January 23, 2013: Although a major financial crisis in the last few years has forced Greece to cut it defense spending by nearly half, some major upgrade programs are going ahead. The most important of these is the upgrade for most of the 150 F-16 fighters that comprise the core of Greek air power. There are also 44 Mirage 2000 fighters, 46 F-4Es, and 33 A-7s and most of these are due for retirement soon. New F-16s are still being delivered.
The refurbishment program got underway eight years ago, when Greece decided not to buy the new Eurofighter Typhoon. That meant some of their 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 spending 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 three years ago 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.
It turns out that such sharp cuts won’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. Whether politicians will be willing to give up these benefits remains to be seen. But with the troops taking hefty cuts in pay and benefits, the less heavily armed politicians might be persuaded to let go.