In Race to Rearm, Greece Seeks Partnerships, More Hardware (Pics & Vid)

ANDRAVIDA, Greece — Greece has vowed to expand military cooperation with traditional NATO allies as well as Middle Eastern powers in a race to modernize its armed forces and face its militarily assertive neighbor Turkey. 

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited an airbase in southern Greece to attend multinational military exercises joined by fighter jets from the United States, France, Israel, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates.

Greece has hosted the international armed forces exercise 'Iniochos 2021' for over 30 years, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said at Andravida base on Tuesday, one of the most dynamic, demanding and competitive military exercises available.

The annual exercise provides valuable training in a world where new threats rise every year, he said.

"Greece will always promote a positive agenda, founded on joint values, respect of International Law and the Law of the Sea, rules of good neighborhood, and mutual respect that must underlie relations of modern countries," Mitsotakis said.

"At the same time, however, we cannot be naive," he noted. "We are facing new threats. Our world is extremely complicated and our neighborhood is unfortunately becoming more unstable. Greece will continue to expand its defense capabilities and to upgrade its Armed Forces. We will continue to implement NATO's targe for expenditures equal to 2 pct" of GDP, he underlined.

While in Andravida, western Peloponnese, the Greek premier also spoke with pilots attached to the 111 Combat Wing's 347 Squadron, based in Almiros in central Greece, where he had served for his military obligation.

Greece spends more on defense than any other European Union country relative to the size of its economy. But it announced a major rearmament program last year following a naval standoff with Turkey over natural gas drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Under pressure from NATO allies, Greece and Turkey resumed diplomatic talks in January to try and ease the tension. Athens, however, is pressing ahead with an accelerated military upgrade program worth 11.5 billion euros over five years.

Greek officials at the weekend signed agreements worth $1.65 billion with Israel's military and defense contractor Elbit Systems to create a new flight academy near the southern Greek city of Kalamata.

The air force has already begun overhauling its fleet of U.S.-made F-16 fighters and has placed a 2.3 billion-euro order to buy 18 French-made Rafale fighter jets, some currently in service with France's military, along with an upgrade of compatible missiles.

Companies from five NATO allies, including the U.S., France and Britain, are also vying for a naval contract to provide new frigates.

In the wake of the crisis with Turkey, Greece has ramped up military cooperation with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, with joint training exercises to seek stronger regional partnerships — a move strongly supported by the U.S.

"What makes (these exercises) really unique is the way in which Greece is able to build bridges between our NATO allies and key regional partners like Israel, UAE, Cyprus," U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt told The Associated Press, pausing as jets screamed overhead. Pyatt earlier flew in a U.S. F-16 at Andravida air base.

Greece's annual Iniochos exercises opened to allied forces in 2015, with 2021's participation the largest so far, involving more than 60 overseas aircraft flying over 1,000 sorties. It included 14 U.S. Air Force F-16s from the 31st Fighter Wing, Aviano Air Base, Italy. U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Daniel "Deuce" Lindsey, commander of the 510th Fighter Squadron in Aviano, said Greek pilots used the exercise to operate in an environment that would exist following its air force upgrades. He added that the exercise also helped the United States plan and carry out missions with allies.

"We don't really operate unilaterally. We're always going to operate as a coalition, as a force to the maximum extent," he told the AP. "So that means working with NATO allies, partners and partner nations to be more lethal."

Canada also provided ground staff support, and Cyprus sent one helicopter while Austria, Egypt, Jordan, Romania and Slovenia sent observers. 

Greek military officials said the exercises were broadly based on a hypothetical scenario of a regional conflict escalating into an international military confrontation.

Observing Iniochos 2021 along with Mitsotakis were Deputy National Defense Minister Alkiviadis Stefanis, Secretary General Antonis Economou, the top chiefs of the Armed Forces, and Western Greece Regional Director Nektarios Farmakis. Also attending were the ambassadors of all participating and observing countries.



MADRID - NATO leaders at a Madrid meeting couldn't convince a stubborn Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to talk to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who's been getting the silent treatment from him.

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