The deal makes Greece the first European country to acquire state-of-the-art Rafale jet fighter jets, manufactured by French company Dassault.
It is also the first major arms purchase Greece has made since emerging from a 10-year financial crisis that imposed some of its most brutal budget cuts on its armed forces.
Monday’s deal calls for the purchase of six new Rafale fighter jets and 12 used fighter jets – the first batch of which will be delivered in July. All will be equipped with combat missiles. Greek combat pilots will also undergo special training in France.
Nikos Panagiotopoulos, the country’s defense minister, said the new fighter jets will replace the country’s aging fleet of French-made Mirage planes that Greece bought almost three decades ago.
France has long been a defense supplier to Greece.
“The choice of Rafale aircraft reflects the strategic relationship between Greece and France, and the unwavering support that France continues to provide to Greece,” said Panagiotopoulos.
France has sided with Greece in the energy dispute with Turkey, challenging what Ankara has maintained as its borders and its drilling rights in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Tensions have erupted in recent months. Last year, France sent a frigate to the region, and came dangerously close to a confrontation with Turkish gunboats in disputed waters.
Today, Panagiotopoulos says that with the Rafales, the Greek air force will gain substantial superiority over the forces of its rival neighbor, Turkey.
French Defense Minister Florence Parly was present at the signing ceremony in Athens. There, she revealed that the Rafale deal paved the way for additional purchases, including a number of French frigates.
“The two countries share many common values,” she said. “They have a common conviction to face threats together, to provide lasting and lasting solutions. ”
Sources from the Greek Defense Ministry told VOA Athens was planning to buy at least four frigates from France, but on condition that at least three of them be made in Greek shipyards.
The arms deals are part of a $ 6 billion purchase package that the Athens government announced in September as tensions with its NATO neighbor Turkey soared over oil exploration rights.
Greek officials told VOA that France and Greece opted to seal the ambitious defense deal on Monday, when Greek and Turkish diplomats met for the first time in nearly five years to resolve rights disputes sea and air in the Aegean Sea.
The same officials told VOA that while Athens supports the ongoing diplomatic process, it will not abandon plans to bolster its defenses against its rival as fears of a breakdown in talks loom, and with it a new one. peak in tensions between the two NATO allies. .