NATO ally Greece wants fifth-gen F-35 stealth fighters with the upgrades to cure past 'childhood illness'

  • Greece says it's waiting to acquire upgraded versions of the fifth-gen F-35 that'll cure past "childhood illness."

  • Its defense minister announced a sweeping overhaul of its armed forces, especially the air force.

  • Greece wants Block 4 versions of the F-35, hoping issues with the upgrade will be resolved soon.

Greece's military leadership has announced radical changes to its Armed Forces, particularly its air force, including plans to offload older combat aircraft and get new F-35 stealth jets.

But Greece isn't in a rush to acquire the advanced fifth-generation fighters, Greek Minister of Defense Nikos Dendias said, and is willing to wait for upgraded versions in hopes that "all the childhood illness," as he described it, will be cured.

In a local television interview on Monday, Dendias said Greece intends to acquire Block 4 F-35s featuring the latest upgrades, but those are still unavailable due to what officials involved in the program have described as serious concurrency problems.

"Development and production concurrency is Block 4′s most critical challenge, and we are dealing with its consequences today," F-35 program executive officer Lt. Gen. Michael Schmidt said in December.

"The F-35 [Joint Program Office], Lockheed Martin, and other industry partners have identified high risk concurrency in the F-35 Block 4 schedule, which would threaten to shut down aircraft production if development slips," he added.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was recently put into full-rate production, but deliveries of the jet are currently on hold amid work on the Tech Refresh-3 elements, which allow for things like increased processing power, that are needed for the eventual Block 4 upgrades. Those later upgrades will give the F-35 the ability to carry more weapons, enhance the aircraft's targeting capacity, and improve the jet's electronic warfare capabilities.

US Air Force leadership has also highlighted the need for these significant upgrades, with Secretary Frank Kendall saying earlier this month that "we really need the TR-3 hardware and the Block 4 set of upgrades … to stay competitive."

Israeli Air Force F-35 Lightning II fighter
An Israeli Air Force F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft flies over during an air show in Tel Aviv.JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

The ongoing challenges are expected to delay Block 4 upgrades until 2029 from the original 2026 plan, Jon Ludwigson, director of contracting and national security acquisitions at the Government Accountability Office, said during a hearing last December, per Defense News.

The number of new capabilities in the Block 4 upgrades have risen from 66 to 80, and the cost of adding them has climbed from $10.6 billion to $16.5 billion.

"Some of the challenges that have emerged [with Block 4] is because they didn't have requirements, they didn't necessarily have a firm sense of what was technically achievable," Ludwigson said.

"They didn't have a strong basis for understanding how long these things were going to take. It became a bit of a journey of discovery and took time for them to figure out," he said.

Greece's plans to wait out what the defense minister called "childhood illness" in the F-35 come along with other major changes to its Armed Force, what Dendias referred to as the "biggest reform program in the history of the modern Greek state."

"We need to make some very radical changes, in the weapons systems, in the structure, in innovation – that is, in the ability to create new systems using our own capabilities – in the military service, in our own significant and motivated personnel, everything needs to change," Dendias said. "Everything needs to change in order to maintain exactly the same goal: the ability to protect our sovereignty and independence."

For the air force, that means retiring and selling a variety of aircraft, such as F-4 jets, Mirage 2000-5 planes, and Block 30 F-16s. Other aircraft will be upgraded and maintained while Greece waits to acquire Block 4 F-35s. In January, the US State Department approved a potential sale of up to 40 F-35As to Greece at a cost of $8.6 billion, a major step forward in the modernization of Greece's fighter fleet.

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