Greek government on Monday signed a deal with Dassault to acquire 18 airframes of Dassault Rafale F3R fighter aircraft, in which 12 units will be directly taken from active French Air & Space Force service and hence, providing quick delivery of airpower to the Hellenic Air Force. Rest will be fresh airframes to be built in Dassault Aviation facility.
The deal was signed in the presence of Greek defence minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos and French Defence Minister Florence Parly as well as delegates from Dassault Aviation. The total worth of the deal is US $3.05 billion. With this deal, Greece became the world’s 4th and Europe’s first export customer of the Rafale aircraft. Egypt, Qatar and India are three other foreign operators.
The deliveries are expected to begin in July this year, while the first batch of factory built airframes will be completely introduced by late 2022. The last batch containing overhauled used aircrafts will be delivered by late 2023. The Greek pilots are now preparing to depart for France for conversion training.
The weapon package planned for procurement includes MBDA short-to-medium range MICA and medium-to-long range Meteor air-to-air missile; AASM Hammer Precision Guided Munition (PGM) as well as SCALP EG long-range cruise missile. The weapons package is not just specifically for Rafale, but also for Mirage 2000-5 aircraft already in active service with Hellenic Air Force. The present combat fleet of the organisation comprises of 20+ Mirage 2000-5 Mk2, 15+ Mirage 2000EG/BG and 150+ F-16C/D Block 50. The Air Force also operated Dassault Mirage F1 in the past
The acquisition of French aircraft is a clear message for Turkey, with whom Greece is having tense relations since past few months due to activities in Greek administered region of Mediterranean Sea. The Air Force and Navy of both countries are on high alert in order to meet any challenges. The fighter aircraft also intercepted each other on several occasions. Various NATO countries already extended their support to Greece in the scenario.
Ankara’s combat air arm is dependent on nearly 200+ F-16C/D Block 52 and 40 upgraded F-4D “Terminator 2020”. These combat aircraft are backed by E-7 AEW&C aircraft. The combined operations of the assets saw a prominent success in the skies of Syria where at many instances, Turkish Air Force manage to shoot down Syrian and Russian fighter aircraft, drones and helicopters.
Both use the same type of American origin aircraft as the frontline fighter platform. However, the Turkish F-16s are produced under license by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) while Greeks distinguish themselves by operating European IRIS-T as the standard short-range AAM for its F-16, instead of AIM-9. The numerical superiority remains in the hands of the Turkish air arm. However, the Rafale acquisition and upgradation of 80 F-16s into Block 70 “Viper” standard in the coming future, Hellenic Air Force may establish an upper hand in quality equipment but not in the near future. The support platforms like AWACS and their successful combat record clearly makes the balance based towards the Turks.
Meanwhile, the Rafale’s integrated SPECTRA (Self-Protection Equipment to Counter Threats for Rafale Aircraft) electronic warfare suite allows the aircraft to maintain a semi-stealth profile during any type of mission. The suite contains radar warning, laser warning and missile warning receivers that provide 360° coverage against radar emission threats, along with phased array radar jammer and a decoy dispenser for threat countering. InfraRed (IR) based Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) allows precise detection and identification of incoming missiles. The dedicated management unit for threat level assessment and multi-threat decoy dispensers with a smart dispensing facility eases the operator’s role during the combat. Interestingly, the famous Active Radar Cancellation (ARC) method of SPECTRA is battle-proven and believed to be the most potent method to dodge hostile radar systems, both ground-based and airborne.
Another aspect to look at is the case that Hellenic Air Force duties are not restricted to Greek airspace only. Under bilateral agreements, the Greek warplanes also provide airspace security to Cyprus and Balkan nations like Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia. This causes the government to maintain the power balance in the region specially in these circumstances.
Hellenic and Turkish Air Forces have also been involved in serious skirmishes in the past, specially due to Aegean Sea dispute. In 1992, after a brief dogfight with Turkish F-16, a Greek Mirage F1 was ditched into Aegean Sea. Three years later, an F-16 crashed into the sea during a similar situation. Within one year, the tension heightened when a Hellenic Mirage 2000 fired its R.550 short-range missile and downed an F-16D of Turkish Air Force, killing one of the pilot. In 2006, two Greek F-16 intercepted a combined formation of Turkish F-16 and RF-4 aircraft, leading to a 1v1 dogfight between F-16s. Soon after engagement, both aircraft collided mid-air and crashed into the sea in which Greek pilot was reported killed.
The current relationship is tensed already and we may expect more escalation in coming months if Turkey continues the alleged illegal activities in Greek Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).