The Hellenic Air Force . The mission of the Hellenic Air Force is to guard and protect Greek airspace, provide air assistance and support to the Hellenic Army and the Hellenic Navy, as well as the provision of humanitarian aid in Greece and around the world. The Hellenic Air Force includes approximately 33,000 active troops, of whom 11,750 are career officers, 14,000 are professional conscripts (ΕΠ.ΟΠ.), 7,250 are volunteer conscripts and 1,100 are women. During the period of monarchy between 1935–1973 the force was known as the Royal Hellenic Air Force (RHAF) . The motto of the Hellenic Air Force is the ancient Greek phrase “Always Dominate the Heights”, and the HAF ensign represents a flying eagle in front of the Hellenic Air Force roundel. The Hellenic Air Force is one of the three branches of the Hellenic Armed Forces.
In 1911, the Greek Government appointed French specialists to form the Hellenic Aviation Service. Six Greek officers were sent to France for training, while the first four “Farman” type aircraft were ordered. All of the six graduated from the Farman school in Étampes near Paris, but only four served subsequently in aviation. The first civilian Greek aviator who was given military rank was Emmanuel Argyropoulos, who flew in a Nieuport IV.G. “Alkyon” aircraft, on February 8th, 1912.
The first military flight was made on May 13th, 1912, by Lieutenant Dimitrios Kamberos. In June, Kamberos flew with the “Daedalus”, a Farman Aviation Works aircraft that had been converted into a seaplane, setting a new world average speed record at 110 km/h (68 mph) and the foundations of Naval Aviation. During September of the same year, the Greek Army fielded its first squadron, the “Aviators Company”
On October 5th, 1912, Kamberos flew the first combat mission, a reconnaissance flight over Thessaly.This was the first day of the Balkan wars, and during the same day a similar mission was flown by German mercenaries in Ottoman service in the Thrace front against the Bulgarians.The Greek and the Ottoman mission flown during the same day are the first military aviation combat missions in a conventional war.As a matter of fact all Balkan countries used military aircraft and foreign mercenaries during the Balkan Wars. January 24, 1913 saw the first naval co-operation war mission worldwide, which took place above the Dardanelles. Aided by the destroyer Velos, first Lieutenant Michael Moutoussis and Ensign Aristeidis Moraitinis flew the Maurice Farman hydroplane and drew up a diagram of the positions of the Turkish fleet, against which they dropped four bombs. This was not the first air-to-surface bombing in military history as there was a precedent in the Turkish Italian war of 1911, but the first recorded attack against ships from the air.
Initially, the Hellenic Army and the Royal Hellenic Navy operated separate Army Aviation and Naval Aviation units. During the Balkan Wars, various French Henry and Maurice Farman aircraft types were in use. Naval Aviation was officially founded in 1914 by the then CinC of the Hellenic Navy, British Admiral Mark Kerr. Greek aviation units participated in World War I and the Asia Minor Campaign, equipped by the Allies with a variety of French and British designs.
In 1930, the Aviation Ministry was founded, establishing the Air Force as the third branch of the Armed Forces. The Hellenic Army Air Service and Hellenic Naval Air Service were amalgamated into a single service, the Hellenic Air Force. In 1931 the Hellenic Air Force Academy, the Scholi Ikaron (Σχολή Ικάρων), was founded.
In 1939, an order for 24 Marcel Bloch MB.151 fighter aircraft was placed, but only 9 of the aircraft reached Greece, since the outbreak of World War II prevented the French from completing the order. The aircraft served in the 24th Pursuit Squadron (MD – Moira Dioxis) of the then Hellenic Royal Air Force.
