Panagiotopoulos: Rafale will sharply boost our air power and make a difference against Turkey

Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos.

For the March 25 parade, Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos underlined that this year there will be a brilliant celebration.

When discussing the modernisation of the Greek military, Panagiotopoulos clarified that "at the same time, we must take care of the upgrade, support and modernisation of the existing systems."

"The three Staffs of the Army, Navy and Air Force worked very hard under the coordination of the Chief of the General Staff of National Defense," Panagiotopoulos said on the morning show of ERT.

"We discussed this plan and presented it to the Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who immediately understood the need to better equip the Armed Forces and to cover lost ground," the defense minister continued.

"He gave the green light for the increase of the funds for the defense and was voted in the budget. Now, we are proceeding with the implementation of this plan", he added.

Regarding the acquisition of the French-made Rafale fighter jets, Panagiotopoulos stressed that "the talks started in September and we went very fast because that was how it had to be done. We worked hard and the French side also helped."

"The strategic relationship between Greece and France is alive," he added.

"We could not have achieved the completion of the negotiations so quickly, in the voting by the Parliament of the contracts, in the signing of the contracts and in the final stage that is their implementation, without the help of the French," he continued.

"The French answered the questions, they solved the individual issues, which were many as we are dealing with the acquisition of used aircraft and negotiating the good condition of these fighters was not simple," he explained.

Panagiotopoulos then explained that the next stage is training Greek pilots and Rafale support technicians.

The goal is in the summer of 2021, from July, to start receiving the aircraft so that by the end of the year Greece has the first six, then another six in 2022, and the last six in 2023

"At the same time", the minister continued, "the next pilots and the next technicians will be trained, initially in France and then in Greece. There are many and it will be a time consuming process."

"The Rafale will increase sharply and the overall catalytic our air force. They are aircrafts with advanced technology, with advanced electronic systems and weapons, which make the difference in the air power balance between Greece and Turkey," he said.

According to Panagiotopoulos, the agreement for the acquisition of the aircraft "is a complete agreement" as it "includes the purchase of the aircraft, their subsequent support and their weapons."

Speaking of the Mirage fighter jets, the defense minister said "our goal is to have a squadron of 24 Mirage 2005 aircraft fully operational and available," recalling that "we have not had a support contract since 2012."

At the same time, "the upgrade program of 84 F-16 aircraft to Viper class is underway."

"This year, we are entering the critical phase of the program, as in a few days the first Viper goes to America to undergo some final technical interventions and then we enter the production phase of 8 to 12 aircraft per year," he added.

In addition, Panagiotopoulos underlined that "in a few days the negotiations between the Greek and the Israeli side for the transformation of the Ikaros training base in Kalamata into an international training center will begin."

"In a modern center, on the one hand to fully satisfy the needs of Ikaros for training in aviation, and on the other hand to be able to attract pilots from other countries for training at the base in Kalamata," he said.

For the Navy, "the next big decision" is, according to the minister, the acquisition of four frigates and the modernization of four MEKO.

"Right now, proposals are being evaluated and we have a pleasant problem. We do not know what to choose first," said the defense minister joyfully.

"We have several interesting proposals on the table - some of which have not been completed but we are expecting them soon - from countries that want to undertake this program," he said.

"We ask for specific things. Not only to buy four frigates but to ensure that some of them will be built in Greece - therefore the Greek shipyards will work - and also, until they are built, we ask for some ready warships as an 'intermediate solution'," Panagiotopoulos said.

"This whole package will receive a very careful evaluation by the Navy, which will indicate the best proposal for us to move forward," he continued.

"We have to go fast because time has been lost. The Navy must be reinforced with new main strike units," the defense minister stressed.

"The Navy has shown its value and combat capability over the summer in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, but that does not mean it should not be reinforced with new ships," he emphasised.

Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos.
Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos.

Panagtiotopoulos then stressed the necessity of expanding compulsory military service.

"We are recruiting professional soldiers, with the main purpose of strengthening the Special Forces, the predominantly professional part of the Greek," he explained.

For the parade on March 25, the minister underlined that "this year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Revolution of 1821. It is a year that offers a glorious celebration," Panagiotopoulos continued.

Regarding Greek-Turkish relations, the Minister of National Defense stated that "we must approach the talks in a good mood. This does not mean - in any case - that we are willing to relinquish our sovereign rights."

"The first consultations, moreover, are of a completely exploratory nature. We have said that we are discussing very specific things. We know this will not be easy. Optimism is restrained. We are not naïve," he continued.

He also noted that "the diplomatic effort goes hand in hand with strengthening deterrence. The two go together. I believe that in the last year the diplomatic effort has intensified a lot and not only bilaterally."

"Europeans - and not only them - are convinced that the problem is not bilateral, but has to do with security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, which is directly threatened by rhetoric and actions from Turkey," he said.

"This has been understood not only in Europe and within NATO but also in other countries in the wider region, such as the Arab states, Israel and Egypt. Greece, therefore, has done work at the diplomatic level," stressed Panagiotopoulos.