Dassault Aviation has handed over the first of an initial six Rafale multi-role fighters to the Hellenic Air Force (HAF). The July 21 ceremony took place at the company’s flight test center at Istres. Dassault’s chairman and CEO, Eric Trappier, hosted the event, which was attended by Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, Greece’s Minister of National Defence.
The Rafale procurement wasn't finalized until late January, but Athens sought early delivery due to pressing defense needs. As a result, 12 of the 18 aircraft on order are being drawn from Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace (AAE) stocks. France subsequently added a top-up batch of a dozen Rafales for the AAE to its own orders.
"Following the Mirage F1 in 1974, the Mirage 2000 in 1985, and the Mirage 2000-5 in 2000, the Rafale is now proudly flying with Hellenic Air Force colors,” said Trappier during the ceremony. “The Rafale is a strategic game-changer for the HAF. It will play an active role by securing Greece's leadership as a major regional power.” He added that he “would like to reaffirm our total commitment to the success of the Rafale in Greece.”
The first batch of six former French aircraft will initially operate with the Dassault Conversion Training Center at Mérignac in the outskirts of Bordeaux. The airfield serves as the city’s main airport and is also the site of the Rafale final assembly facility. A group of HAF pilots, along with 50 technicians, has been undergoing training in France with the AAE for a few months, and will now transfer to the Mérignac location to complete their conversion training.
When ready, the aircraft and personnel will relocate to their intended home base at Tanagra, some 35 miles northeast of Athens. By the time deliveries of the aircraft—including six new-build ones—are complete, the Rafales will have replaced the HAF’s remaining Mirage 2000BG/EGs that have not been upgraded to 2000-5 standard. Final delivery is expected in 2023.