F-16 modernization is increasingly important for Turkey as Greece gradually gains unprecedented airpower advantage

F-16 modernization is increasingly important for Turkey as Greece gradually gains unprecedented airpower advantage

Turkey is gradually coming to terms with the reality that Greece’s air force could soon field a more technologically advanced fighter fleet in just a few years.

“If our project to modernize the F-16 aircraft fails and Greece carries out its own projects, the Greek side will get the upper hand in terms of combat aircraft in 2025,” retired Turkish Air Force commander General Abidin Unal said. “Therefore, our program to acquire 40 F-16 Vipers and modernize up to 80 F-16s is vital.”

Turkey hopes the US will approve a $20 billion deal it requested in October 2021 for 40 new F-16 Block 70 Viper jets and 79 retrofit kits to upgrade older F-16s in Turkey’s existing fleet. . However, Congress has yet to approve it, and a key senator, New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, is adamant that he will block the sale indefinitely unless Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan implements sweeping policy changes.

Furthermore, even if the sale were unanimously approved tomorrow, analysts have pointed out that Turkey will still have to wait a while before taking delivery of its new Viper jets due to the production delay caused by massive demand among other F-16 operators.

Menendez supports the sale of fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters to Greece. Athens wants at least 20 of these fifth-generation planes.

Unal’s prediction that Greece could take the lead as early as 2025 is interesting. Athens expects to receive the last of the 24 4.5-generation Dassault Rafales F3R fighters it purchased from France by January 2025.

On September 12, Greece took delivery of the first of 83 Hellenic Air Force (HAF) F-16s that Lockheed Martin is upgrading to the latest Block 72 standard. It expects to have all of those aircraft fully upgraded by June 30, 2027. For then HAF will have the most advanced F-16 fleet in Europe.

Greece probably won’t receive any F-35s until at least the second half of this decade. On the other hand, if Athens opts for some second-hand aircraft, it could start receiving these fifth-generation aircraft in a shorter timeframe. Well you can. After all, 12 of the Rafales he has bought belong to the French Air Force.

All of these aircraft are more advanced than the 270 F-16s of the Block 30/40/50 variant that make up the backbone of Turkey’s combat fleet. And while Turkey will no doubt retain a quantitative lead, Greece is fast catching up on a qualitative one.

In the 2023 Global Firepower Index, Greece Y Turkey ranks as one of the main flashpoints in the world today, which is not surprising given the current tensions between them. Turkey was ranked more powerful than Greece in all categories, including airpower. While that is unlikely to change anytime soon, Athens could gain a clear qualitative advantage with these fighter acquisitions.

Alluding to the stealth of the F-35, Unal pointed out that “the ship already sees me until I see it.”

While noting that this certainly “gives him an advantage in the air campaign environment,” he added that he doesn’t think “it would be correct to say that there will be a big advantage on top of this feature.”

He also said that Turkey’s independent ability to modernize its F-16s should not be underestimated and suggested that Ankara “should also rely on its own national capabilities.”

Turkey’s Project Ozgur modernization project aims to do just that. The project includes new avionics, structural upgrades and a locally produced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar that will be retrofitted to its Block 30 F-16s, the only variant for which Turkey has the source code and older models. from his arsenal. . Turkey plans to install its AESA radars on 36 of these aircraft.

While Turkey’s ability to substantially upgrade many of its F-16s independently is significant, its larger fleet of fighters ultimately looks set to be technologically inferior to its Greek rival in the near future.

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