The passage by the US Senate of the country’s defense budget, including the Menendez-Rubio amendment enhancing defense cooperation with Greece, has revived talk about Greece’s possible acquisition of the fifth-generation F-35 stealth multirole combat aircraft.
Greece’s air force certainly wants the jet, which it considers a necessary upgrade. With the latest program to upgrade 83 of its F-16 fighters to the Viper configuration, air force officers point to enhanced interoperability possibilities with the F-35. Plus, by adding the F-35 to the upgraded F-16 and the Rafale aircraft acquired from France, the air force will dramatically enhance its capabilities and become one of the strongest in the region.
Senior air force officers that have seen the F-35’s capabilities describe it as the “last manned aircraft,” estimating that the sixth generation of multirole aircraft will more likely be unmanned.
The main issue is money. But, with 720 F-35 aircraft already delivered, most to European countries, and with even non-NATO countries such as Finland and Switzerland deciding to buy them, it is hoped that the price, now at around $100 million per unit, will go down. Lockheed Martin managers estimate that Greece can acquire the F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing variant, for under $80 million per unit.
Greece has already committed €2.5 billion to buy 18 Rafale aircraft and €3.05 billion for three advanced FDI frigates. Exercising the option for six more Rafale and three or four corvettes will cost another €2.5-3 billion.
Also, if Greece does decide to buy the F-35, it will be five years before they can become operational and air bases must be upgraded.