Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New Fighter Aircraft Top Priority

DefenceNet reports that the upgrade programme of existing fighter aircraft will be delayed indefinitely as the Air Force General Staff has updated its spending priorities. The programme to upgrade the existing F-16 and Mirage 2000 fleet is not even in the list of top 10. However, the acquisition of a new fighter aircraft has now become the number one priority.

The upgrade of the existing fleet was previously in the top three of most important programmes but has now dropped to fourteenth place. This means that the operational need for a new fighter aircraft, combined with the current economic situation, is forcing the Air Force to allocate most of the budget to this new acquisition.

One result of this is that there will be no positive response to Lockheed Martin’s proposal for the upgrading of the existing F-16 fleet which expires on the 31st of December 2009.

It was clear that if the upgrade programme was executed, with its expected cost of 1.1 to 1.3 billion Euros, it would delay the decision for the new fighter aircraft, especially if the upgrade was combined with the purchase of a further 10 F-16s to supplement the second squadron being formed at Araxos airbase. This was a scenario which Lockheed Martin sought to happen as it would delay the decision for the new fighter aircraft until about 2013, which would in turn give the F-35 a better chance of being selected.

The question remains whether the Hellenic Air Force requires an aircraft with the characteristics of the F-35 (stealth, first strike, limited weapons load) but this is a debate that will keep everyone occupied for some time to come.

Currently it has been decided to allocate all available funds to the procurement of the new fighter aircraft, something expected to cost between 3 billion and 4.5 billion Euros. The purchase is expected to be for 40 aircraft so that the Air Force’s combat strength can remain near the 270 level.

Other priorities are also interesting. The number two priority for the Air Force has become infrastructure. This affects the exploitation of aircraft, the housing of personnel, weapons storage, base security etc.

The acquisition of a new type of trainer aircraft is on the fifth position on the priority list. The current fleet of T-2 aircraft cannot sufficiently prepare pilots for aircraft such as the F-16. Also, the creation of a dedicated F-16 training squadron is being abandoned as it has not been possible to secure the transfer of second hand F-16D aircraft from other sources. Operational training is also a high priority with the acquisition of Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation being in the top ten list of priorities.

The acquisition of new Search And Rescue helicopters remains a high priority, as is the acquisition of self-defence suites for the fleet of C-130H transport aircraft.

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