Tom Ellis TOM ELLIS

Upgrading Greece’s F-16 fighters

COMMENT

TAGS: Defense

Turkey’s behavior in the Aegean makes the improvement of Greece’s defense capabilities increasingly urgent, starting from the upgrade of the F-16 fighter jets.

The upgrade is also considered imperative by the conservative opposition which, for its part, should ensure there is full transparency in the relevant agreement should it be signed.

The issue is at a critical phase where a decision will be made in the US Congress. Lawmakers are awaiting a joint report by the State and Defense departments on how the country can help Greece upgrade its existing F-16 fleet, which is expected to be delivered by the end of the week.

What is at stake for Greece is the cost of the deal – whether the agreement will include better terms concerning US government fees – as well as the timeframe in which the payment will be made. For example, if it can be extended over a longer period.

In this context, and in cooperation with members of the diaspora who have channels of communication with US policymakers and can exert some influence, Athens should try to include Greece in the Foreign Military Financing program that the US offers to some allies, usually less developed ones.

President Donald Trump’s administration is skeptical as to whether a member of the “rich EU club,” like Greece, should have access to this program. There might also be some concern that Turkey could request something similar.

On the other hand, Trump recently announced that he will include the Baltic states in the program. They are also European Union member-states. One might claim that their strategic location and in particular their proximity to Russia justify the exception. But a similar argument could be made by Athens, in this case with respect to the volatile situation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In any case, the State Department and the Pentagon will make their recommendation and it is up to Congress to pass the relevant law, improve its provisions or make them less favorable; or, on the other hand, reject it altogether. Here, some Greek Americans could assist through their access to lawmakers. Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham, for one, who recently visited Greece, has proven quite helpful.

While the relevant procedures in the American executive and legislative branches are under way, Greece must respond by the end of the month whether it accepts Washington’s proposal with respect to the upgrade.

This is a particularly sensitive issue, and one where there should have been close cooperation between the government, the opposition and the diaspora. Should have been...

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