GREECE SHOULD TRAIN UKRAINIAN FIGHTER PILOTS ON F-16 JETS
Athens consistently punches above its weight in matters related to defense and security. As a small power with an aggressive neighbor, Greece must seize every opportunity to synergize its interests with those of its allies and partners. The United Kingdom and the Netherlands spearheaded a fighter jet coalition for Ukraine. The United States, Denmark, Portugal, Norway and Sweden have since joined the bloc. Greece should follow suit and offer to train Ukrainian fighter jet pilots on the F-16.
Greece and Ukraine share a unique history. The Ukrainian city of Odessa was the birthplace of the Greek Revolution. The Greek community of Mariupol thrived for centuries before Russia carpet-bombed and occupied the city in 2022. Athens would be wise to complement its historic connection to Kyiv with a strategic partnership. After all, Ukraine will have one of the most capable and experienced armies in NATO when the war ends.
Greece operates the largest fleet of F-16s in Europe. This includes both older models and modified Viper versions of the aircraft. To be clear: Transferring F-16s to Ukraine is unlikely because they are an integral component of Greece’s deterrence against Turkish aggression. Nevertheless, training Ukrainian fighter jet pilots on F-16s in Greece is more than feasible.
Conditions are perfect. Greece’s unique geography will enable them to fly in urban, mountainous and sea areas, over flat terrain, at low, medium and high altitudes, over short distances. With more than 250 days of clear and sunny skies per year, Greece also offers unparalleled weather conditions.
Greece also possesses the infrastructure. Earlier this year, the 120 Flying Training Wing in Kalamata was accredited as an official instruction facility for NATO Flight Training Europe (NFTE). If it’s suitable to train NATO pilots, then it’s good enough for their Ukrainian counterparts.
Home to the NATO Missile Firing Installation on Crete (NAMFI), Greece also manages multiple air and missile defense systems. This includes a few of the only Soviet-made S-300 batteries operated by NATO. Designed to defend against short- and medium-range air attacks, Ukrainian fighter jet pilots are likely to face Russian S-300s if they target logistics nodes in Russia or occupied Crimea. Training them against the S-300 batteries is a must.
Greek fighter jet pilots would make excellent instructors for their Ukrainian counterparts. They are consistently recognized by their peers as being among the best in the world. As a testament to the excellence of Greek fighter jet pilots, Captain Kosmas Chalaris, Flight Lieutenant Vassilis Kontopoulos and Captain Anastasios Andronikakis were voted the best pilots in the Alliance’s Tactical Leadership Program (the equivalent of “Top Gun”) by their NATO colleagues in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Training Ukrainian fighter jet pilots on the F-16 would amplify Athens’ voice in both Brussels and Washington, who are likely to subsidize the cost of the program in any case. Like the port of Alexandroupoli, it would also strengthen Greece’s strategic position vis-a-vis Turkey. Moreover, the additional presence of Allied and Ukrainian soldiers in Greece may even extend the calm that has prevailed in the East Mediterranean during the post-earthquake and pre-election period.
In 1974, the Turkish Army invaded Cyprus and has since established a de facto state in the northern third of the island. In many ways, this provided Russia with the blueprint for its annexation of Ukrainian Crimea in 2014 and its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Despite failing freedom-loving Cypriots 49 years ago, Greece could stand on the right side of history by joining the fighter jet coalition and training Ukrainian fighter jet pilots on the F-16. Athens shouldn’t miss this opportunity.
Originally published by Kathimerini on June 1, 2023.