Defense Chief Says Greece Will Upgrade F-16’s, Get F-35’s

Αssociated Press

FILE - In this Tuesday, May 21, 2019 file photo, F-35B aircraft pass on a runway after landing at the Akrotiri Royal air forces base near city of Limassol, Cyprus. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias, File)

ATHENS - With uncertainty which way US President Donald Trump will lean, Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said Greece wants to buy a squadron of US-made F-35 fighter jets and plans to upgrade F-16’s to be able to match Turkey’s capabilities.

Turkey was barred by the US Congress from the F-35 program after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan bought Russian S-400 missile defense systems that could compromise NATO, the defense alliance to which Greece, the US and Turkey belong.

But while Trump praised the American alliance with Greece during a meeting in Washington with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis the American leader said Erdogan is his friend and a “hell of a leader” and there’s worries Washington would tilt in favor of Ankara if there were a conflict.

Speaking on Skai TV, the minister said the upgrade of the Hellenic Air Force’s F-16 to the Viper version will be starting soon but that it will take seven to eight years, with Turkey now frequently violating Greek airspace with fighter jets, requiring Greek pilots to engage n mock dogfights.

He said Greece will react “dynamically” to any challenge to its sovereignty and confirmed Kathimerini’s report that the United States plan to take initiatives to ease tensions with Turkey after Mitsotakis’ meeting with Trump, where Greece sought support over Turkish provocations as well in the Aegean and East Mediterranean.

But, showing how delicate the balance is because of Trump’s volatility, the minister said Greece hasn’t pushed him to talk to Erdogan but wants other channels of communication without saying what they were and as the Turkish leader has the final say anyway for policy.