Kammenos defends deal to upgrade surveillance planes

Defense Minister Panos Kammenos Monday defended a decision to sign a 500-million-euro contract for the upgrade of five P-3B Orion aircraft, saying that the move, which he claimed was key to Greece’s participation in NATO surveillance missions, had been rubber-stamped by two separate inner-cabinet meetings.

“We sign bilateral agreements on the basis of recommendations from the General Staff, not from [defense industry] representatives,” said Kammenos, who is also leader of junior coalition partner Independent Greeks.

The decision to modernize the four-engine anti-submarine and maritime surveillance planes was signed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on March 15, following a recommendation by Kammenos. The contract will be undertaken by Lockheed Martin.

The 35-year-old aircraft are currently grounded, which prevents Greece from undertaking NATO surveillance operations in the region. NATO has assigned the role to Turkey instead, Kammenos said.

The issue, which was raised in Parliament by the centrist Potami party, prompted criticism from the rest of the opposition, but it also sparked reactions inside ruling SYRIZA.

In comments made Monday, leftist MEP Constantinos Chrysogonos voiced reservations about the timing of the expenditure, adding that the government ought to explain its decision in Parliament.

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