The photos emerged on Twitter amid growing tensions between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea, but they’re not recent.
On December 8, 2019 some photos emerged on Twitter showing the Head-Up Display of a Greek Mirage 2000 allegedly targeting a Turkish frigate with Exocet anti-ship missiles during a show of force. This comes amid growing tensions between the two countries reached even higher levels after last week’s agreement between Turkey and Libya to establish new boundaries for resources’ exploitation in the Mediterranean Sea.
As you may already know, relations between Greece and Turkey have always been complicate. Earlier this year, Turkey started drilling for oil off the coast of Cyprus, prompting a joint Cyprus-Greece-Egypt statement saying that Turkey had violated international laws as they were operating in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone and territorial waters. European leaders also issued a formal statement saying that Turkey’s drilling is illegal and imposed new sanctions, to which Turkey answered stating that the drilling is legal because it’s in the territorial waters of Northern Cyprus, which falls within Turkey’s continental shelf.
The images in question first appeared on the Twitter profile of Yannis Nikitas, an embedded journalist of the Hellenic Ministry of Defense. In the photos we can see the HUD of a Mirage 2000, recognizable also by the characteristic Mirage refueling probe, as it gets a lock on a ship which, according to the caption, could be a Turkish frigate. On the left side of the HUD we can see a “M39” label, showing that the pilot selected the AM-39 Exocet anti-ship to perform the lock on the ship.
Η Τουρκική φρεγάτα στοχοποιημένη από τα Mirage της #HellenicAirForce σε αποστολή ναυτικής κρούσης στο #Αιγαιο Αυτή είναι η γλώσσα που καταλαβαίνει ο Τούρκος. Καμία υποχώρηση στα εθνικά συμφέροντα. Καμία έκπτωση στην εθνική κυριαρχία. Υπέρ βωμών και εστιών σε ξηρά, θάλασσα κ αέρα. pic.twitter.com/H4qynMZrlv
— Ioannis Nikitas (@Ioannis_Nikitas) December 8, 2019
Here below a Youtube video showing a live fire exercise of the Hellenic Air Force in 2012 with the AM-39 Exocet launched by a Mirage 2000:
The French-made Exocet missiles, famous after being successfully used by Argentina against British warships during the Falklands’ war, are the weapon of choice of the Hellenic Air Force’s Mirage 2000EGM/BGM employed in TASMO (Tactical Air Support of Maritime Operations) role. It is worth noting that this capability is only available to the older EGM/BGM models, as it was removed from the upgraded Mirage 2000-5Mk2 due to budget restraints.
Even if the caption states that the target is a Turkish frigate, we can’t confirm it yet due to the distance the image was taken from, as it’s impossible to discern useful features of the ship for an identification. However, if we extract an approximate shape from the ship in the photo and we consider only frigates, the target could be either a Turkish Barbaros-class frigate or a Greek Hydra-class frigate. We can’t still rule out the possibility of a Greek frigate as the HUD shows the PRAC label, which means that the missile was not armed and ready to be fired but rather set in training mode, or better as practice mode as shown in the image. If that’s the case, the photo could have been taken during TASMO training with the Hellenic Navy.
While searching online for more info about the photos and the background of the specific mission of the Mirage from which they were taken, we found the same photos in an article published by Nikitas in September 2018 on his website DefenceReview.gr with two additional shots. If the additional photos are from the same mission (although the weather is different…), the top one shows a closer look at the ship that allows us to confirm that this is indeed a Barbaros-class frigate belonging to the Turkish Navy and the photos were not taken recently but last year during a show of force (i.e. flying low and fast close to a foreign warship in international waters).
The same article analyzes in depth the Hellenic Air Force’s anti-ship capability. As stated by Nikitas, the HAF 19 Mirage 2000 in the EGM/BGM version serving in the 332 Mira (Squadron). The Mirages use the AM-39 Exocet Block 2 in combination with the RDM-3 radar in Surface Survey mode with a detection range of 60 nm (110 km) which, always according to Nikita’s article, allow the HAF to launch an attack outside of the RIM-66 Standard SM-1 surface-to-air missile used by the Turkish Navy. According to available information, the SM-1 is used by G-Class frigates, while the Barbaros-class frigate in the photos uses the RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow Missile, which has a shorter range than the SM-1.
Summing up, the photos are not a consequence of the tensions accumulated in the last few days and the two countries are not on the brink of war, as stated by some propaganda comment on Twitter by both sides, but they are probably photos from one of the frequent skirmishes between Greece and Turkey which often result in interceptions and shows of force; this one is likely a show of force of a Greek Exocet-armed Mirage 2000EGM/BGM performed last year against a Barbaros-class frigate of the Turkish Navy.