Fears of an arms race between Greece and Turkey intensified on Friday after a Reuters report saying that Turkey has asked to buy 40 F-16 fighter jets from the US to upgrade its Air Force. The move coincides with the recent deal struck by Greece to acquire from France Rafale jets and frigates.
Although Greece stresses that it does not seek an arms race in the Aegean, both countries intend to spend heavily on defense, trying to gain a strategic advantage over the other.
Turkey asks for F-16s from the US
“Sources familiar with the matter”, Reuters reports, say Turkey has made a request to the US to buy 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.
The deal, worth billions, is still working its way through the Foreign Military Sales process which is subject to approval by the US State Department as well as the US Congress which can block deals.
“As a matter of policy, the Department does not confirm or comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress,” a spokesperson for the State Department said.
Ankara had ordered more than 100 F-35 jets, also made by Lockheed Martin, but was removed from the program in 2019 after it acquired Russian S-400 missile defense systems.
Reuters reports that the request for the jets will likely have a difficult time getting approval from the US Congress, where sentiment towards Turkey has soured deeply over recent years, primarily due to Ankara’s purchase of the S-400s and its problematic human rights track record.
Turkey warns Greece on arms race
On Friday, Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has warned Greece over an arms race against Turkey after a military agreement between Paris and Athens.
“A love of armament has started in Greece, especially recently, by making some agreements with the encouragement and provocation of some countries. Look at math first, history first. You cannot gain an advantage against Turkey with such attempts, give up this effort,” he said, addressing the National Defense University Naval Academy opening of the 2021-2022 Academic Year on Oct. 8.
The economic situation in Greece is fragile, the minister said, recalling that the country is in serious debt. “It makes the economy worse by making some wasteful expenditures with the love of armament and is meant for the welfare of the Greek people. Reasonable people in Greece should see this,” he stated.
None of these initiatives can progress, he said and added, “We have taken every precaution to be taken against this, and we are taking it. We are extremely determined and capable in this regard.”
Deal with France should not lead to an arms race, Greece says
On Thursday Greece ratified its strategic pact with France, which includes a clause for mutual assistance in case of armed attack against the territory of one of the two.
In addition, the deal, signed in Paris on September 28, states that Greece will buy three advanced frigates, with an option for a fourth, and a delivery date of between 2025 and 2026. The frigates will also be compatible with the jets Greece is also purchasing from France. It has already ordered some 24 Dassault-made Rafales this year.
Greece says it do not intend to start an arms race in the region and new weapon systems from France are acquired only for deterrence.
On September 30, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “I do not intend to enter into an arms race with Turkey, and I’m always reaching out a hand of friendship to Turkey.”
Speaking at a Democracy Forum conference in Athens he added: “We have big differences on many issues, but there should be a way to solve these differences through dialogue,” Mitsotakis stressed. “At the same time, we will defend our territory, our territorial integrity, our sovereignty, our sovereign rights. And in order to do so, we need a strong deterrence.”