NEWS

2.1-bln-euro purchase

The government yesterday directly awarded four contracts for major arms procurements for a total cost of 2.13 billion euros with which it all but completes an armaments program for 2001-2005. It is estimated to have allocated 22 billion euros for this since 1996. «We are buying nothing that is not absolutely necessary,» Prime Minister Costas Simitis told a meeting of the Government Council on Foreign Policy and Defense (KYSEA), before a unanimous decision on attack and transport helicopters and naval vessels. Chiefs of staff of the various wings argued that the orders were designed so the weapons would be compatible with those already in the Greek or other European armed forces. At a cost of 651 million euros, the government decided to buy 42 NH-90 transport helicopters, with an option for another four. Of these, four are to be used as ambulances and another six by special forces. The helicopters are built by a German-French-Italian-Dutch consortium, the European Aeronautic, Defense and Space Co. For another 683 million euros, Greece will buy 12 Apache attack helicopters from Boeing, with an option for another four, to add to the 20 it has. Thirdly, the Greek Skaramangas Shipyards, in cooperation with French-Dutch company Thales, will undertake the modernization of six S-type frigates at a cost of 381 million euros. Fourthly, Elefsina Shipyards will build a corvette in cooperation with British shipbuilder Vesper Thornycroft, which has also been asked to built five torpedo boats, at a cost of 415 million euros. The initial plan was to buy two corvettes. Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou stressed that the government had saved money in that had it followed its initial program, it would have had to allocate more than 4 billion euros for these weapons rather than the current 2.13 billion euros. He said that with these purchases the mid-term armaments program for 2001-2005 would be completed, with the exception of the still outstanding order for Centauros armored personnel carriers which are budgeted at 250 million euros. The government shrugged off opposition party criticism that it was serving specific interests in directly allocating the contracts to companies and not even negotiating with countries on a bilateral basis. Papantoniou attributed the criticism to «a clash of business interests which always arise before a meeting of the KYSEA.»