During Detente, Greece and Turkey Compete for Fighter Jet Superiority

September 15, 2023

ATHENS – Greece and Turkey are talking nice now, ratcheting down tensions in disputes over sovereignty of the seas and other issues but both are still trying to insure their fighter jets would rule the skies in a conflict.

Greece hopes to acquire US-made F-35’s denied to Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government purchased Russian S-400 missile systems that undermine the security of NATO and could be used against Greece.

Before quiet was brought earlier in 2023 following the re-elections of Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis – that over an earthquake in Turkey and deadly train collision in Greece – the Turkish leader warned of an invasion.

Turkish F-16s also frequently violated Greek airspace, leading to mock dogfights with Greek pilots who are among the best in NATO, bringing worries of a battle or war over a trigger-happy incident.

Mitsotakis, addressing the US Congress in May, 2022 asked lawmakers to veto plans by President Joe Biden – who had been presumed friendly to Greece – to sell more F-16s to Turkey and upgrade Turkey’s Air Force.

That was a quid pro quo for Erdogan blackmailing NATO into giving in to his demands after he threatened to block the entry of Sweden and Finland into the alliance, Biden admitting as much.

Erdogan still is pressing for the F-35s but faces staunch opposition in the US Congress, especially from the Hellenic Caucus and allies of Greece there, so had turned to domestic production of a fighter jet trying to mimic the F-35.

In the battle of stealth fighters, the news side Business Insider’s military correspondent Paul Iddon said Greece could get the F-35s as soon as 2028 and would have superiority over Turkey’s new TF Kaan.

“If both sides are operating stealth fighters by the next decade, it could change the nature of the mock dogfights that their air forces periodically engage in over the Aegean,” he wrote.


Turkish Aerospace Industries said it can deliver the first 20 TF Kaan jets in 2028 although they would be an a disadvantage against the F-35s, the Turkish version have lower and less powerful engines, Ryan Bohl, a senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at the risk-intelligence company RANE, told Insider.

George Tzogopoulos, a Senior Fellow at the Centre International de Formation Européenne, a French policy research institute, said he thinks Greece’s timeframe for receiving F-35s is more realistic than Turkey’s for the TF Kaan since the latter “depends on several unknown parameters.”

“The Turkish defense industry has already made progress (e.g., Bayraktar TB2 drones), but the completion and production of fifth-generation jets is a completely different and new mission,” Tzogopoulos said.

Bohl said several factors could hinder timely production of the TF Kaan, including fiscal considerations, national spending priorities, and Turkey’s foreign partnerships even as the country renewed hopes of joining the European Union.

In dogfights in the skies, “There always is a risk of miscalculation caused by pilot error,” Bohl said, “though I strongly suspect that even with stealth capabilities at play, both Athens and Ankara would be strongly incentivized to develop protocols to avoid accidental shoot-downs and military incidents.”

Tzogopoulos said that, “The risk of accidents in the air (but also in the sea) will be high even before the expected fielding of stealth fighters. It is not a matter of the type of fighter, but of the political will to prevent crises.”


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