Dueling bids for US-made fighter jets could inflame tensions between 2 of NATO's least friendly members

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan March 13, 2022 in Istanbul. Xinhua via Getty Images
Greece and Turkey have both asked to buy US-made fighter jets.
Athens and Ankara have different relationships with the US and may receive different answers.
This divergence could sour the already strained relationship between the two NATO allies.
Turkey and Greece, two of NATO's most valuable but least friendly allies, are keen on new US fighter jets, but their different relationships with Washington mean they may not both get what they want.
In June, Greece applied to the US to buy 20 F-35 stealth fighters with an option for 20 more jets in the future. The request comes as Athens' ties with Washington, particularly their defense relationship, deepen.
Turkey had already requested purchases of new US-made F-16 and F-16 upgrade kits last year, but in July US lawmakers approved an amendment that made that purchase more difficult by allowing President Joe Biden - his expressed support for the sale - urging Congress to certify that it is essential to US national security.
Greece and Turkey's location side-by-side in south-eastern Europe, bordering the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean, makes them strategically important NATO members amid heightened tensions in those regions.
But their ties with the rest of the Alliance go in opposite directions, and their own long-standing rivalry could only worsen if one of them gets new jets and the other doesn't.
opposition in Congress
Mitsotakis after addressing a joint session of Congress on May 17, 2022. Win McNamee/Getty Images
Greece and Turkey have a very bad relationship and have often come close to open conflict in recent decades.
The neighbors are at odds over a range of issues, including ethnically divided Cyprus, rejection of maritime claims in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, and Turkey's recent challenge to the sovereignty of a number of Greek islands.
Turkey's relations with other NATO members, particularly the US, have also deteriorated. Ankara was part of the F-35 program but was booted out of the program by the US for buying Russia's S-400 surface-to-air missile system, which the US believed would outperform Western platforms, including the F- 35, could endanger.
"Turkey hasn't endeared itself to the US lately," said Andrew Novo, a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis and a professor at the National Defense University.
"Numerous Turkish policies give cause for concern," Novo told Insider, citing the S-400 purchase, the blocking of Sweden and Finland's bids for NATO membership, provocations against Greece and Cyprus, Turkish attacks on US allies Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq, and Ankara's involvement in the Libyan civil war.
Erdogan meets with then-Vice President Joe Biden in March 2016Joshua Roberts/Reuters
US lawmakers have also expressed concern about the erosion of democracy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"How do you reward a nation that does all these things?" Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Politico in July. "I do not see it. If they want to start changing their habits now, that's a different story."
The House amendment regarding Turkey's F-16 request also requires Biden to describe steps being taken "to ensure that such F-16s are not used by Turkey for repeated unauthorized territorial overflights of Greece."
The change could be "a practical way to try to master Turkey's military capabilities to prevent Ankara from becoming even more independent in deploying its military on the international stage," Novo said.
"It could be a useful bargaining chip against something more substantial that Washington wants from Ankara," he added.
Tensed Aegean skies
A Hellenic Air Force F-16 with the Zeus Solo Display Team at an air show in November 2016. George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Athens and Ankara repeatedly accuse each other of flying into each other's airspace. Their jets regularly attack over the Aegean and both sides have lost pilots and jets in these encounters.
"Greece's acquisition of F-35s is not something Turkey would like to see as it would provide Greece with a superior fighter jet platform," Novo said.
The Hellenic Air Force has a combat fleet of almost 200 aircraft, more than half of them F-16s. The Turkish combat fleet is slightly larger and consists mainly of F-16s. This had created approximate parity, but the situation is now changing.
Greece is upgrading 84 of its F-16s to the latest Viper configuration and recently ordered 24 French Rafales, which are slightly more advanced than the F-16 but not as sophisticated as the F-35.
The Turkish Air Force, on the other hand, is still recovering from the 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan that resulted in the sacking of hundreds of its pilots.
Turkish Air Force F-16s in Poland in August 2021. Cuneyt Karadag/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Participation in the F-35 program would have given Turkey an advantage over Greece's F-16s, Novo told Insider. But if Greece's F-35 request is approved, "it would certainly make Turkey think twice about challenging Greece in the skies" and "greatly improve Greece's deterrence capabilities," he added.
The inability to upgrade and expand its F-16 fleet has prompted Turkey to look for alternatives.
Ankara is reportedly considering Eurofighter Typhoon - a 4.5-generation jet like the Rafale - instead of advanced F-16s. Mostly state-owned Turkish Aerospace Industries is working with British company BAE Systems to develop the TF-X, a fifth-generation stealth aircraft due to enter service in 2028.
Turkey is also developing the HÜRJET light attack aircraft to reduce its air force's dependence on the US.
The US has long sought to back Greece and Turkey and stem their longstanding rivalry, viewing the two countries as key bulwarks in south-eastern Europe.
While the US is urged to maintain its role as an impartial mediator, growing ties with Athens and rising tensions with Ankara appear to reflect a shifting calculus in Washington.
Constantine Atlamazoglou works on transatlantic and European security. He holds a Master's degree in Security Studies and European Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. You can contact him on LinkedIn.
Read the original article on Business Insider

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