In the re-arming competition, Greece wants partnerships, more hardware

Andravida, Greece (AP) —Greece has vowed to modernize its troops and expand military cooperation with traditional NATO allies and Middle Eastern nations in the competition against its military-asserted neighbor Turkey.

Prime Minister Kiriacos Mitsutakis visited an air force base in southern Greece and participated in a multinational military exercise involving fighters from the United States, France, Israel, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.

“We can’t be naive. We are facing new threats,” Mitsutakis said in the hangar in front of the aircraft participating in the exercise. “Our world is very complex and unfortunately our neighborhood is more volatile. Greece will continue to strengthen its defenses and its military.”

Greece spends more on defense than any other European Union country, given its economic size. But last year it announced a major re-arming program following a Navy conflict with Turkey over natural gas drilling rights on the eastern Mediterranean coast.

Under pressure from NATO allies, Greece and Turkey resumed diplomatic negotiations in January to ease tensions. However, Athens is promoting an accelerated military upgrade program worth € 11.5 billion over five years.

Over the weekend, Greek authorities signed a $ 1.65 billion worth of agreement with Israeli military and defense contractor Elbit Systems and set up a new flight academy near the southern Greek city of Kalamata.

The Air Force has already begun overhauling a fleet of US-made F-16 fighters and has placed an order of € 2.3 billion to purchase 18 French-made Rafale fighters. Some are currently used by the French army and are compatible missiles.