Greece takes delivery of new upgraded F-16s amid tensions with Turkey

The new fighters are part of Greece's programme to upgrade its Armed Forces, after approving $1.5 billion for the purpose

AP/THANASSIS STAVRAKIS  -   A Greek F-16 Viper fighter pilot salutes as he prepares for take-off at Tanagra air base, about 74 kilometres (46 miles) north of Athens

Greece has received the first batch of upgraded F-16 fighter jets from the United States as part of Greece's $1.5 billion fighter modernisation programme, coinciding, moreover, in an increasingly complicated context with the recent escalation of tensions with Turkey.

So far, two upgraded fighters have arrived at the Tanagra air base in the Greek city of Boeotia, in the west of Athens, out of a total of 83 aircraft that will be upgraded to the Block 72 variant and are expected to be delivered to Greece by 2027. The first two F-16s will serve as pilot training aircraft and before the end of the year, the Greek Air Force expects to take delivery of at least six more aircraft.  

AP/THANASSIS STAVRAKIS - Greece's air force took delivery of a first pair of upgraded F-16 military aircraft on Monday

After receiving the new fighters, US Ambassador to Greece George Tsunis said that Greece's "F-16 Vipers will immediately enhance NATO's interoperability with fourth- and fifth-generation fighter aircraft, ensuring that our alliance can defend our security interests". He also noted that he was "looking forward to the modernisation of the remaining F-16V aircraft and their return to the skies as Europe's most advanced F-16 fleet". In particular, the F-16 is at the heart of the Greek air force after it received a batch of 40 fighters in 1989 and another 130 over the years.

In the same vein, the head of the Greek Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Konstantinos Floros, said that the "successful" completion of the programme is a matter "of the utmost national importance" because once the modernisation of the fleet is completed, "any aggressor will have to think twice or three times before trying its luck". He reiterated that the new fighters "will increase Greece's participation in NATO".

AP/THANASSIS STAVRAKIS - Greece's Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Constantinos Floros, speaks during a ceremony at the Tanagra air base, some 74 kilometres (46 miles) away

After Greece emerged from the severe economic crisis it experienced between 2010 and 2018, the country increased its defence spending with the aim of strengthening its armed forces with the purchase of new fighter jets, such as the French Rafale fighters.

Upgraded F-16 fighters

Among the technical elements of the F-16 Viper upgrade, one of the most important advances is the installation of AESA-type radars, which have the ability to activate, track and 'illuminate' a larger number of enemy targets. Alongside this, the new fighters have more powerful processors and larger display panels that allow the pilot to have greater clarity and a wider range of perception of events. In addition, there are guided laser bombs, i.e. smart bombs that can manoeuvre during the drop before reaching their target, and an improved cockpit that simplifies handling for the pilot.

Originally developed by General Dynamics for the United States Air Force (USAF), the F-16 Viper fighter was originally intended to be a single-engine, multirole combat and daytime air superiority fighter and then, after its sale, became part of Lockheed Martin. More than 4,600 aircraft have been built since it was approved for production in 1976, although the US force no longer buys it, but does build upgraded versions for customers who have this type of aircraft. 

AP/THANASSIS STAVRAKIS - The pilot of the Greek F-16 Viper fighter plane checks the aircraft before take-off at Tanagra air base
New tensions between Greece and Turkey 

The rift between Athens and Ankara has reached new heights. Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, continues to threaten to take action against Greece in the Aegean islands, given the growing militarisation of these islands by Greece, while Athens argues that the islands need to be defended "against any possible attack".

Last August, several Turkish F-16s flew over the airspace in the Mediterranean Sea to the west of the island of Rhodes, at a time when the Greek side used S-300 surface-to-air missiles to identify Turkish artefacts, which was criticised as a "hostile gesture" on Turkey's part. 

AFP/ANDREJ ISAKOVIC - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

In addition to this growing militarisation in the Aegean Sea, the two Mediterranean countries have been disputing for years over gas resources, as well as the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean, a disputed territory between the two countries for its wealth of energy resources.

In reference to the acquisition of new fighter jets, Erdogan has stated that he hopes "to be able to obtain fighter jets from other countries", in the event that he is unable to acquire new F-16s following the trade blockade imposed by the United States on the sale of its fighter jets. In this context, at the NATO Summit in Madrid in June, US President Joe Biden spoke out in favour of lifting the Turkish veto. However, the majority of the US Congress does not approve of this measure, as the Republican bloc is reluctant to sell to Ankara. 

AP/THANASSIS STAVRAKIS - Greek F-16 Viper fighter jets fly over the Tanagra air base, 74 kilometres (46 miles) away

Alongside this, Erdogan pointed out in a press release that the US "is not the only country that can sell it fighter jets" as "the UK sells them, France sells them, Russia sells them. It is possible to get them everywhere. There are people who give us signals for this".

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.