While tensions between Greece and its NATO ally Turkey continue to rise, the former boasts a robust fighter fleet including newly inducted Rafale fighter jets procured from France.
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On January 18, the first six of the 24 Rafale fighter jets purchased from France in a historic defense deal agreed in January 2021 arrived in Greece, according to Dassault Aviation.
The initial purchase agreement was for 18 jets, but Athens added six more in September to strengthen Greece’s military might in the face of Turkey’s growing ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
After flying above the Acropolis, the planes landed at Tanagra Airbase, and their ownership was transferred to Greece during a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The fighter jets are expected to cost 3.3 billion euros each, with Athens also seeking to purchase three Belharra frigates and five Gowind corvettes from the French shipbuilder Naval Group, according to Greek Reporter.
Watch: Greece gets Rafale aircraft from France; Greek priest bless jets & the pilots, in a ceremony similar to "Shastra Puja" performed by Indian Defence minister @DefenceMinIndia Rajnath Singh in 2019. pic.twitter.com/0Z6kHBHpjM
— Sidhant Sibal (@sidhant) January 20, 2022
For several months, Greek pilots and 50 technicians have been training in France to familiarize themselves with the 4.5th generation advanced Dassault fighter.
While there had earlier been talks about Greece’s interest in the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets, the idea was temporarily dropped due to the high cost of the American aircraft. Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos, however, stated that “sooner or later, a purchase of F-35s will be discussed.”
So, while the matter has remained stagnant, there is an indication from the Greek side that the idea for F-35 purchase has not been shelved. It is pertinent to note that Turkey was expelled from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program by the US following its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system.
According to defense experts, the Rafale marks a turning point in Greece’s defense capabilities because it carries more modern weapons than anything previously seen in the Aegean theater, said Al Jazeera.
The Hellenic Air Force had been looking to modernize its fighter fleet for quite some time, given they have to intercept Turkish F-16 fighter jets intruding into its airspace or overflying Greek islands.
Greek Vs Turkish Air Power
The Hellenic Air Force has had a rough time in the past decade. It was forced to ground many of its F-16 fighter aircraft owing to a lack of funds for maintenance and spare parts.
However, as the crisis got over, it decided to place an order with Lockheed Martin for upgrading the older F-16s to the Viper variant. The first flight for the upgraded aircraft took place last year.
First F-16 “Viper” prototype (005) of @HAFspokesman flying over snowed peaks of central Greece during its initial tests. The upgrade of 85 Hellenic F-16s in the next years will boost capabilities of the Airforce but also its ability to integrate 5 Gen fighters in the future. pic.twitter.com/s8DG9DOs87
— Vassilis Nedos (@NedosVassilis) January 20, 2021
With the purchase of the Rafales, the HAF is going to be equipped with the best aircraft in the entire Aegean region.
The tensions between Athens and Ankara reached an all-time high over issues pertaining to commercial rights in the Aegean, territorial waters and the ethnically-split island of Cyprus.
The Greek Cypriot government has recently given offshore oil and gas exploration licenses, a move Turkey claims is in violation of the Turkish Cypriot community’s rights. Last year, Greece and Turkey were on the verge of a massive confrontation when each sent out warships to maritime areas they considered their own.
Nevertheless, while the HAF has strengthened its fighter fleet with the addition of the Rafales, Turkey is still operating the aging F-16 fighters. In October last year, reports had suggested that Turkey was pushing the United States to sell additional F-16s as the deal for F-35 was scrapped.
Turkish media reports had earlier indicated that the country plans to buy 40 F-16 fighter jets and upgrade 80 aircraft in its present fleet.
Even though Turkey is developing its own fifth-generation, stealth fighter aircraft named the TF-X, the first flight is expected only in 2025, as previously reported by the EurAsian Times. Until then, Turkey’s Air force needs better aircraft in its inventory to create a balance of power and deterrence against the Greek Air Force.
Rafale Vs F-16
Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighter jet is a twin-jet fighter aircraft produced in France. Rafales can operate from both land and sea, including aircraft carriers. The F-16s, on the other hand, are single-engine supersonic multirole fighter aircraft produced by Lockheed Martin. There are roughly 3,000 operational F-16s in service across 25 countries, according to the F-16 website.
While the Rafales are classified as 4.5 generation fighter jets, the F-16s are 3.5 generation warplanes with 4th generation capabilities.
Additionally, the Rafales are nuclear-capable fighters that are thought to be equipped with semi-stealth technology, something clearly lacking in the aging Turkish F-16 fleet.
Even though both aircraft have the same length and advanced weapon-carrying capacity, the F-16 might lag in certain aspects. Now, the HAF could have a decisive edge over the Turkish air force as it has a combined fleet of upgraded F-16 Vipers and the Rafales.