Greece has formally requested to buy between 18 and 24 new or used Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets in a ‘Letter of Interest’ sent to the Pentagon on November 6.
"The decision to enter (Greece) in the program of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be based on a variety of factors such as the delivery program of the fighters, the repayment plan, the configuration of the aircraft and a possible combination to obtain a total of 18- 24 jets (new or used by the US Air Force, if available)” is mentioned in the Letter of Expression of Interest of the Greek Ministry of National Defence dated November 6.
"Your immediate response will be appreciated," reads the letter signed by the 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. For our part, we will do everything possible to implement this ambitious program," Greek publication, Protothema reported quoting from the contents of the letter.
The US has offered the F-35 to customers who have first purchased the F-16. Greece being an existing F-16 operator, upgrading to the F-35 should be in line with this US policy. Lockheed Martin the manufacturer of both aircraft speaks of this “seamless transition” to the F-35 from the F-16V configuration.
The report said that the Director General of Defense Equipments and Investments in the Greek Ministry of National Defense invites the competent American officials to visit Greece as soon as possible so that the discussions on the 18 to 24 F-35 fighter jets (could progress?). "We would like you to address this request with the highest possible sense of urgency, because we have a window of opportunity for the possible supply of F-35s in the very near future," the Greek Ministry of National Defense also stressed.
The Greek government has already received data on the availability and prices of (F-35) fighter jets available in the United States for sale to Greece in response to to an official letter of request (LOR) earlier sent by Athens to the US, the publication said.
Along with the purchase of 18 French Rafale fighter jets, the Greek government seeks to offset the balance of power with Turkey. The Rafale fighters are expected to be delivered to Greece at the rate of one per month starting mid-2021. Turkey has recently tested its Russia-sourced S-400 anti-aircraft system with an eye on Greece, Both the countries are locked in a maritime territorial dispute in the Aegean sea.
It remains to be seen if the Pentagon has the aircraft to supply to Greece after its recent approval of F-35 fighter jets sale to the UAE and the denial of the same aircraft to Indonesia on grounds that there is not enough supply.
The Greek request to purchase the F-35 to achieve air superiority over Turkey should have positive spin-offs for Turkey as well. Ankara has been claiming justification for its S-400 purchase as Greece has Russian built S-300 air defence system (ADS) over which the US has raised no objections; while it pulled Turkey off the F-35 program as punishment for buying Russian ADS.
Turkish companies still manufacture part for the F-35 and some of these parts may go into the F-35s meant for Greece should the US sell the stealth jets to Athens. Turkey may demand that it should be included back into the F-35 program to restore air parity with Greece. Any decision by Washington to sell F-35s to Greece will have to factor in Turkey as well.
In addition to the proposed F-35s and the expected Rafale jets, Greece is upgrading its F-16 jets which will have commonalities with the F-35 in terms of weapons deployed. The upgraded F-16Vs plus the Dassault F-35 will make Greece one of the most powerful air forces in the Eastern Mediterranean region, even more so than Turkey which only has oldern generation F-16s as its main fighter jets.
In October 2017, the US state department had approved a $2.4 billion project to upgrade some 150 Greek F-16s to the Block 70/72 V (Viper) configuration which among other enhancements includes an APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar that significantly enhances the aircraft’s ability to identify and engage enemy aircraft. Lockheed Martin had announced on September 17, 2018 that it would begin upgrading the aircraft starting 2019 for delivery to be completed by 2027.