ATHENS – Defense Minister Panos Kammenos’ plan to include offsets in a deal to upgrade the Hellenic Air Force’s F-16 aging fighter jets as Turkey wants to buy F-35s from the US drew criticism from the major opposition New Democracy it would hide expenditures.
An offset agreement is a type of side deal, often called a sweetener, with a company and government both gaining some benefits but critics said it can bring mismanagement and corruption.
Two Greek defense ministers and other officials have been swept up in scandals with former defense chief Akis Tsochatzopoulos, who was sentenced to 19 years in jail for stealing scores of millions of euros from contracts, but was given an early release in July, 2018 after serving less than five years because he said he had a heart condition and has been seen walking around the capital.
“Let’s talk about this, so that all queries can be solved,” Kammenos told Parliament on Jan. 9. He is leader of the tiny, pro-austerity, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in a coalition led by the Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who said he would end offsets and stop corruption.
New Democracy MP Simos Kedikoglou had earlier questioned the transparency of the amendment prescribing 230 million euros ($263.44 million) in offsets saying it amounted to “gross misconduct.”
In September, 2018, Lockheed Martin’s VP Business Development Initiatives in Europe Dennys Plessas said at a press conference in Thessaloniki during the international fair where the US was the honored guest that the improved jets were coming and that “ a great part of the upgrade will take place in Greece.”
He said the first two years will be spent on engineering for the prototype and the registration of the systems. The installation on Greek fighter jets will take place during the third year of the program, and the Hellenic Airforce pilots will be trained in the fourth year. The upgrade of the 85 warplanes to Vipers “ will provide the Hellenic Airforce with an entirely new aircraft, as the only element we shall keep is the fuselage,” Plessas said although the US wants to sell more modern fighters to Turkey at the same time.
That timetable is far longer than one presented in October, 2017 by then Alternate National Defence Minister Dimitris Vitsas who said that the fighter aircraft will start arriving in 2018 arrive in batches of about 20 a year, and 30% of the upgrades – costing Greece 1.1 billion euros – will be carried out by Hellenic Aerospace Industry and other Greek companies.
“One or two aircraft will be overhauled in the US to be used as models, and then a series of electronic systems will be manufactured in the US, will arrive in Greece, be assembled, and the remaining manufacturing and modifications will be done (here),” Vitsas said.
The minister also played down criticism that Greek labor would not be used, attributing the criticism to ignorance.
He said Greece requested that American manufacturers consider three alternatives for the number of aircraft to be upgraded. The costliest one includes an upgrade for 123 aircraft, and carries a price tag of 2.4 billion dollars. “This is the absolute ceiling, the program cannot exceed this expenditure,” he said then.