Roger Cook/Pynelea Photo Bureau looks at the Hellenic Air Force, one of the strongest in Europe
The Hellenic Air Force (Elliniki Polemiki Aeroporia) continues to modernise with orders for either new aircraft or upgrades to existing equipment. This modernisation programme can be traced back to the late 1980s when Greece ordered the Dassault Mirage 2000EGM/BGM, with forty aircraft going to 331 Mira and 332 Mira, both units based at Tanagra. Under the 'Peace Xenia I' programme the Mirage order was followed in 1989 with an order for forty F-16C/D Block 30 aircraft, these being delivered to 330 Mira and 346 Mira. In 1992 the Greek Government placed a follow-on order under 'Peace Xenia II' for a further forty F-16C/D Block 50 aircraft, these being delivered during 1997 to 341 Mira and 347 Mira. The Block 50 F-16C/D aircraft have different engines from the earlier Block 30 models and are equipped with LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infra-red for Night) pods and weapons that include AMRAAM and HARM anti-radiation missiles and laser-guided bombs.
In August 1997, under the 'Peace Ikarus' programme, a major upgrade to the F-4E Phantom was undertaken to improve the combat efficiency of the aircraft, resulting in the Avionics Upgrade Programme (AUP), prolonging its service life. The programme was based on a similar project undertaken for the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) F-4s - the work for the prototype Greek F-4s was undertaken by EADS at Manching, with all other upgrade work being carried out at Tanagra. The new avionics suite includes a Raytheon Hughes AN/APG-65 radar, Hazeltine AN/APX-113 IFF system, multi-functional cockpit displays, new Heads Up Display (HUD) and a new Hands On Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) system. The F-4E AUP is now in service with 338 Mira and 339 Mira, with both squadrons based at Andravida. The upgrades will allow the F-4E to continue in service until at least 2015 - considering that the first F-4E was delivered to Andravida in 1974, this is some achievement!
Towards the end of 2002 under 'Peace Xenia III' a further forty F-16C and twenty F-16D Block 52 aircraft were ordered. Deliveries, commencing in 2003 through to 2006, saw these aircraft going to 340 and 343 Mira at Souda Bay and then to 337 Mira at Larissa. These Block 52 aircraft have the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engine compared to the General Electric F110-GE-129 in the Blocks 30 and 50 machines.
A further thirty F-16 Block 52 aircraft are on order and these will go to 335 and 336 Mira at Araxos to replace the elderly A-7E and TA-7C aircraft. 335 Mira stopped flying the A-7 on 27 February 2008 and all of the remaining aircraft will be operated by 336 Mira. This squadron now has the distinction of being the last unit in the world to fly the A-7 and may well still be flying the aircraft until 2010. The first ten pilots from 335 Mira will commence their F-16 training in the United States this month while the considerable building work at Araxos continues, with new squadron headquarters, new hangars and a flight simulator building. This latest order for F-16s includes the facility to use the Goodyear airborne reconnaissance system, so this may sound the death knell for the RF-4Es operated by 348 MTA at Larissa, although there do not seem to be any immediate plans for this squadron.
Deliveries began in 2007 of fifteen new Mirage 2000-5s to 331 Mira at Tanagra. These will operate alongside twenty Mirage 2000EGs that have been upgraded to dash-5 standard. This upgrade was jointly carried out by Dassault and the Hellenic Aircraft Industries, but there are currently no plans for the remaining twenty Mirage 2000EGs operated by 332 Mira to be upgraded to dash-5 standard.
To support the transport fleet of rather elderly C-130B and C-130H aircraft twelve Alenia C-27J Spartans have been ordered with deliveries over 2007 to 2009, the last four aircraft having an in-flight refuelling capability. To extend its service life, the Hercules fleet is undergoing an avionics upgrade carried out by SPAR Aerospace and Hellenic Aircraft Industries. The C-130s are operated by 356 MTM at Elefsis and the C-27Js by 354 MTM, also based at Elefsis. On the training side, the T-37s are being replaced by Raytheon T-6A Texan IIs, based at Kalamata with 361 MEA.
An important development over the last few years has been the establishment of an Airborne Early Warning capability using Embraer 145 AEW aircraft. The four aircraft in the fleet have all been delivered and replace the two Saab S100B Argus aircraft, which were loaned to the Hellenic Air Force by the Swedish Air Force following the delays with the Ericsson equipment for the Embraer machines.
As at the end of 2007 the Hellenic Air Force has a fleet of 275 modern or upgraded combat aircraft - according to the '2007 Supreme Air Force Council Momentum' published in 2007, the HAF should be looking forward to acquiring fifth-generation aircraft to bring the number of advanced combat aircraft to just over 300, but this goal cannot be reached in the foreseeable future because of the poor performance of the Greek economy. A country with a population of just over eleven million, it is remarkable what has already been achieved in the modernisation of the HAF. Possible candidates for the next generation of fighters include Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale and the Saab Gripen. Greece has shown no interest in the F-35 Lightning II, but a pro-Russian lobby has been promoting the Sukhoi Su-35 and Su-37.