With F-35 & Rafale In Kitty, Greece Puts Its F-16s, Mirage-2000s Up For Sale; None On Offer For Ukraine

In August last year, Greece announced its participation in training Ukrainian fighter pilots on F-16 fighter jets. Months later, the archaic F-16s in its inventory, along with Mirage 2000 fighter jets, were put up for sale. None of them, however, will be sent to Ukraine.

The Greek Defense Minister Nikos Dendias has announced a major overhaul of the Hellenic Air Force which essentially involves the decommissioning and sale of F-16 and Mirage 2000 fighter jets, Greek publication Ekathimireni reported on March 25.

Dendias highlighted the need for the Air Force to be streamlined, pointing out that the variety of aircraft types in the current fleet was a burden. The fundamental driver behind the decision to downsize the fighter jet fleet was the exorbitant expense of maintenance.

“We have a cartload of different types of aircraft. We have F-4s, Mirage 2000-5s, Block 30 F-16s, Block 50 F-16s, Block 52 F-16s, Viper F-16s and Rafales. We cannot carry on this way. The F-4s need to be retired and, if possible, sold. The Mirage 2000-5 is an exceptionally capable plane and can be sold. The Block 30 F-16s need to be sold. And I think we will be able to sell the [Mirage 2000-5 and Block 30 F-16s],” Dendias said.

He further noted, “As for the remaining aircraft, we need to get the F-16s to Viper level, strengthen our fleet of Rafales—we have 24, but it would be good to reach 30—and, of course, acquire the Block 4 F-35, which has not become airborne yet but will have cured all the childhood illnesses of the fourth-generation aircraft.”

According to the minister, modernizing and acquiring new equipment will increase the uniformity and interoperability of the Air Force, making it a top priority. It would make sense for the country to use the money spent on the upkeep of these less-capable and almost vintage figures to acquire new jets and upgrade others in the fleet.

USAF F-16 Viper
File Image: F-16

Dendias acknowledged that the initiative to upgrade Greece’s F-16s to Viper level had been delayed, but he insisted that the nation will have an adequate fleet of planes by 2027 at the latest.

Earlier this year, the US State Department authorized a prospective US$8.6 billion sale of F-35 fighter jets and associated equipment to Greece.

According to the Pentagon’s Security Cooperation Agency, this deal could involve the procurement of up to 40 fighters, 42 engines, guidance systems, spare parts, and other ancillary equipment, with assurances that such transactions would not undermine US military readiness or disrupt the regional military balance.

Greece formally requested permission from the US in June 2022 to purchase 20 F-35 fighter fighters manufactured by Lockheed Martin. This request’s approval marks a crucial turning point in a convoluted, multi-step procedure. If things go well, Athens plans to start receiving jets in 2027–2028.

Greece signed an agreement with French aerospace giant Dassault Aviation to purchase 18 Rafales in January 2021. However, another deal was signed in March 2022 for six additional aircraft, bringing the total number to 24. With the country now eyeing at least 30 jets, another deal for 6 more aircraft could be negotiated.

Adding upgrades to the Block 50 F-16 aircraft to the Block 70 or Viper level would present Greece with a diverse yet formidable fleet, consistent with the country’s threat perception. Despite this, the country has not considered transferring its older jets to Ukraine, where they may be desperately needed.

No Greek Fighter Jets For Ukraine

The specific aircraft that will be disposed of include the F-16s, the last 34 single-seat F-16C, and six two-seat F-16D Block 30 aircraft that were purchased between 1988 and 1990 as part of the Foreign Military Sales program, PEACE XENIA.

The Block 30 aircraft’s future has long been unknown. There have been rumors that they would be sold or used as aggressors in air defense exercises. Currently housed in a single squadron, the Block 30 aircraft have benefited from the Falcon UP service-life extension, which has allowed them to retain some significant flight hours.

For a long time, Kyiv’s administration has been pleading with NATO countries to arm it with fighter jets like the F-16 and the Mirage-2000s.

Hellenic Air Force F-16C Block 30 – Wikimedia Commons

However, despite announcing last year that Greece will train Ukrainian fighter pilots to fly the F-16, the country has remained tight-lipped about transferring fighter jets to Kyiv, unlike its other allies in NATO, like Denmark and the Netherlands, which are poised to deliver their respective F-16s to Ukraine later this year. Countries like Norway and Belgium could also deliver their jets to Ukraine.

Greece’s aircraft will not benefit from the same commonality as other European F-16 operators engaging in the Ukrainian campaign because it is not a member of the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF), but the jets would still be beneficial for Kyiv.

While the transfer of Mirage-2000s may still need French approval, the United States has already allowed the transfer of F-16s to Ukraine. Nonetheless, both these aircraft still have a great deal of capability and could be readily added to the fleets of other countries.

Moreover, military watchers believe it is unlikely that Greece will find any buyers for its F-4 Phantoms.

Greece could provide military aid to Ukraine, including the S-300 air defense systems. Greek media reported earlier that the United States was giving Greece older surplus weapons on the premise that Greece would donate some of its excess weapons to Ukraine.

In a letter addressed to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed interest in Greece’s defense capabilities that could be useful to Ukraine, contingent upon Ukraine’s interest and a subsequent assessment of the condition and approximate cost of the proposed assets.

“We continue to be interested in the defense capabilities that Greece could transfer or sell to Ukraine,” Blinken said. However, despite raging calls from the latter, there has never been a mention of a potential transfer of Greek combat aircraft to the Ukrainian Air Force.