Warplanes: Letting Go Of Graft In Greece

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January 9, 2015: Greece, despite nearly a decade old economic crises, is continuing the efforts to upgrade its F-16 fleet. This will eventually, if completed, cost about $3.1 billion. This is more affordable than the $6 billion Greece had earlier planned to spend on new F-35s. The latest chunk of F-16 maintenance and upgrade funds amounted to $188 million. Greece also ordered 40 new F-16s from the United States. In addition to necessary purchases (new engines and other spares in addition to the costly refurbishment of older engines) there are also upgrades like better fire control systems (see and shoot helmets, targeting pods), better communications, software updates, smart bombs and improved missiles. 

 The 2005 financial crisis has forced Greece to cut it defense spending by nearly half. That led to many programs being cut but these were often replaced by less costly refurbishment or upgrade programs instead. In the case of dropping the purchase of F-35s or Typhoons the decision was made to upgrade most of the 150 F-16 fighters that comprise the core of Greek air power. There are also older aircraft including 44 Mirage 2000 fighters, 46 F-4Es, and 33 A-7s. Many of these are due for retirement soon.

The refurbishment program meant some of the older F-16s would get major upgrades (especially new engines) and others would get new electronics. The Greek Air Force was also allowed to keep buying spare parts, which meant its pilots could still fly for training. While a lot of training time was lost because of the budget cuts, the government sees the F-16s as the one force that could best deal with any land, sea, or air threat.

Faced with national bankruptcy (because of over a decade of spending a lot of borrowed money they could not afford to repay), Greek government budget has been slashed, and that includes defense. For decades Greece spent more on defense (as a fraction of GDP) than most other European nations because of the possibility of another war with Turkey. The last such conflict was in the 1920s, and memories are long regarding such matters. The Turks are less concerned and now many Greeks want to be like the Turks. Until 2010 Greece spent 2.6 percent of GDP on defense, compared to 1.6 percent for the rest of Europe. That came to over $7 billion a year. Now it is headed for less than $4 billion a year. The generals and admirals were told cuts had to be made and there was no room for debate.

It turns out that such sharp cuts weren’t be as damaging as first thought. That’s because corruption was as rampant in the military as it was in the rest of Greek society. As military leaders were ordered to find ways to do more with less, some brought up (quietly at first) the many forms of political corruption that increased the cost of running the military without doing anything for maintaining combat power. Plundering the military budget is an ancient tradition worldwide and Greeks have written accounts of it going back thousands of years. A lot of the waste is easily fixed, as it often involves buying goods or services at inflated prices. Some politicians were unwilling to give up these benefits but the generals and admirals had the moral and fiscal high ground and tended to get their way. Also, with the troops taking hefty cuts in pay and benefits, the reluctant, but less heavily armed politicians might, were persuaded to let go.

 


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