The tables have turned for regional rivals Greece and Turkey in the realm of fighter jet acquisition plans, with Greece headed for a buy of the Lockheed Martin F-35 just three years after Turkey was kicked out of the Joint Strike Fighter program.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told reporters on June 30 that the country had submitted a letter of request “in recent days” to the US government for a squadron of 20 F-35s, with options to buy an additional squadron, the Associated Press reported.
The Greek announcement came just a day after President Joe Biden said that the United States “should sell” F-16s to Turkey — a statement that was heralded as a breakthrough after Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system in 2019 stymied US arms sales to Turkey and got it booted from the F-35 program.
Asked whether Greece actually has a military need for the F-35 or just wants to get one over on Ankara, Jim Townsend, a former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy, said, “It’s both. It is definitely both.”
“You need the political hook to get the money, and the military is more than happy to push for it. They probably think the Turks eventually come back to F-35, but the Greeks want to say ‘we’ve already been there and we’ll have the leg upon the Turks because they’ll only have F-16s, and we’ll be in the next generation.’ It’s national pride, not necessarily meeting a specific NATO force goal,” he said.
It’s possible that a Greek F-35 deal could put pressure on Turkey to take steps that would allow it to enter back into the F-35 program, said Townsend, now with the Center for a New American Security. However, “I don’t think the Turks feel threatened by the Greeks,” he added. “The Turks worry more about the PKK.”
While it’s possible that Turkey could seek to throw a wrench into an F-35 sale to Greece, the United States could retaliate against Ankara by blocking Turkey’s F-16 buy, Townsend said. “We have some leverage. It’s rare to have leverage over the Turks and I think F-16 is our main leverage in a lot of ways.”
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