In mid-November, Greek media reported Athens’ intent to purchase between 18 and 24 new or used Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters from the United States. Athens urged the US to rush the delivery, saying it urgently needed for the first of the planes to be delivered by 2021.
The United States welcomes “at the highest levels” Greece’s interest in purchasing F-35 fighter jets, US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt has announced.
“We have signaled our support for procurement and are working closely together on a future acquisition program, which would enhance Greece’s defence capabilities, ensure interoperability with US Armed forces and improve regional stability. All reports to the contrary are false and misrepresentations of US policy,” Pyatt said, his remarks published on the US Embassy’s webpage on Monday.
Calling the US-Greek defence relationship “one of America’s strongest military relationships in Europe,” Pyatt said Washington was working with Athens “daily to advance from strength,” including via its F-35 plans.
He noted, however, that “the path to acquisition of the F-35 is a multi-year process” that would have to “build upon the successes realized in Greece’s F-16 Viper upgrade program.”
Greece’s General Director for Defence Investments and Armaments announced in mid-November that Athens plans to buy up to two dozen F-35s, and urged Washington to rush the order, citing “internal fiscal arrangements and other applicable rules within the EU budget and deficit framework.”
The request comes following Greece’s earlier announcement about its plans to buy 18 Dassault Rafale fighters from France. The Greek Reporter indicated that the Rafales and F-35s should help Athens “change the balance of power with Turkey” if and when they are supplied.
‘If Greece Buys F-35 Fighters, Turkey Will Use S-400 Against Them’, Ret. General Says
Reacting to Greece’s plans, retired Turkish Armed Forces Major General Nejat Eslen warned that if Washington agreed to deliver its fifth-generation fighters to Athens, Turkey would deploy its Russian-bought S-400 air defence systems against them, stationing them in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean and allowing Turkey “to establish regional superiority over both Greece and other countries in the region.”
Turkey was unceremoniously booted out of the F-35 fighter programme in July 2019 after it refused to give up on its S-400s, which the Pentagon called incompatible with NATO air defence standards and a possible threat to alliance aircraft. Turkey’s departure forced Lockheed Martin to find replacements for a whopping 1,005 different parts made by Turkish defence contractors, leading to a temporary dip in F-35 production.
With an estimated lifetime price of $1.6 trillion, the F-35 is easily the most expensive weapons project in history, and a controversial one, with the US Government Accountability Office continuing to find major flaws and bugs in the plane’s hardware and software, and potentially life-threatening issues affecting the jet’s operation.
Greek media has indicated that Athens wants its F-35s at a price of $77.9 million per plane for the conventional takeoff and landing variant, meaning a total price of up to $1.8 billion. That would be in addition to the $1.5 billion Greece already agreed to spend to upgrade its General Dynamics F-16s in 2019.
The planned acquisition come amid raging maritime tensions between Greece and Turkey, and Europe and Turkey more broadly, over Ankara’s exploratory drilling for gas in maritime areas claimed by Greece and Cyprus. Last week, Germany warned that Brussels may slap sanctions on Turkey over its ‘provocative’ exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In mid-November, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the self-proclaimed Republic of Northern Cyprus, further heightening tensions with Nicosia.
The Greek-Turkish gas dispute began in August, when Ankara sent a gas drilling ship to disputed Mediterranean waters after Greece and Egypt signed an exclusive economic zone maritime delimitation pact. Athens and Cairo reached the agreement after Ankara and the Turkish-backed government in Tripoli, Libya signed a similar deal in late 2019.