Capital Athens
Time Zone EET (GMT+2)
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Population 11.3 million
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Greece and Turkey: Offensive and Defensive Balance of Air Power in 2012

By Ioannis Michaletos

The Greek and Turkish air forces are two of NATO’s strongest and most experienced. The chronic antagonism between the two neighboring states has meant that their pilots have received significant training as they have for decades often engaged in dogfights over the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. Unlike planned exercises by NATO members, however, these dogfights have been deadly in the past and even risked a larger military showdown on several occasions.

The following detailed report will break down the inventory of the rival-but-allied air forces for 2012. This will also reveal that equilibrium of power has been established; the two countries have, both in quantitative and qualitative terms, reached an equal projection of air power, something that partly depends on the threat perceptions military planners have regarding different fronts. This dynamic is expected to remain as it is, at least for the mid-term, though pending acquisitions by Turkey could affect the balance in future. As with the case of India and Pakistan, an unwritten rule of preserving a balance of power has been set out by Western politicians and thus followed by industrial producers in Western countries.

All data presented below derives from official information gathered from the Greek and Turkish air fleet inventories, available in the archives of their respective military staffs and defense ministries.

History of Engagements and Balance of Power

Today, the Greek and Turkish air forces are considered to be among the best-trained and best-equipped in the world, along with (or after) those of the US, UK, Russia, Israel, France, China, India, Australia and South Korea.

As scholarly studies like Greek Military Intelligence and the Crescent (recently reviewed here by reveal, Greece had historically enjoyed a qualitative advantage until the early 1990s, when Turkey increased its joint training program with the US and Israel and thus began to receive the high quality of training Greek fighter pilots had long enjoyed. The qualitative balance of power has remained roughly equal since then.

The Greek Air Force has a long history of battle experience and engagement. Greek pilots were deployed as early as the First and Second Balkan Wars (1912-13), soon after in the First World War (1916-18), and then in the spillover conflict with Turkey, the Asia Minor conflict (1920-22). Greek pilots were again deployed in the Second World War (1940-1944) and in the domestic continuation of that conflict, the Greek Civil War (1946-1949). Greek pilots saw action in the following years supporting US troops in the Korean War (1950-53).

The Turkish Air Force (considered as starting from the time when modern Turkey became a state, in 1923) was employed in domestic strife in the 1930s and, because it remained neutral in WWII, only was used again in the Cyprus invasion (1974), when Greece of course was involved (as it had been in 1964 too). In the modern era, Turkish air power has been used continuously since the 1980s, in the long battle with Kurdish guerrillas in the southeast, which in recent years has included cross-border raids into Iraqi Kurdistan.

As has been noted, both Greece and Turkey have, since 1974 and especially since the mid-1980s, been engaging in almost daily simulated dogfights, testing each other’s will and defensive systems.

Other (Recent) Peacekeeping or Non-Hostile Engagements

It should be remembered that as NATO allies, both Turkey and Greece have a history of participating in NATO and UN peacekeeping missions. Further, both host air bases, such as Incirlik in southern Turkey and the NATO base at Souda Bay in Crete that are regularly used for multinational training exercises as well as for allied operations (for example, in summer 2011 Souda Bay was used as a base for aerial assaults on Gaddafi’s Libya by foreign pilots).

Notable missions in which Greek pilots have participated occurred in countries like Afghanistan, Kosovo, Georgia, Bosnia, Albania, Adriatic and Mediterranean Sea patrolling, Kuwait, Congo, Chad, Indonesia, Libya and Cyprus, as well as NATO-member state exercises.

For its part, Turkey has also contributed air support to many of the same places, such as Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Albania, Iraq, Adriatic and Mediterranean Sea patrolling, Kuwait, Libya, Indonesia and Cyprus, as well as NATO-member states exercises.

Air Force Standing Personnel

The Greek Air Force has 17,000 officers and petty officers; 9,000 professional privates, 6,500 national service privates and 30,000 reserves. Turkey has larger human capacities, with 28,000 officers and petty officers; 31,000 national service privates and 35,000 reserves.

Although Turkish Air Force personnel numbers are higher, the two countries differ in terms of their composition of privates. Greece has historically invested in recruiting professional personnel, while Turkey relies more on conscripts. In terms of pilot training, both air forces are NATO-trained and also have their own bilateral agreements for training purposes. For example the Greek Air Force has been training with Israel (since 2008), the US, France, and some of the neighboring Balkan nations. Turkish pilots trained along with the Israelis (until 2008), as well as the US, Jordan and eastern neighbor Azerbaijan.

