Tensions between NATO members Greece and Turkey aren’t likely to cool anytime soon, especially after it was announced on Thursday that Athens has sent an official request to the United States for the purchase of 20 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jets.
Turkey had been an early partner in the fifth-generation stealth fighter program but was famously expelled after Ankara moved forward with a purchase of the Russian-built S-400 “Triumf” air defense system. In addition to being a planned operator of the F-35, Turkey had been one of the nations that produced components for the advanced aircraft.
Greece and the F-35
Due to its tensions with its long-time regional rival, Greece is already one of the NATO member states that currently spend more than two percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, and it has actually increased military purchases in recent years.
Athens is now set to become the latest NATO member to adopt the highly capable fighter jet, and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has indicated that options to expand the purchase are already being considered.
“Our intention is to acquire an F-35 squadron with a possible option for a second one. Sending a Letter of Request (LoR) which has happened in the past few days is part of this process,” Mitsotakis told reporters at the NATO summit, which began in Madrid, Spain earlier in the week.
That request is just the first step in what will be a multi-stage process, and Greece likely won’t receive its first F-35s until at least 2027 or 2028.
“It is a long process and I am saying this because it means we have the fiscal space allowing us to make such a purchase,” added Mitsotakis.
A member of the center-right liberal-conservative New Democracy party, Mitsotakis has been president since 2016 and faces an election next year. Under his leadership, Greece has been on a defense spending spree.
The Hellenic military had ordered 24 Dassault-made Rafale jets last year for 2.5 billion euros ($2.60 billion), as well as three navy frigates with an option for a fourth one from France for about 3 billion euros.
Turkey Still Wants the F-35
Like suburban neighbors who strive to outdo one another – Ankara has also sought to modernize its air force, and Turkish officials have gone to great lengths to make the case to U.S. lawmakers. In May, Turkish officials had visited Washington to garner support from Congress to purchase 40 Block 70 F-16 fighter jets.
Earlier this week, the Biden administration showed its support behind the potential sale. That move came just a day after Turkey lifted a veto of NATO membership for Finland and Sweden – but the White House suggested that this move was about reinforcing NATO’s defenses and was in no way a quid pro quo.
“The United States supports Turkey’s modernization of its fighter fleet because that is a contribution to NATO security and therefore American security,” Celeste Wallander, Assistant Secretary for Defense for International Security Affairs at Pentagon, told reporters on Wednesday.
The timing, however, suggests otherwise.
Ankara lifted its block on Finnish and Swedish membership, while the governments in Helsinki and Stockholm have pledged not to support Kurdish militant PKK and YPG groups. The White House stated that the warplane deal played no role removing the Turkish objections.
“The U.S. did not offer anything to Turkey and was not asked for anything by Turkey” as part of its agreement with Finland and Sweden, a senior administration official said.
Congress will still have the final say about any sale.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.