Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced earlier this month that his government will go forward to purchase a total of eighteen of the French-made twin-engine Rafale fighter jets, six of which are new and twelve more “slight used.”
However, the bigger news is that Mitsokakis’ government has officially asked Washington for the immediate purchase of the fifth-generation advanced stealth fighter. A formal Letter of Request (LOR) from the Greek Department of Defense was sent to the United States Government on November 6.
This followed the rumors that circulated last month suggesting Athens was kicking the tires and considering whether to seek a possible acquisition of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
“The decision to enter (Greece) in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program will be based on a variety of factors such as the fighter delivery schedule, 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 LOR read according to reports from the Greek City Times. It was signed by the Greek Ministry of National Defense’s Director General of Armaments and Investments, Theodoros Lagios.
“Due to internal fiscal arrangements and other applicable rules within the EU budget and deficit framework, it is crucial that the first F-35s are delivered in 2021,” the LOR added. “For our part, we will do everything possible to implement this ambitious program.”
The Greek military’s goal is to have an entire squadron of the F-35, which along with the eighteen Rafale fight jets, could change the balance of power with Turkey and cancel out the threat posed by Ankara’s adopted of the Russian-built S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft system.
Turkey recently tested the S-400 platform earlier this autumn over the Black Sea, but could redeploy the advanced anti-aircraft system on the Aegean Sea.
Even if the F-35 Lightning II is approved for sale to Greece, it could be years before the first ones are delivered to Athens. In the meantime, the Greek Air Force is expected to begin receiving the Rafale fighters early next year with a rate of one being delivered every month.
One way that Greece could acquire the F-35 sooner would be if those originally intended for Turkey will instead be sent to Greece. Reports from last month suggested that six of the aircraft originally destined for Turkey could go to Greece instead—but it is unclear if that will actually happen.
What is certain is that Turkey won’t be flying the fifth-generation fighter anytime soon. Turkey was ejected from the F-35 program after Ankara purchased the aforementioned Russian-built anti-aircraft S-400 Triumf, which North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officials have maintained is incompatible with other NATO systems. Turkey has been a longstanding and trusted partner and NATO Ally for over sixty-five years, but accepting the S-400 undermines the commitments all NATO Allies made to each other to move away from Russian systems.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.