Defense counting fuel by the drop after cutbacks

The economic crisis and the austerity measures that have come with it have hit the Hellenic Air Force just as hard as other sectors, with cutbacks dictating sweeping savings in fuel expenditure while trying to maintain the quality of training.

For the past six months, the Air Force General Staff has had to be more than frugal with its use of kerosene, not just due to cuts in its budget and operational costs, but also because suppliers are refusing to sell it large quantities on long-term credit, as was the case until a few months ago. Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), which supplies the armed forces with fuel, has restricted the credit it extends to 20 days, applying the same rules as it does to all its other clients, though not without cause, as the Greek military has run up a tab that reached 27 million euros in November. According to sources in the Hellenic Army General Staff, which has the largest debts to ELPE, the company ceased to supply the army in December until it had received a portion of the money it was due while at the same time deciding that it would suspend long-term credit in order to stop the debt from mounting to such proportions again.

While the fuel shortages are also affecting the navy and the army, for the air force the problem is even more acute given the frequency of Turkish Air Force exercises in the Aegean that need to be closely monitored. According to a high-ranking officer who declined to be named, fuel accounts for over 50 percent of the air force?s operations, costing more than salaries and procurements. In 2011, the air force?s budget was set at 320 million euros, according to the source, while the budget for 2012 foresees a 10 percent reduction in this amount.

?The fact that credit has been reduced for fuel has not meant that the need for fuel used in training is any less,? the source told Kathimerini, adding that the air force is trying to find a balance between providing quality training and the required number of flight hours for pilots while keeping costs down.

Meanwhile, the fuel budget for 2012 has also been reduced for the army and the navy at a time when fuel prices are on the rise with little hope of a drop anytime in the near future. According to figures released by ELPE, the price of crude rose by some 80 percent in 2011 compared to the average in 2009, while kerosene has gone up from $550 a ton in 2009 to $990 today.

Concern for the cutbacks in the budgets of the armed forces has also been frequently expressed by Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos.

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