Tactical Fighter Jet Fleets

The total number of (all types of) fighter jets possessed by the two countries is roughly equivalent. Greece owns 318 and Turkey, 357 aircraft. These can be divided into advanced and older/used aircraft. Greece owns 205 modern jets and Turkey, 213 (both include older types as well as the latest models). Regarding other, older types of aircraft, Greece has 113 and Turkey, 144. The data below provides more details about the make-up of the two countries’ respective air force fleets.

Due to Greece’s current economic woes, it is likely that the country will not procure additional advanced fighter jets (the so-called 5th generation jets) until 2015. Instead, all available information points towards the procurement of used F-16’s and Mirage’s for a low price. Economically booming Turkey, on the other hand, has made plans for a massive procurement of up to 100 advanced-model F-35’s over the next decade, a move that may alter balance of powers in that sector.

Greece has recently decided to modernize its fleet of older modern jets, along with a possible procurement of an additional squadron of F-16’s. Moreover, there are plans for procuring 30-40 F-15’s. These will likely be contracted to a US manufacturer, and will provide Greece with long-range capabilities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkish plans in this sector are not available.

Both countries will rely on these types of aircraft for another decade; after the modernization programs they launched in the past 20 years, no further information regarding their future plans are available.

The Greek Air Force is oriented almost exclusively towards Turkey. The Turkish Air Force, on the other hand, has active obligations with the Kurdish conflict plus contingency plans for the Greek, Middle Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean fronts. It can be concluded that a balance of power exists in the air, with no side having a definitive advantage for the moment due to strategic geography.

Advanced types

Greece: F-16’s (Block 50 and Block 52+) and Mirage 2000-5 Mk2: 113 jets

Turkey: F-16’s Block 50: 30 jets on order (an estimated 10 have already arrived)

Older modern jets

Greece: F-16’s (Block 30/40/50) and Mirage 2000 EGM/BGM: 92 jets

Turkey: F-16’s (Block 30/40/50): 203 jets

Older types

Greece: F-4 PI2000, F-4E/2020, F-4 RF and A-7E/H: 113 jets

Turkey: F-4 2020, F-4E, RF-4E and F-5: 144 jets

Transport planes

Greece: C-130 and C-27J Spartan: 27 planes

Turkey: C-130 and C-235: 80 planes

Training planes

Greece: T-2E, T-6A, T-41D: 103 planes

Turkey: T-38A/B/C, T-41D, SF.260D: 189 planes

General-purposes planes

Greece: Canadair 215, Gulfstream V, EMB-135, PZL, G-16: 58 planes

Turkey: Gulfstream IV, C650 Citation: 7 planes


Greece: AS332C1 Super Puma, AB 205, AB 212, A-109: 23 helicopters

Turkey: AS532 Cougar, UH-1H: 79 helicopters

Relevant Weaponry

Greece and Turkey obviously have a keen curiosity in one another’s air defense systems and offensive capabilities. Since they use much of the same equipment, the specific qualities of such weaponry are often of less interest for the respective military intelligence services than is the question of where such equipment is physically located.

One such example was the fatal collision between Greek and Turkish fighter planes in the Aegean in 2006, near the island of Karpathos. It has since been attributed to Greek pilots’ interception of Turkish planes attempting to carry out surveillance on Russian-made mobile anti-aircraft units deployed in secret locations in eastern Crete.

In this area, it is interesting to note the almost perfect balance of power between Greece and Turkey regarding their air-missile systems, with the exception that Greece has some systems, such as the “Scalp” system with its 250km radius that Turkey lacks. This provides an advantage regarding long-range operations.

A further Greek advantage is in the field of early-warning systems. Although Turkey enacted an AWACS program before Greece, in the late 1990’s, it has still not operated them due to technical issues, thus providing Greece with a 100% advantage in that crucial sector of air control and surveillance.

Additionally, Greece boasts most probably the most dense air defense system infrastructure among NATO states, while Turkey does not place priority on that sector (though from time to time the Turkish Air Force has considered making investments of such a kind).

Air-to-Air missiles

Greece: AIM; MICA, Magic2, Super 530D, IRIS-T: 3,800 units

Turkey: AIM: 4,000 units

Air-to-Surface missiles

Greece: Scalp EG, AGM Harm, AM39 Exocet, AGM Maverick, JSOW, AFDS, GBU-50 Paveway, BLU-107, GBU-8/B HOBOS: 2,900 units

Turkey: Popeye, AGM Harm, AGM Maverick, Paveway I, BLU -107, GBU-8/B HOBOS, Harpy: 2,800 units

Early warning air systems (AWACS)

Greece: ERIYE EMB 145: 4 air systems

Turkey: Boeing 737 AEW: 4 air systems on order

Air defense systems (long range)

Greece: Patriot PAC-3: 6 units (with 1,400 missiles)

S-300 PMU: 2 units (with 96 missiles)

Turkey: None

Air defense systems (short range)

Greece: Tor M1: 4 units

Crotale NG :9 units

Turkey: Rapier: 83 units


Greece: Skyguard/Sparrow: 12 units

Turkey: HAWK PIP III: 8 units

Naval Air Power

The Greek and Turkish navies also have their own tactical aircraft supporting their respective missions. Although Greece boasts a much larger navy, in terms of navy-owned planes, it lacks an advantage here due to the urgent need to replace its P-3B fleet. It is likely, according to all available information, that Greece will procure additional naval aircraft within the coming two years to attempt to redress the balance.

