ATHENS – Greece’s government said Thursday it will pay 2.32 billion euros ($2.8 billion) for the purchase of French-made Rafale fighter jets and an upgrade of compatible missiles, under a major military overhaul amid tensions with neighboring Turkey.
Delivery of the 18 jets will begin in mid-2021 and be completed over two years, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said.
Greece has earmarked 11.5 billion euros ($14.1 billion) to modernize its armed forces over five years amid deteriorating relations with NATO ally Turkey over offshore energy rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Rafale jets will include 12 aircraft currently in service with the French military and six new planes to be built by Dassault Aviation.
“This action will shift the balance of forces in the air,” Petsas said, without making any direct reference to Turkey.
As part of the airforce upgrade, Greece will also purchase Meteor air-to-air missiles, compatible with the Rafale jets.
Turkey, with a burgeoning domestic weapons industry, outspends its much smaller neighbor — and historic regional rival — by about 5-to-1 in defense but has a smaller advantage in fighter-jet capability than in other areas of the military.
Greek defense officials argue that the Rafale acquisition will narrow the gap following a decision by the United States last year to expel Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program in response to Ankara's purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system.
The Trump administration followed up with sanctions against Turkey, announced earlier this week.
Visiting Athens on Thursday, U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said he had received renewed assurances from Greece's government that Athens remained committed to resolving the dispute with Turkey through negotiations and at an international court if required.
“It is important that countries resolve these matters in a court of law, not with military might,” he told reporters on a conference call after talks with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “So we’re going to continue to urge all parties to work this out favorably, using the courts and not bullets to resolve these things.” ___ Follow Gatopoulos at https://twitter.com/dgatopoulos