During the Second World War, although being severely outnumbered, counting only 79 aircraft against the 380 fighters and bombers available to the Italian Regia Aeronautica, RHAF managed to successfully resist the Italian invasion in 1940. On November 2nd, 1940, a Breguet 19 intercepted the 3 Alpine Division Julia while it was penetrating Pindos mountain range and moving on to occupy Metsovo. At the same day, Second Lieutenant Marinos Mitralexis, being out of ammunition, aimed the nose of his PZL P.24 right into an enemy Cant Z1007bis tail, smashing the rudder and sending the bomber out of control. However, after 65 days of war, the RHAF had lost 31 officers killed and seven wounded, plus four NCOs killed and five wounded. Meanwhile, the number of combat aircraft had dropped to 28 fighters and seven battleworthy bombers. Still, in March 1941 the Italian invasion was confronted successfully. During the Greco-Italian War the Hellenic Air Force shot down 64 enemy aircraft (confirmed) and claimed another 24. Actually, according to other sources, Italians lost 65 aircraft during the whole campaign, against Greeks and British, getting 495 more aircraft damaged. In April 1941 the German Wehrmacht invaded Greece to assist her Italian allies. The Luftwaffe destroyed almost the entire Hellenic Air Force; some aircraft managed to escape in the Middle East. The top ace of Hellenic Air Force was Andreas Antoniou with 5.5 victories.
Five Avro Anson, one Dornier Do 22 and three Avro 626 escaped. Hellenic aviation was rebuilt under the Air Force Ministry based in Cairo. Three Hellenic squadrons were built, which were operating under the command of the British RAF. These squadrons were the 13th Light Bombing Squadron, with Avro Ansons, Bristol Blenheims and Martin Baltimores, and the 335 and 336 Fighting Squadrons, with Hawker Hurricane I and IIs and Spitfire V types. The Hellenic Squadrons in the Middle East took over a variety of missions, such as convoy patrols, antisubmarine search, offensive patrols, reconnaissance, attacks and interceptions of enemy aircraft. In summer 1943 the Greek Squadrons participated in the attack against the German Wehrmacht on the island of Crete. From May to November 1944 the Greek squadrons continued in Italy. Greek pilots operated with great success. Two of those pilots were Pilot Officer G. Tsotsos and Master Sergeant D. Soufrillas flying Spitfires credited with shooting down German Junkers 88 bombers. Seventy men were lost.
During World War II Greek pilots who were flying with the RAF achieved many victories. Rhodesian-born Wing Commander John Agorastos Plagis shot down 16 enemy aircraft over Malta and Western Europe. Flying Lieutenant Vasilios Michael Vassiliadis was credited with 11.5 enemy aircraft over Western Europe before he was killed in action on March 15th, 1945 over Germany. Steve Pisanos, an immigrant to USA in 1938, joined an Eagle Squadron of American volunteers in the RAF and fought over Western Europe. He later joined the USAF and took US citizenship to continue fighting with the same squadron, now part of the USAF 4th FG. He achieved 10 victories with USAF by 1944.
After Greece’s liberation in 1944, RHAF returned home and subsequently played a decisive role in the Greek Civil War, which lasted until 1949, re-equipped with Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, Spitfire Mk XVI fighters and Curtiss SB2C Helldiver bombers.
In its early years, the Air Force was considered politically right-wing and royalist; indeed, it was known as the “Royal Hellenic Air Force”. However, its officer corps proved to be the most politically left-wing of the Armed Forces. During the Greek Civil War, the officers of the Greek Army denounced their Air Force counterparts as “leftists” and “communists” and considered them disloyal and unreliable. During the Regime of the Colonels, the Air Force aided King Constantine in his failed countercoup of December 1967, and many leading Air Force Generals were tortured by the ESA men of Dimitrios Ioannidis. The only Air Force officer that had a significant role in the dictatorial regime was Antonis Skarmaliorakis. After Andreas Papandreou and his Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party came to power in 1981, ending a long conservative dominance of Greek politics, the Air Force officers proved to be Papandreou’s most enthusiastic allies in the Armed Forces. Andreas returned the favor, and in 1984, he made an Air Force General the Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff, the first time someone from the Air Force rose to occupy that position. In 1997, it was estimated that more than half of the Air Force officer corps were PASOK supporters.
