Greece Moves to Upgrade F-16s, Despite Cost Concerns

The Greek government insisted the cost of the 85-plane upgrade program would not destabilize the country's precarious budget. (AFP photo/Costas Metaxakis)
The Greek government insisted the cost of the 85-plane upgrade program would not destabilize the country's precarious budget. (AFP photo/Costas Metaxakis)

Greece on Saturday announced an upgrade for part of its U.S.-made F-16 warplane fleet, a program pending over the past six months owing to cost concerns.

An emergency meeting by the government council of foreign affairs and defense chaired by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras approved the decision, the PM's office said.

"The council unanimously approved the implementation of the 85-plane upgrade program," Tsipras' office said.

It added that the decision was based on "preliminary approval" by the U.S. of a "revised Greek proposal taking into account the country's fiscal obligations over the coming years."

Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said the planes would be upgraded to F-16 Viper level. No details on the cost or delivery dates of the program were given. Greece operates a fleet of some 150 F-16s in all.

The deal had originally been announced in October during a visit by Tsipras to Washington. But the government came under immediate criticism over the price tag, estimated at $2.4 billion over 10 years. Athens had insisted the cost would not exceed $1.3 billion and would not destabilize its precarious budget.

Ta Nea daily on Saturday said the program runs to 2028, with annual payments until 2021 set at a maximum of 120 million euros, owing to Greece's bailout obligations.

The first plane will be delivered by 2020 at the earliest, with most of the work undertaken by Greek state defense contractor EAV, Ta Nea said. Tsipras has said the planes, some of them dating from 1989, risked being rendered inoperable without the upgrade.

Greece spends two percent of its budget on defense, one of only five NATO members to meet this alliance target.

Greek fighter planes see extensive action in the Aegean Sea. They are regularly scrambled to intercept Turkish jets entering what Athens considers Greek airspace over the Aegean, occasionally engaging in mock dogfights.

The move comes amid increased tension with NATO ally Turkey. In a barrage of recent statements, Ankara officials have disputed Greek sovereignty over a number of islets close to Turkey's Aegean shores. Athens officials have attributed such talk to Turkey's upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in June.

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