Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, AFP, Sputnik)
Greece on Saturday announced an upgrade for part of its US-made F-16 warplane fleet, a programme pending over the past six months owing to cost concerns.
An emergency meeting by the government council of foreign affairs and defense chaired by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras approved the decision, the PM’s office said.
“The council unanimously approved the implementation of the 85-plane upgrade programme,” Tsipras’ office said.
It added that the decision was based on “preliminary approval” by the US of a “revised Greek proposal taking into account the country’s fiscal obligations over the coming years.”
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said the planes would be upgraded to F-16 Viper level. The F-16V variant includes an active electronically scanned array radar, a new mission computer and electronic warfare suite, automated ground collision avoidance system, and various cockpit improvements. The F-16V first flew in October 2015.
The decision was made on time for the scheduled official visit to the United States of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Greece, Admiral Apostolakis, on the invitation of his U.S. counterpart General Joseph Dunford. Admiral Apostolakis will be in Washington on May 1st and besides high level talks at the Pentagon he will hold meetings with prominent member of the U.S. Congress.
US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt welcomed Government Council of Defence and Foreign Affairs (KYSEA) unanimous approval for the upgrading of the Greek fleet of F-16 fighters jets in a tweet on Saturday.
A very big day for our @HAFspokesman and @Hellenic_MOD allies as the Greece F-16 upgrade moves ahead – building on Prime Minister @tsipras_eu visit to the White House last October. Congratulations Minister @PanosKammenos and team, Pyatt posted on his twitter account.
New Democracy’s shadow defense minister Vasilis Kikilias said the main opposition was always in favor of an F-16 upgrade and will wait for the details of the deal with the United States before commenting further.
According to the Greek Defense Ministry, the deal will cost Athens about 1.1 billion euros ($1.3 billion), including 10-15 percent discount granted by the United States. Three of the 85 jets earmarked for modernisation will be upgraded in the United States while the rest will be refurbished in Greece, a Greek defence ministry source said, adding that the cost would be about 1.2 billion euros.
The first modernized jet will be delivered to Greece in two years, while the whole bunch will be upgraded by 2028.
The upgrade will include up to 125 APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radars, 123 Modular Mission Computers (MMCs), 123 LINK-16 Multifunctional Information Distribution System Joint Tactical Radio Systems (MIDS-JTRS).
Ta Nea daily on Saturday said the programme runs to 2028, with annual payments until 2021 set at a maximum of 120 million euros owing to Greece’s bailout obligations.
Tsipras has said the planes, some of them dating from 1989, risked being rendered inoperable without the upgrade.
The upgrade deal was first announced in October during a Tsipras visit to Washington, but the government came under immediate criticism over the price tag. The U.S. State Department at the time estimated the cost to upgrade around 120 Greek F-16s at more than $2.4 billion for a 10-year programme.
Greece spends two percent of its budget on defense, one of only five NATO members to meet this alliance target.
Greek fighter planes see extensive action in the Aegean Sea.
They are regularly scrambled to intercept Turkish jets entering what Athens considers Greek airspace over the Aegean, occasionally engaging in mock dogfights.
The move comes amid increased tension with NATO ally Turkey.
In a barrage of recent statements, Ankara officials have disputed Greek sovereignty of a number of islets close to Turkey’s Aegean shores.
Athens officials have attributed such talk to Turkey’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in June.
On April 9, Greek soldiers fired warning shots at a Turkish helicopter after it approached the small island of Ro, which marks their border in the Aegean Sea. Days later, the pilot of a Greek air force jet was killed when his Mirage 2000-5 jet crashed in the Aegean as it returned from an earlier interception of a Turkish jet that had violated Greek air space.
Last week, deputy defense minister Fotis Kouvelis confirmed that Greece is to lease two French FREMM frigates for its navy. The lease is for five years, and the vessels are expected to be inducted into the Greek Navy by August.