The antagonism between Greece and Turkey has meant that balance in quantitative and qualitative terms has been of the goals of the HAF. HAF pilots have received significant training and HAF and TAF have often engaged in mock dogfights. Due to Greece’s current economic problems it is likely it will not procure additional advanced fighter jets. This may alter current balance of air power.
Due to the existence of the Joint Defence Doctrine between Greece and Cyprus is the defence of Cypriot air space, as Cyprus has no air force of its own. HAF aircraft have to be able to reach and stay long enough under combat conditions over Cyprus. The distance between the nearest base on the island of Crete to Cyprus is about 700 km. Besides this the Hellenic Air Force must have the ability to strike at all targets of the potential adversary at distances of more than 1,000 km from its bases. All this makes range one of the most important Hellenic Air Force needs.
Due to political reasons HAF decided to operate two main fighter types (one US and other European), compared to other NATO air forces that operate one single fighter type.
After the end of the Greek Civil War in November 1950, Greece sent seven Douglas C-47 Dakota transport aircraft of the 13th Transport Aircraft Squadron to South Korea to assist the United Nations. Greek aircraft operated in Korea until May 1955. Greek pilots flew thousands of war missions, including air evacuations, personnel transport, intelligence gathering, and supply flights.
In 1952 Greece was admitted to NATO and the Air Force was rebuilt and organized according to NATO standards, with US assistance. New aircraft, including jets, were introduced.
The primary camouflage scheme utilized by the Hellenic Air Force is the Aegean Ghost scheme. This is modified slightly for each aircraft type but is standard for all combat and transport aircraft in the inventory. Some training, search-and-rescue, and firefighting aircraft are colored partially or completely in high-visibility colors for identification and easier location in case of an accident. The air force also frequently uses colorful commemorative schemes to mark anniversaries and other special occasions or for display purposes. National markings are applied to all aircraft, with the national roundel consisting of concentric blue, white, and blue rings displayed on the fuselage sides and wing surfaces and a tricolor fin flash of similar blue, white, and blue horizontal stripes on the rudder. The words Πολεμική Αεροπορία (or simply the abbreviation ΠΑ) are applied to the fuselage as well, although this is less common in current schemes. Aircraft in Aegean Ghost scheme may have low visibility markings applied in which blue is replaced by dark grey and white by light grey.
Originally, many aircraft in service retained the basic color scheme they were acquired in. Prior to World War II, combat aircraft were given a green and brown top scheme with white or sky blue underside, similar to the Royal Air Force. After the war, jet fighter aircraft such as the Sabre and Starfighter would serve in a polished metal scheme. Later, most aircraft received green and brown camouflage again, consistent with the United States Air Force’s South East Asia scheme, referred to as Vietnam camouflage in Greece. A-7 Corsair IIs would be some of the last aircraft to fly with this scheme, retaining it until their retirement, long after all-over grey schemes had become the normal application for Greek aircraft. C-130 Hercules transports which used South East Asia early in their careers were repainted in an overall grey theme.
The first jet fighter flown by the Hellenic Air Force was the Republic F-84G Thunderjet. It was also flown by the first Hellenic aerobatic team, 337 SQ. Later, the F-84 replaced by the Canadair Sabre 2. About 100 examples were supplied during 1954 and 1955 after upgrading in the United Kingdom following service with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Lockheed T-33s were delivered to training units and some RT-33s were used for reconnaissance missions.
The Republic F-84F Thunderstreak first flew with the Hellenic Air Force in 1955. The RF-84F remained in service with the 348 Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron from 1956 to March 29, 1991.
In the late 1960s, the RHAF acquired new jet aircraft. These included the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger (in service 1969–1975) and the Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter. The F-104 and F-5 served well for almost 20 years.