In terms of naval helicopters, both countries use much of the same models and have a roughly equal balance of power, with the navy of Turkey owning six helicopters more than does Greece.


Greece: P-3B: 6 planes

Turkey: CN-235: 6 planes; also 10 ATR ASW on order


Greece: S-70B, AB 212 ASW/EW, SA Alouette III: 23 helicopters

Turkey: S-70B, AB 212 ASW/EW, AB 204, Socata TB20: 29 helicopters

Army Air Power

Unlike the situation with the navy, the conscript-heavy Turkish Army is much larger than that of Greece. It is also much more active, given the constant activity against the Kurds in the southeast. This has resulted in the interesting fact, as discussed by several years ago, that the Turkish troops on the Greek Thracian border are actually less capable and less battle-hardened than those doing the heavy fighting against the PKK. Thus while from Greek eyes the Turkish front is the most serious threat, from the Turkish perspective it is a relative luxury to be stationed along the River Evros.

That said, it is interesting to note that while Turkey has a vastly larger fleet of Army transport helicopters, both armies have an identical number of attack helicopters.

Attack helicopters

Greece: AH-64D Apache Longbow: 31 helicopters

Turkey: AW Super Cobra: 31 helicopters

Transport helicopters

Greece: CH-47 Chinook, NH-90, UH-1H, AB205, AB 212, NH-300: 155 helicopters

Turkey: AS532 Cougar, S-70 Blackhawk, UH-1D, Mi-17. AB205: 392 helicopters

Army air-defense systems

Both Greece and Turkey have complex and varied air-defense systems.

However, Turkey does not possess Short- and mid-range systems, though its MANPAD system is two-and-a-half-times the size of Greece’s. Turkey’s mobile Stinger system is also twice the size of Greece’s.

Anti-aircraft artillery systems

Short-range systems

Greece: Tor M-1, OSA/AKM: 59 systems

Turkey: None


Greece: Hawk PIP III: 7 systems

Turkey: None


Greece: 630 systems (Stinger)

Turkey: 1,600 systems (Stinger)

Mobile Stinger systems

Greece: 54 mobile systems

Turkey: 105 mobile systems

Anti-aircraft artillery systems

Greece: Bofors, ZU-23, Mk 20 Rh202: 1000 units

Turkey: GDF-003, Mk 20 Rh202, Bofors: 1850 units

Appendix: Cyprus

Since the 1974 invasion of Cyprus and division of the island, Turkey has supported the development of offensive and defensive installations on the northern third of the island, the non-recognized ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.’ There has been strong international pressure, particularly on Greece at different times to avoid creating an ‘arms race’ on the island.

However, both countries have historically had direct involvement and devised long-term contingency plans for any possible future showdown that would require their participation. Greece and Turkey, should they go to war because of Cyprus, would most probably provide tactical fighter jets for battle. This is because neither the Republic of Cyprus nor the non-recognized Northern Turkish part has been able to procure any of their own. Also, given the relatively small size of the island, such jets would not be useful for this theater (barring any long-range extension of the conflict into Anatolia or Greece).

That said, when it comes to attack helicopters, the Republic of Cyprus has the definitive advantage, possessing a fleet of 15 aircraft of the types Mi-35P and Gazelle (HOT-2). The Turkish-controlled part of the island does not have any attack helicopters.

The transport helicopters numbers presents a more even balance, however. The Republic of Cyprus owns 4 such aircraft (of the Bell 206 and AW 319 types), while the Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus possesses 5 (of the AS532 Cougar and UH-1H types).

The respective deployment of air defenses indicates different threat perceptions. The Cypriot-republic’s short-range anti-aircraft systems are comprised of 18 units of the TOR M-1 and Skyguard-Aspide types, whereas the Turkish side has none. However, when it comes to MANPADS, the republic has only 30 Atlas and Mistral units, whereas the Turkish side has 170 Stinger and Igla units. It should be remembered that the Russian-made anti-aircraft units now in Crete were originally meant for Cyprus, but had to be relocated to Greek soil due to international pressure generated first by Ankara.

Finally, the anti-aircraft artillery totals between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus are roughly equal (80 GDF-005, M1 and M55 units compared to 100 GDF-003, M1 and Mk Rh202 units, respectively).

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