In recent weeks we have heard much reporting on the subject of Cyprus' purported acquisition of two warships from France (following on from 2012 reports of a similar planned acquisition from Israel or Greece).
It appears that Cyprus initially considered two French-made Gowind corvette class vessels from France, similar in configuration to the French ship L'Adroit offshore patrol vessel which visited Limassol in January this year. Reports then shifted to claims from Government sources that Cyprus was instead seeking to buy (or lease) two much larger French made frigates of the FREMM version (possibly via Greece or in conjunction with the Greek Navy).
The acquisition of two warships sets a new precedent for Cypriot military forces in the Mediterranean, the Navy of which has previously consisted of patrol and gunboat type vessels, none heavier than 90 tons. It is clear that Cyprus is seeking to head off naval threats from Turkey against her sovereign EEZ (exclusive economic zone) in the waters south of Cyprus, and it cannot be coincidental that Israel and Greece, both strategic energy partners with Cyprus, are also increasing their naval forces.
It seems likely that Cyprus is acquiring two naval vessels, be they circa 2000-ton corvettes or circa 6000-ton frigates, not as a unilateral measure, but part of a greater mobilisation by all three nations of the Mediterranean energy pact - to ensure that combined forces are greater and that Cyprus can contribute something significant to her own defence should a regional conflict erupt over hydrocarbon rights.
Regarding which types of ships are more suitable for Cyprus, which has only a 400-man Navy at present- it seems clear that two corvettes would impart less demand on manpower, as the Gowind type vessels can operate with as few as 60 men to each crew. However, corvettes are to small to offer substantial self-protection from enemy air attack, regardless of how many short-range missiles and close-in-weapon-systems they carry. Consequently, Cyprus maybe tempted to restructure her National Guard, transfer more men to a larger Navy, and then take on two large frigates with more substantial air-defence weapons, albeit at the cost of much bigger crew and operating requirements.
The subject of the Cypriot financial crisis raised uproar amongst spectators, who see the acquisition of a few warships by Cyprus as a pointless folly when money is tight. In fact, it is my opinion that Cyprus is making the right decision in investing in a Navy to safeguard future hydrocarbon wealth - she also has many options available, and does not have to purchase the ships outright in a single payment. She may do, as other nations have done previously, and lease the warships, or otherwise pay in instalments.
Quite what equipment Cyprus requires to mount a unilateral defence of the EEZ is no longer a valid subject to discuss. Cyprus does not consider herself alone. She has formed an energy pact with Israel and Greece, and expects those countries to, putting it simply, "join forces" as a single partnership against Turkish aggression. Two Cypriot warships alone equate to very little in the grand strategy of energy security - but combined with 20 Israeli ships and 40 Greek ships, they contribute a new and useful force on the extreme north of the gas fields, and to the extreme east of the alliance.
In any case, Cyprus has been moving away from traditional ideas of fighting an attritional conflict on land for some time - it seems increasingly likely that if Cyprus really wants to hurt Turkey in a fight - she will do it with air and naval assets. To this effect, Cyprus has severely limited her spending on tanks and artillery in the past decade, and instead spent money on twelve attack helicopters (Mi-35), surface-air missile systems (TOR and reportedly an unspecified medium-range SAM type) and four fast patrol boats (FPB-30M).
Our assessment of the Cyprus defence plan against an increasingly belligerent and dangerous Turkey highlights strategy and force-multiplication - Cyprus forces are far smaller than Turkish forces, so an attritional conflict on the ground will not be won by Cyprus unless the Greek Cypriots score major victories against the Turkish Air Force and Navy. This is no easy task and requires the right equipment, the right infrastructure and the right training at great expense. In order to mitigate some of these expenses, Cyprus appears to have outsources some of her defence requirements by encouraging Greece and Israel to form a tripartite alliance with her, using energy security as the linchpin in such a scheme.
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