In the mid-1970s the Hellenic Air Force was further modernized with deliveries of the Dassault Mirage F1CG fleet, Vought A-7Hs (including a number of TA-7Hs) and the first batch of McDonnell-Douglas F-4E Phantom IIs, upgraded versions of which still serve today.
Also in 1993, the United States Air Force delivered 62 A-7Es and TA-7Cs, increasing the air-to-ground capability of the HAF. Some A-7s were still in service as of 2011, pending delivery of more-modern fighters.
Until the late 1980s the Air Force deployed Nike-Hercules Missiles armed with U.S. nuclear warheads. As a result of Greco-Turkish tensions around the 1974 Turkish invasion in Cyprus, the U.S. removed its nuclear weapons from Greek and Turkish alert units to storage. Greece saw this as another pro-Turkish move by NATO and withdrew its forces from NATO’s military command structure from 1974 to 1980.
In March 1985 the Greek government announced the purchase of 34 F-16C Block 30 and 6 F-16D Block 30 in a program called Peace Xenia I. In the same month Greece ordered 36 single-seat Mirage 2000EG and 4 two-seat Mirage 2000BG, as part of the “Talos” modernization program.
In 1989 the first fourth-generation fighters were introduced, marking the beginning of a new era: the first Mirage 2000 EG/BG aircraft were delivered to the 114 Combat Wing in Tanagra airforce base and equipped the 331 and 332 squadrons. In January 1989 the first F-16C/D Block 30 arrived in 111 combat wing in Nea Anchialos airforce base and were allocated to the 330 “Thunder” and 346 “Jason” interceptor squadrons in Larissa airforce base.
On March 29th, 1991, the RF-84F were retired from service after 34 years and 7 months of operational life. In November 1992 more RF-4Es were delivered to the 348 “Eyes” Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron.
In 1993 Peace Xenia II program began. Greece ordered 32 F-16C and 8 F-16s, Block 50 version. The first Block 50 was delivered on July 25th, 1997. These aircraft, equipped with the LANTIRN navigation and targeting pod as well as AIM-120 AMRAAM and AGM-88 HARM missiles, were allocated to the 341 “Arrow” and 347 “Perseus” squadrons in Nea Anchialos airforce base.
The basic mission of 341 “Arrow” squadron is Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD). The role of 347 “Perseus” squadron is air-to-ground missions.
Greece participated in NATO “nuclear weapons sharing” until 2001, using A-7 Corsair IIs to deploy tactical B61 nuclear warheads from Araxos Air Base. Greece then strategically decided to remove all nuclear weapons under storage in Greece and did not purchase any more aircraft with nuclear mounting capabilities.
In 1998 Greece decided, in cooperation with the German Aerospace Industry (DASA) and Hellenic Aerospace Industry(EAB), to upgrade 39 F-4E Phantom IIs. After many problems, the first aircraft were delivered in Andravida Air Base, in December 2002. This aircraft, which is called “Princess of Andravida” (s/n 72-01523), is unique because it doesn’t have the M61 Vulcan gun installed. The upgraded aircraft are equipped with a new radar AN/APQ-65 YG similar to this of F/A-18 Hornet, mission-control computer, Head Up Display, IFF Interrogator, Multi Function Displays and are capable of carrying a large variety of advanced air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, including the AIM-120 AMRAAM (only the -B edition), the AIM-9M missile, the AFDS and all the family of the Paveway (I, II and III) laser-guided bombs. These aircraft are called F-4E Peace Icarus 2000 (PI2000) or F-4E Phantom II AUP (Avionics Upgrade Program) and are operating with the 338 Squadron “Ares” and 339 Squadron “Ajax based in Andravida Air Base in multi-role missions.
Recently, according to 338 Squadron “Ares” crews, the F-4E Phantom II PI2000(AUP) has been certified for use of GBU-27 Paveway III laser-guided bombs, making the aircraft an excellent and modern weapon platform for precision strikes.
