Greece expects to receive the first American-made F-35 jets from the United States by 2028, former National Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulous told Real FM on Friday.
He spoke of a change of balance in the air between Greece and Turkey, as the latter will not acquire the French-made Rafale jets, and its negotiations on the refurbishment of the Viper jets is behind that of Greece.
In addition, Turkey has been blocked from purchasing the F-35s. "We are at a very good place in air [defences]," Panagiotopoulos said.
Greece is one step closer to procuring the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet after the prospective sale was approved by US Senator Jim Risch, the most senior Republican on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
In February, the committee’s chair, US Senator Bob Menendez, approved the deal. Additionally, Republican co-chair Michael McCaul and Gregory Meeks, the ranking Democrat on the committee, have also expressed their support for it.
With the required approvals now secured, the next step will be for the US government to notify Congress about the sale of F-35s to Greece, initiating the prescribed procedure for the contract’s ratification.
Greece sent an official request to the US for the purchase of twenty the Lockheed Martin-made fighter jets last year. The Greek government first signaled that it was interested in the F-35 program in January 2021. Due to various procedures, the procurement process is lengthy.
Once the deduction of the SSI (security, supply, information) from the total price of the US-engineered aircraft is completed, the initial payment for the supply of the fifth-generation fighter jets is anticipated to be around €350 million.
Earlier this year, Turkey – which was removed from the F-35 program after purchasing the Russian-made S-400 missile system – complained about the proposed sale of the fighter jets to Greece.
Although relations have seen a recent improvement between Athens and Ankara, the two countries have been locked in an intense game of brinkmanship over the Aegean in recent years.
According to Lockheed Martin’s official website for the F-35, the advanced fighter jet is “the most capable solution for the Hellenic Air Force.”
“The F-35 brings 5th Generation technologies, including low observable stealth with fighter aircraft performance, sensor fusion, net-enabled operations, and electronic warfare capabilities,” the website explains.
Lockheed Martin states that the F-35 presents Greece with the most cost-effective solution. They emphasize that the 5th Generation F-35 provides exceptional value, being the most capable aircraft with the lowest life-cycle cost, and offering extensive industrial participation opportunities.
Proponents for the procurement stress that Greece stands to gain from substantial investments made by current F-35 users, as well as savings resulting from economies of scale due to the increasing number of nations operating the fighter jet in Europe and globally.
Speaking later to Skai TV, he said that Greece's caretaker Defense Minister Alkiviadis Stefanis has been keeping open a communication channel with his counterpart, new Turkish Defense Minister Yaşar Güler.
In terms of the Evros border regions, the caretaker ministers of foreign affairs and civil protection are also very experienced and keep in touch with their Turkish counterparts, Panagiotopoulos noted.
The Greek police and Armed Forces infrastructure "know how to carry out their obligations very well and to defend national sovereignty and national interests," he added.