The Hellenic Air Force (HAF) is aiming to increase its operational capability in anticipation of any future confrontation with Turkey. Can it acquire Eurofighter Typhoons and F-35 stealth jets — two of the most formidable warplanes in the world — to beat its rival?
Despite being NATO members, Greece and Turkey have a long history of hostility, including a full-fledged war in 1974.
The occupation of northern Cyprus by Turkey, the status of ethno-religious minorities, the delimitation of territorial seas, the continental shelf/exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and national airspace, as well as the problem of illegal immigration, are all long-standing disputes between the two nations.
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HAF and the Turkish Air Force (TAF) pilots have engaged in dogfights over the Aegean Sea multiple times in the past, with some of them resulting in fatalities such as the 1996 Turkish F-16 shootdown by a Greek Mirage and the 2006 Greek F-16 accident caused by a Turkish F-16.
HAF To Procure Typhoons?
Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos recently indicated the possibility of procuring Typhoon fighters from the UK, while answering a question posed by Kyriakos Velopoulos, president of the conservative party Ellinikí Lýsi, in Parliament.
He said, “Examined all the possible options for finding the most suitable approach in order to further increase the operational capabilities of the Air Force.”
Panagiotopoulos said the HAF is considering purchasing the Royal Air Force’s 30 Eurofighter Typhoons, which are set to retire in 2025. With this acquisition, Greece would be able to phase out the 18 aging McDonnell-Douglas F-4E Phantom II jets it currently operates.
The Royal Air Force announced in early September 2021 that the 30 Typhoon Tranche 1 fighter jets in its sustainment fleet will be retired in 2025. This aircraft has limited ground capabilities without the use of an external pod and is confined to air-to-air capabilities.
The Greek government has previously said it had placed an order for six more Rafale fighter jets, bringing the total number of French-made fighter jets sold to Athens to 24.
Greece Eyes F-35s?
Since early 2019, Greece has openly expressed its desire to purchase Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, but persisting fiscal issues have prevented a formal request. Early this year, Defence Minister Panagiotopoulos said that “sooner or later, a purchase of F-35s will be discussed.”
It is believed that Greece wants to neutralize the threat posed by Turkey’s procurement of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system and has already been suspended from the fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
On the contrary, the Greek government is swiftly modernizing its Air Force with cutting-edge technology. The F-16 modification program is already underway and the HAF is upgrading 84 F-16s to the ‘Viper’ variant. This effectively transforms the Block 52 aircraft into Block 72-type jets.
Greece was also the first European country to declare plans to buy warplanes from France, a departure from a more than a decade-long trend in which European countries had opted for the Eurofighter Typhoon and the F-35 over the Rafale.
Turkey Losing Air Superiority To Greece?
Lockheed Martin F-16s have been in service with both HAF and TAF for three decades. Between 1989 and 2010, Greece received 170 F-16s of various types. With Rafale in its arsenal, ongoing discussions about acquiring Eurofighter fighters and F35s will further bolster the Hellenic Air Force.
Ankara is currently looking for 40 F-16 fighter jets and over 80 modification kits for its existing warplanes from the United States.
On top of that, Turkey is betting on its indigenous fighter plane, dubbed TF-X but its induction into the Turkish Air Force will take more than 10 years. Ankara does have an option of purchasing fifth-generation fighter jets from Russia, but could possibly result in further US sanctions.
Meanwhile, Turkey is keen to acquire F-16 fighter jets from the US despite Ankara’s removal from the F-35 jet program due to purchasing Russian S-400 air defense systems, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said.
“Turkey no longer participates in the F-35 program, and with respect to the F-16 program, there is a process that has been in place for many years for how countries proceed to make requests to purchase fighter jets and related equipment. Turkey is in that process and the process will continue,” Sullivan said during a press briefing.
Defense Department spokesperson Anton Samelroth said US and Turkish delegations held productive dispute resolution talks on the matter. The delegations plan to meet again in Washington in the coming months, Semelroth added.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby on Monday declined to speculate on whether the United States would approve Turkey’s request for F-16 fighter jets.
“I’m not going to get into specifics about potential foreign military sales, that’s the realm of the State Department,” Kirby said during a press briefing. “I’m not going to speculate one way or the other about the F-16s.”
Kirby added that a meeting between US and Turkish delegations in Ankara last week about the removal of Turkey from the F-35 program was productive and professional in tone.