Paris (AFP)

Greece is due to conclude Monday the purchase of 18 Rafale fighter jets from France, to strengthen its defense and its partnership with Paris in the face of increased tensions with neighboring Turkey.

French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly is expected in Athens to sign a contract which "sends a clear message in several directions", according to her counterpart Nikos Panagiotopoulos.

First in Ankara.

This contract, worth around 2.5 billion euros, covers 12 used aircraft and 6 new aircraft.

It also includes the supply of Scalp cruise missiles, Exocet anti-ship missiles and Meteor long-range anti-aircraft missiles.

This acquisition was discussed in record time between the two governments.

The decision to negotiate was taken in September by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in reaction to Turkey's gas exploration and show of force in disputed waters with Greece and Cyprus.

Turkish actions "illegal and aggressive" according to the leaders of the European Union which paved the way for sanctions against Ankara.

Six of the Rafales are purchased new from the manufacturer Dassault Aviation and must be delivered from 2022.

But Athens wishing to have without delay planes intended to ensure air superiority in the Aegean Sea, 12 are bought second-hand in Paris, which will take them from the inventory of the French Air Force.

Deliveries are due to start in the summer and the 18 planes will be delivered in the summer of 2023, according to a Greek Defense Ministry official.

The first four Greek drivers are due to start training in France in early 2021, according to this source.

- "Balance of power" -

To replace the 12 aircraft sold to Greece, the French Ministry of the Armed Forces will acquire 12 new aircraft.

All the proceeds of the sale, "of the order of 400 million euros", will be used to partly finance the purchase, according to the minister's office.

For France, the Greek contract represents the first sale of the Rafale in Europe, to which Paris is seeking to direct its arms exports and encourage cooperation.

And while France sorely needs dynamic exports to maintain the viability of its industry and its defense strategy, this sale also gives visibility for an additional 18 months to Dassault Aviation and its 500 subcontractors, including many are weakened by the crisis in the aviation sector.

"This Rafale contract crowns the strengthening of a relationship over the last two to three years. Greece is a country with which we exchange more and more on strategic issues", summarizes the firm of Florence Parly, by evoking a "de facto strategic partnership already implemented".

In recent months, France has demonstrably sided with Athens and has sent Rafales and warships during the summer in response to the deployment of Turkish military and prospecting vessels in an area claimed by Greece.

Turkey "does not hesitate to impose the balance of power (...) sometimes in defiance of its membership of the Alliance (Atlantic, editor's note) or of international law", judges Paris in its strategic defense review updated in early January.

In response to tensions with Turkey, Greece has announced its intention to increase its military capabilities in 2021 despite a recession of more than 10% in 2020 as a result of the pandemic and as the country recovers from a decade of debt crisis.

Athens plans to spend 5.5 billion euros on defense this year, increasing its spending on military equipment five-fold to 2.5 billion euros.

In addition to acquiring the Rafales, Athens plans to buy frigates, helicopters and drones, modernize its fleet of F-16 aircraft and recruit 15,000 additional soldiers.

Greece has also announced that it is extending the length of military service to 12 months, from nine currently.

Athens and Ankara, however, agreed to resume talks in Istanbul on Monday over their differences.

© 2021 AFP