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Sun, Nov 27, 2005

Greece Has F-16 Sticker Shock

Rising Price Raises Opposition Ire

The number was $1.3 billion back in July. Now the digits have changed places, and it's $3.1 billion. But Greek Defence Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos (say that three times fast) still thinks it's a good deal.

"The $3.1 billion is a logical price for the 40 jets offering this level of technology," the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini quoted Spiliotopoulos, last Saturday.

Opposition politicians don't want to spend that kind of money -- instead, they would rather spend less money, more of which would be spent at home in Greece. But nobody is offering the Greeks the chance to manufacture such advanced aircraft.

And the change from $1.3 billion to $3.1 is not exactly comparing apples to apples. In July Spiliotopoulos said that the first 30 aircraft would cost $1.3 billion; the $3.1 billion is an estimate for 40, including some support charges that were not part of the July estimate. For example, maintenance support for not only the new F-16s but Greece's existing large fleet of the type is included.

Nonetheless, the change in numbers was greeted with dismay and distress by opposition politicians.

The government is finishing up negotiations for the advanced Block 50/52+ F-16s, even more modern than the latest ones used by the USAF. The Hellenic Air Force already operates 60 Block 50/52+ strike fighters, and a number of Block 30 aircraft with a primary day fighter mission.

The new jets, like Greece's earlier Block 50/52+ planes, are AMRAAM capable and are equipped with conformal fuel tanks that add 450 gallons with very little impact on combat performance (top speed is slightly reduced, compared to the older, less high-tech and shorter-legged Block 30 F-16s that the Royal Hellenic Air Force also operates).

The minister evaded questions, this week, about how the government plans to pay for the jets in a time of budget belt-tightening. EU-imposed economic controls have cause the government to make cuts that have distressed the powerful trade unions -- as reported in Aero-News, even the air traffic controllers struck recently, causing a one-day shutdown of Athens's airport -- and Olympic Airlines.

Here in the United States, the order is important to Lockheed Martin. If the Greek order goes the way of the Pakistani order, which was canceled because of earthquake-induced austerity measures, it might have to close the F-16 production line in the former General Dynamics (and former Convair) plant in Fort Worth, and idle the workers.



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