THE GREEK DEFENSE INDUSTRY:
A SUCCESSFUL TURNAROUND
The Investor Greece 2022 I Energy & Industry I Analysis
“AFTER YEARS OF MULTIPLE CHALLENGES, GREECE'S DEFENSE INDUSTRY IS SET TO BECOME ONE OF THE REGION'S MOST COMPETITIVE INDUSTRIES IN LINE WITH THE MARKET AND CUSTOMERS NEEDS.”
For many years, Greece only imported high-tech weaponry from abroad and has been the biggest importer of armaments in the EU between 2007 and 2012. The Greek debt crisis accentuated the dual capacity of the defense industry as both an agent and a victim of the country’s financial malaise. Yet the Greek defense industry was the star at Defense Exhibition Athens (DEFEA) in July 2021. Not only did Greek defense companies display their new, made-in-Greece weaponry alongside other established defense exporters such as Israel, they also reached several deals with foreign customers. This surprising turnaround coincides with Greece’s re-armament program amid recent tensions with Turkey and Athens’ quest for security through alliances, defense pacts, as armaments deals, and defense industrial cooperation.
The foundations for the Greek defense industry lay in the Cyprus Crisis of 1974. Greece’s subsequent withdrawal from NATO’s military wing and the rising tensions with Turkey over the Aegean underlined the need for an indigenous defense industry and to reduce its dependence on the United States. State-owned corporations aspired to manufacture or co-manufacture most of the weaponry that the Greek armed forces needed, from tank munitions to jeeps and aircraft engines. In other words, self-sufficiency, not exports, was the stated objective but it has never achieved a level of self-sufficiency in the military sector with only 9% of the Greek Army’s needs covered.
The colossal armament program of Greece in the aftermath of the Imia Crisis in 1996 between Greece and Turkey was an iconic case study. From the 22 billion euros, the vast majority of them were direct assignments to the foreign defense industries. However, this “armaments diplomacy” never offered Greece the level of security that it desired with respect to Turkey.
Under a strict austerity policy, Athens reduced its defence budget by 30% and did not procure new weaponry or even initiate the modernization of its aging weapons systems for over a decade. This austerity affected both the state- and privately-owned defense industries, both of which depended on the Greek Ministry of Defense contracts. These defense cuts would persist until 2020, when a pair of incidents – the Evros Crisis in March and the Cesme Crisis in July – ratcheted up tensions with Turkey.
The sector’s stabilization in 2020 can be ascribed to three main factors: the privatization of bankrupt state-owned industries by foreign investors, the re-armament program of the Greek Ministry of Defense, and private corporations’ emphasis on exports and cooperation with key foreign players such as Israel. The privatization and consolidation of the state-owned corporations was completed in mid-2021. Subsequently, the EAS recorded zero net losses for the first time in nearly 17 years because of export orders, including from Egypt and the U.S. The EAB inked a deal with the UAE’s defense ministry that, among other things, envisions in-depth cooperation in UAVs. The ELVO was auctioned off in 2020 to the Israelis, who intend to use it as their “forward export base” in the Balkans. And the ENAE, Greece’s most troubled shipyard, was finally privatized in July 2021.
Greece inked a major deal with France about the procurement of frigates and corvettes in September 2021 and, per Greek sources, some of these vessels will be manufactured in Greece and the “know-how” will be transferred to the Greek shipyards. Greece’s re-armament program, which may exceed 11.5. billion euros by 2025, will offer its defense industries new contracts with the Ministry of Defense. In fact, local defense companies have supplied the Greek military with made-in-Greece weaponry such as drones and speedboats in growing numbers from late 2020 onwards – a trend that will only be reinforced in the near future.
Nowhere else was this shift more evident than the EU’s various tenders in defense. Despite fierce competition from European defense giants such as France’s Thales Group, Greek defense companies secured nearly 1/3 of the upcoming projects the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation in 2020. Thanks to the industrial synergies with the defense corporations of allied EU countries (most notably, France), the Greek defense ecosystem laid the foundations for healthy growth. Such synergies may remedy one of the chronic illnesses of the Greek defense ecosystem: the shortage in funds for research and development.
The new right-wing Greek government went one step further, concluding comprehensive defense accords with the UAE and France in November 2020 and September 2021, respectively. In 2020, Greek defense companies inked their biggest deals to date that exceeded 255 million euros. These deals represented a 20% increase in the value of their contracts on a year-to-year basis.
The Greek defense ecosystem currently consists of 80 companies, a 22% increase since 2020. Most of these companies undertake military and civilian projects alike. Only half of them, four state-owned and 35 private, execute solely defense-related contracts. These 39 companies employed 6,268 people in 2019, and their operations’ cycle amounted to 318 million euros. These 39 firms can be further categorized as such: 25 small (less than 2 million euro annual turnover), 11 small-to-medium (less than 50 million euros) and 3 medium (greater than or equal to 50 million euros). And indicatively of the Greek defense ecosystem’s status, not a single one of these 39 companies exceeds 100 million euros in annual exports. The only exception would be METKA of the Mytilineos Group with a 2.26 billion euros annual turnover.