one might wonder whether Greece's participation in Prosperity Guardian is in fact dictated by national interests, or whether it is even necessary at all. After all, the Hellenic Navy’s ageing fleet is in dire need of modernisation. The introduction of unmanned aerial and surface vehicles into its arsenal would be necessary advancements for the implementation of Network Centric Warfare doctrines in the modern battlefield

While the Greek-owned ships account for a staggering 21% of the global trade fleet, approximately 31.78% of the world's oil tankers and 25.01% of the world bulk carrier fleets, Greek participation in Prosperity Guardian is not yet categorically necessitated. The choice to sit at the sidelines and let the US and the UK carry the burden is always a perfectly sensible and rational approach; their vested interests in maintaining the liberal international order founded upon securing FON and unimpeded flows of global trade surpass – in relative terms –  Greece's stakes in the matter.

 

Given that Houthi attacks against commercial shipping have almost mathematically led to a joint US-UK military response, the option to free-ride on US-led collective action under Prosperity Guardian and joint British-American air strikes would fit perfectly with the risk-averse behaviour of a defensively-positioned, small power like Greece. Nevertheless, the gains incurred from partaking in collective action initiatives can at times considerably outweigh the risks and costs. 


In the case of Greece and the Hellenic Navy, prestige and experience are powerful incentives. The Greek government has taken an increasingly activist foreign policy-making stance since 2018, an approach that capitalises on the country’s geopolitical position at the crossroads of the East and West. As Stavros Ioannidis of Kathimerini attests, Navy crews who take part in Red Sea operation will “gain valuable experience in detecting and countering unmanned weapons and anti-ship missiles”. 


Ultimately, the Eastern Mediterranean is a point of close convergence between the Global North and South’s geopolitical divide, with the southernmost Greek island of Gavdos at just 165.70 miles (266.67 km) from the Libyan port-city of Darnah. Hence, the geographical reality provides Athens with unique opportunities for initiative-taking and power projection, despite lacking a clearly defined political will and facing fiscal constraints which severely limit the scope of its geostrategic ambitions. 


The Houthi attacks on commercial shipping headed to the port of Piraeus through the maritime zones of east and southeast of Crete – especially parts of the prospective Greek Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – have dealt a considerable blow to the finances of the publicly-owned Piraeus Port Authority. So, while Greek participation in Operation Prosperity Guardian could be substituted with a strategy of free-riding on the accrued benefits from others’ collective action, the Greek national interest requires the country’s involvement. 



Image: Getty Images/via Bloomberg

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