Entering the 21st century, Greece decided to purchase a large number of fighter aircraft, to replace the non-upgraded F-4E Phantoms, a number of A-7 Corsairs, and the fleet of Mirage F1CGs.
In the year 2000 Greece ordered 60 F-16C/D Block 52+ and 15 Mirage 2000-5Mk.2. The order for the F-16s was about 50 single-seat of the C version and 10 two-seat of the D version. Also, Greece decided to upgrade 10 of its existing Mirage 2000EGs to Mirage 2000-5Mk.2 standards.
In September 2004, Greece started the Mirage 2000BG/EG fleet upgrade to the standard 2000-5 Mk2 and the project was undertaken by the French manufacturer Dassault Aviation and the EAB. Fifteen new aircraft were delivered. The Mirage 2000-5Mk.2 has a new more powerful radar, improved Air To Ground capabilities including the SCALP EG Cruise Missile, new self-protection system, new Inertial Navigation System(INS), a Glass Cockpit and an air-to-air refueling capability.
In 2005, Greece was the first country worldwide to add the F-16 Block 52+ to its inventory. This advanced F-16 type is an improved version of the Block 50 featuring a more powerful radar, Conformal Fuel Tanks for bigger Ferry Range, advanced communications systems, upgraded engine, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) and is capable of carrying more advanced weapons, including the IRIS-T Air To Air missile. Three squadrons are operating with this type of F-16s. These squadrons are the 337 Squadron “Ghost” in Larissa air base, 340 Squadron “Fox” and 343 Squadron “Star” in Souda air base.
In 2005, the Greek government ordered 30 more F-16C/D, 20 single seat and 10 double seat. These aircraft are called F-16C/D Block 52+ Advanced, but in Hellenic Air Force are known as F-16 Block 52M (due to improved computing power for mission computer MMC). The differences between the normal Block 52+ and Block 52+ Advanced, are that the Advanced version has, LINK 16 Communications System, more powerful Mission Control Computer, an extra Multi Function Display with a movable map navigation, advanced Debriefing System and the capability of carrying the RECCE Reconnaissance Pod. The first aircraft were delivered to Hellenic Air Force in May 2009 and they are flying with the 335 Squadron “Tiger” in Araxos air base.
Greece owns 318 fighters, 205 of them are modern jets. Due to the retirement and obsolescence of units that have ended their front line operational life (A-7E Corsair II and F-4 Phantom II), the HAF should be looking forward to acquiring new 4th, 4.5th or 5th generation fighters and at the same time being able to reach a total number of 300 advanced fighters, according to the Supreme Air Force Council “2007–2012 operational planning” study which was published in 2007. Candidates for 4.5th or 5th generation aircraft are the Dassault Rafale, F-35 Lightning II, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, MiG-35 and the Sukhoi Su-35. To fill the gap Greece is constantly modernizing its fleet of older Fighters (Mirages and F-4s)
Past budget cuts forced the HAF to ground many of its F-16 fighters because of a lack of spare parts and maintenance. Recently Greece requested the U.S. Government to provide spare parts in support of its F-16, F/RF-4E, C-130H/B, C-27J, T-6A/C, and other aircraft with systems/subsystems of U.S. origin. The estimated cost of this help is $160 million.
Current and past Budget cuts will likely not have a large impact on HAF capabilities, but they will delay programs for the future. HAF defense modernization program estimated in 2008 it was needed to purchase 45 advance training aircraft, 15 SAR helicopters and 40-60 modern fighters. Due to Greece’s current economic problems HAF is instead looking for the procurement of used F-16s and Mirages for a reasonable price, to counter the Turkish Air Force purchase of up to 100 F-35s 5th generation fighters over the next decade.
In July 2016 the upgrade of the currently stored 6 Lockheed P-3B Orions started, extending the lifetime of 4 airframes until at least 2025.
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