Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on September 12 that the country intends to buy 18 Dassault Rafale fighters from France. The planned purchase was revealed as part of the prime minister’s annual state of the economy speech, which was delivered in Thessaloniki.
Mitsotakis also said that the Greek navy would get four new multi-role frigates, with four MEKO-200 frigates to be upgraded, and four new Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters. New torpedoes, anti-tank missiles and guided air-launched weapons are to be procured as part of a wider increase in defense spending that would see the armed forces increase personnel numbers by 15,000.
Answering questions in Thessaloniki after the address, Mitsotakis said that the first Rafales are expected arrive in mid-2021 to replace the non-modernized Mirage 2000s in Hellenic Air Force (HAF) service. They will reportedly comprise a mix of new-build machines and aircraft curently in French air force service. A deal for the Rafale is due to be signed “in the coming months”, according to French defense minister Florence Parly, who also noted that, “This choice ... strengthens the link between the Greek and French armed forces, and will allow them to intensify their operational and strategic cooperation.”
The announcement comes at a time of increasing tensions between Greece and Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, with energy exploration rights at its core. Turkish research vessels have been surveying for natural gas in waters to which Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights. Turkey accuses Greece of attempting to seize more than its fair share of resources in the region. Navies from both countries have undertaken exercises, with the Turks conducting live-fire training. French President Emmanuel Macron has been the most vocal of the European leaders in supporting Greece in the standoff.
If the Rafale sale is concluded, it will be the first export sale of the type in Europe. The HAF has been a good customer of Dassault products since the 1970s. Greece had previously bought its fighter aircraft from the U.S. until a military coup in 1973 resulted in the U.S. placing a temporary arms embargo. While this was soon lifted, allowing deliveries of F-4 Phantoms to proceed, Greece decided to secure a second source of fighter aircraft, leading to the purchase of 40 Mirage F1CG warplanes from Dassault. In 1985 40 Mirage 2000EG/BGs were ordered, which were received alongside deliveries of F-16s. Fifteen of the second-generation Mirage 2000-5 Mk 2 were ordered in 2004, along with the upgrade of 10 earlier aircraft to a similar standard.
Greece has also embarked on a program to upgrade 82 to 84 of its F-16 fighters to the F-16V standard with active electronically scanned array radar. The bulk of the work is being performed by Hellenic Aerospace Industry, which began the first modification in January. The last aircraft is due for redelivery by 2027. Greece also has ambitions to acquire 24 Lockheed Martin F-35s at some point.