Greece agrees to spend big on fighter jets

The government yesterday approved the acquisition of 30 F-16 fighter jets for about 1.1 billion euros in an agreement with the United States, the very type of direct deal that the ruling conservatives had attacked the previous Socialist government over for its lack of transparency. The State Council of Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA) gave the green light for the purchase of 30 F-16 Block 52 fighter aircraft, to be delivered by 2009, with an option to obtain 10 more aircraft of the same type for operational needs. «The estimated cost of the 30 F-16s will reach about 1.1 billion euros but the final amount will be determined after negotiations, depending on the equipment to be included in the planes,» the Defense Ministry said. Greece will also request the provision of maintenance support for the planes as part of the offset deal. Sources say that the acquisition was sealed by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos during their visit to the United States in May. KYSEA will decide at a later meeting whether to strike a separate deal to buy a further 30 fighter planes by 2010, with an option for another 10. The government is said to be looking at either more F-16 jets or Eurofighter aircraft. Greece currently has about 140 F-16s and also flies 34 French-made Mirage 2000s. Arms procurement has been one of the key battlegrounds between PASOK and the conservatives since the latter came to power in March last year. New Democracy had attacked the Socialists for engaging in direct deals that lacked transparency and served business interests close to them when they where in government. The country’s land forces will also receive a boost as KYSEA approved the purchase of 333 second-hand Leopard tanks from the German government, worth 270 million euros. The purchase is considered an interim deal since Greece is expected to receive a batch of 172 new Leopard II tanks it ordered in 2001. Greece is estimated to have spent at least $20 billion on arms procurements between 1998 and 2004, one of the largest amounts laid out by any country in the world based on its economic strength. It has had a high defense budget due to rivalry with neighboring NATO ally Turkey. The two countries have nearly gone to war three times since 1974.

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