Monday, November 28, 2022

It’s Official! Greece Puts In Formal Request To Buy A Squadron Of F-35 Stealth Fighters From The US

Greece has signed and sent a Letter of Request (LoR) to the US to purchase a squadron of F-35 fighter jets to bolster its defense capabilities amid ongoing tensions with neighboring Turkey. 

The country’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, told reporters in Madrid during a NATO summit that Greece planned to purchase a squadron of the Lockheed Martin-produced F-35s, with an option for a second squadron. One squadron would have 20 aircraft, as per Greek officials.

According to Mitsotakis, “Part of this procedure is sending the Letter of Request, which has occurred in recent days.” He emphasized that this was just the beginning of a prolonged process and that Athens anticipates taking delivery of the aircraft no earlier than 2027 or 2028. 

To begin the relevant discussions with the US side, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, the Minister of National Defense, will travel to the US on July 18. The Joint Strike Fighter Program Office oversees the F-35 fighter aircraft program, and the Minister of National Defense met in May. 

F-35
File Image: F-35 By Lockheed Martin

Tsounis, the newly appointed US ambassador to Athens, also took part in the meeting. During the meeting, the Minister of National Defense stressed that the acquisition of F-35 aircraft, which will meet the Air Force’s anticipated operational needs, will start immediately following Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the US. 

Panagiotopoulos had said that the General staff would take the necessary steps within the parameters of the current process for buying defense equipment.

It was emphasized during the meeting that purchasing the F-35 aircraft, which will further improve the nation’s deterrent capability and the interoperability of the Armed Forces of Greece and the USA, demonstrates the strategic level of bilateral defense relations.

Growing Cooperation With The US

If the US responds favorably to the Greek request, the steps for finalizing the agreement will start, followed by production, pilot, and technical personnel training.

And, if everything goes as planned, the new 5th generation fighters will begin to be delivered in 2028. The Combat Wing’s infrastructure, which will house the new fighters, will also need to be improved concurrently.

In May, the Greek Prime Minister visited the United States. The F-35s procurement issue was also brought up at the Mitsotakis-Biden meeting at the White House. Later, during this visit, the Greek government announced its decision to strengthen the Air Force with F-35 jets. 

F-35 engine
F-35 fighter jet

According to the prime minister, the goal is “to inaugurate the cooperation for the acquisition of additional F-35 aircraft equipment,” highlighting that Lockheed Martin has publicly expressed an interest in investing in the Greek defense industry. 

On November 23, a delegation from the company Lockheed Martin officially unveiled the F-35 to Greek journalists in Athens, specifically at the Armed Forces Officers’ Club (LAED), and provided updates on the program’s development and the likelihood that Greece would participate, according to CNN Greece. 

Greece-Turkey Tensions

Greece is rapidly modernizing its defense forces. It has already ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, six new and 18 previously used by the French Air Force, and three French frigates. 

Mitsotakis stated earlier this year that the Greek air force, which frequently engages with Turkish jets in Aegean airspace that Ankara disputes, needed to be upgraded.

After a dangerous standoff with Turkey in 2020 over hydrocarbon resources and naval influence in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Greek PM unveiled the nation’s most ambitious arms purchase program in 2020.

Greece and Turkey, neighbors and NATO allies, have long-running disagreements over several matters, such as territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Turkey F-16
An F-16 Fighting Falcon of the Turkish Air Force. (Wikimedia Commons)

Recent disagreements have focused on the Greek islands off the coast of Turkey, where Ankara accuses Athens of violating treaties by maintaining a military presence. Greece insists that it is acting under international law to defend the islands against Turkish aggression. 

On the other hand, due to Ankara’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense system in 2019, the US suspended Turkey’s participation in its F-35 program. Turkey has steadfastly defended its decision to keep using the S-400s in the face of harsh criticism from the US and NATO over the purchase.

Meanwhile, a day after Turkey lifted its objection to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, the United States supported the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey on June 29, arguing that Turkey’s strong defense capabilities would strengthen NATO’s defenses.

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