With tensions still running high over the rights to the Aegean and East Mediterranean, Greece wants to buy 18-24 F-35 US-made F-35 fighter jets Turkey has been barred from acquiring after purchasing Russian S-400 missile defenses.
The Greek newspaper Proto Thema said Greece’s Director General of Armaments and Investments, Theodoros Lagios, wrote the Pentagon about getting the jets, that cost $77.9 million each.
That could bring a total price tag of some $1.869 billion at a time when the economy is faltering badly after two lockdowns aimed at trying to prevent the spread of a second wave of COVID-19.
The formal Letter of Request (LOR) was sent to the U.S. Department of Defense by Greece’s Ministry of Defense on Nov, 6, the paper said, adding it had obtained a copy of the document which requested the “immediate purchase” of either new or former U.S. Air Force F-35As, or perhaps a mixture of both.
“The decision to enter the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program will be based on a variety of factors such as the delivery schedule of the fighters, the repayment plan, the configuration of the aircraft and a possible combination to obtain a total of 18 to 24 jets (new or used by the U.S. Air Force, if available),” the request reportedly said.
“Due to internal fiscal arrangements and other applicable rules within the EU (European Union) budget and deficit framework, it is crucial that the first F-35s be delivered in 2021. For our part, we will do everything possible to implement this ambitious program,” the letter added.
There have been worries of a conflict after Turkey sent an energy research vessel and warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo, shadowed by the Greek Navy, with the EU refusing to consider sanctions until year's end.
Lagios was saive to have called for U.S. officials to visit Greece “as soon as possible” to start negotiations over a possible F-35 purchase, after Turkey said it had tested the S-400 system that could be used against Greece and compromise NATO, the defense alliance to which both belong.
Getting used F-35s would mean not having to wait for production and delivery of new ones rolling off the line at Lockheed Martin at Ft. Worth, Texas, and give Greece access faster as part of beefing up its arsenal, along with buying French-made Rafale fighter jets and frigate, the site The War Zone also reported.
A Letter of Request (LOR) doesn't necessarily mean Greece will get the jets to supplement its aging ranks of F-16 fighter jets that are outclassed by the F-35s that Turkey wanted to obtain.
The first Rafales are expected to start arriving in Greece in early 2021, at a rate of one per month, beginning with the first six of a planned lot of 12 former French Air Force aircraft. The remaining six aircraft that the Greeks have ordered are expected to be new-build jets, The War Zone said.
Proto Thema noted that Turkey’s recently tested S-400 air defense system “could create problems in the daily activity of the (Greek) Air Force” and suggests the fighter plans are an effort to counter that.
In October 2020 the Greek newspaper Estia reported Greece might get the F-35s slated for Turkey although the US Defense Department said eight would go to the US Air Force, and at least 14 others designed for Turkey have been built.
The War Zone said that if Greece gets F-35s it could help reduce the numerical advantage that Turkey has although President Recep Tayyip Erdogan purged much of his military following a failed July 2016 coup attempt against him and Greek fighter pilots are ranked among the best in NATO and the world.
“The F-35s could act as efficient force-multipliers for other assets in the Hellenic Air Force tactical inventory, which is currently dominated by F-16 Vipers, which are in the process of undergoing a wide-ranging upgrade,” the site said.
“In this way, a relatively small fleet of Joint Strike Fighters could be leveraged to achieve an effect beyond the capabilities of a larger force of less sophisticated jets,” it added.
In December 2019, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, before visiting the White House the next month – before tensions with Turkey over the seas boundaries began to rise – said Greece wanted F-35's.
“We can deepen our defense cooperation even further, for example in the sector of drones,” Mitsotakis told Greek newspaper To Vima, at the time. “We will also begin a discussion on eventually acquiring F-35 aircraft, once fiscal conditions permit,” he said at the time.