Saturday, May 18 2024
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Ankara struggling to cover lost ground

Ankara struggling to cover lost ground

The issue of air superiority in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean is as old as the Greek-Turkish tensions since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus back in the summer of 1974.

Greece is gradually getting the upper hand in the air. Even if Turkey were to extract its aircraft modernization program from Washington it would take its air force many years to catch up with the backlog that has been created since it withdrew from the F-35 program.

Meanwhile, an indefinite battle is raging within the American political system over whether to approve the sale of 40 new F-16s and the modernization of 80 of the Turkish Air Force’s existing fighters of the same type.

Turkey currently operates 260 F-16s and 19 Phantoms. F-16s in Block 30, Block 40 and Block 50 configurations entered the Turkish Air Force in 10 stages between 1987 and 2012. In 2002, Ankara joined the Joint Strike Fighter program, which evolved into the fifth-generation F-35 fighter. Turkey ended up ordering 100 F-35As, participating in the program with its defense industry.

In 2018, the first Turkish F-35 was test-flying at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Fort Worth, Texas, while It was estimated that by 2020, the first six fifth-generation fighters would already be in Turkey. However, in 2019, Turkey was withdrawn from the program due to its purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft systems.

While Ankara awaits approval for the modernization of its F-16s, the purchase of new ones and renewed access to spare parts, Athens has moved ahead in leaps and bounds.

It currently has a total of 153 F-16s, of which 83 are being converted into Vipers, six French Rafales (with another 18 to be received by 2024), 24 Mirage 2000-5s and 34 F-4E Phantoms. Of the 153 F-16s, 38 belonging to the Block 50 configuration will be upgraded, while among the Block 30s, some will continue their deterrent work and others will be converted into training planes for new pilots in the Aegean.

Also, in 2023, negotiations with the US on the F-35 are expected to start, with the aim of landing the first (of the 20+20 requested) in Greece in 2027-28. Furthermore, the addition of new Italian M-346 trainers to the Kalamata training center are rendering the Hellenic Air Force a power to be reckoned with across the Eastern Mediterranean region.